The differences between Iraq and Syria loom large in elite US discourse, but the similarities are much more significant for foreign populations we've invaded so often--and for average US citizens, too.
September 8, 2013

My new AJE op-ed was begun while it still seemed that Congress would approve attacking Syria, Thankfully, that's changed. But the disconnect I'm writing about is very much with us, whatever happens next. It begins like this:

Syria isn't Iraq, but the similarities outweigh the differences
The US public has a firmer grasp of history than does Washington's elites.

In today's world, a tweet can tell you everything you need to know, given the proper context. Such was the case when former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleisher tweeted on September 1: "Once again, I support POTUS. Drone strikes, indefinite detention, NSA program and on the limited Syria strike, I'd vote yes."

Fleisher's tweet shows just how faithfully Obama has continued Bush's defining policy agenda. On the domestic side, one could easily add that making all but a tiny fraction of Bush's tax cuts permanent was a prime indication that the continuity is not just limited to foreign affairs.

This is not how Obama is widely seen within the US, of course. But it is objectively true. The sharp differences between Obama and the Republican Party are largely due to the GOP's retrospective rejection of Bush, even as Obama has tried to be bipartisan by embracing Bush-era policies. At the same time, Obama has tried to keep his own base on board by stressing differences with Bush that are ultimately far less important than the similarities.

Attacking Syria is not the same as invading Iraq, we are told. And of course, that's right. First, there's no doubt this time about the presence of chemical weapons. We're not telling UN inspectors to get out because they can't find any. Second, there really is a vital international norm at stake - the prohibition on using chemical weapons, which dates back to the aftermath of World War I. Third, we're talking about a "limited strike", not an invasion.

But these differences - which loom so large in the minds of Washington's political elites - seem entirely secondary to most of the rest of the world, even most of the people of the United States, following more than a decade of war, post-9/11. There are two things that attacking Syria and invading Iraq have in common, which US elites utterly ignore. First is the sheer frequency with which the US attacks other countries. Second is the casual disregard for dire and deadly negative consequences, so long as US elites convince themselves their motives are pure.

Read the whole op-ed here.

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