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The Daily Debate - 9/3/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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September 3, 2013

1. Etchasketchistan

2. Dispatches

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1. Etchasketchistan

A one-line fake headline gag in The Onion recently caught my attention: "Earthquake Wipes Out Etchasketchistan."

I feel like we're living in Etchasketchistan right now when it comes to foreign policy.

The Syrian intervention has finally shaken loose all of the foreign policy alignments that fell into place during the Iraq War, and it's as if someone grabbed the foreign-policy commentariat, turned it upside-down, and shook it so we can start all over again from a blank slate. You can no longer guess where anyone on the left or the right will stand, or who will come off sounding like a realist, a neocon, an isolationist.

President Obama is suddenly a unilateralist, conservatives are warning against rushing into a war in the Middle East, and The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky double-dog-dares the Republican Congress to deny President Obama the authorization to use force in Syria, in terms that might seem familiar.

"The argument to the Republicans in the House and the American people is simple. He's fulfilled his constitutional duties. Will Congress fulfill its moral ones, or is their hatred of Obama so great that they will instead choose the side of a monstrous murderer?"

Back up the president or you're the lackey of an evil, WMD-wielding dictator. Did conservatives ever make the argument quite that crudely back in 2002?

Some of this reversal of polarity is due to partisanship, and there are some who will carry water for Obama no matter what. But that's not all there is to it, because a lot of the foreign policy establishment is displeased with how Obama has handled Syria. Fareed Zakaria, an establishment voice if ever there was one, describes it as "a case study in how not to do foreign policy."

Partly, the shift in allegiances is a reaction to the different facts of this case—in particular, the fact that our delay has allowed jihadists to infiltrate the Syrian opposition—which create difficult choices. One of the helpful conclusions we should draw from the current foreign policy reset is that such difficult choices are the norm in war and foreign policy. During the Iraq War, there was a certain tendency (on both sides) to draw from the Paul Krugman School of Argument, in which you assume that your position is so self-evidently true that your opponents must be either stupid or dishonest. A little more modesty might be merited this time around.

Perhaps this period in which so many people are finding themselves on opposite sides of the argument from where they were a decade ago will serve as a reminder that foreign policy alignments are not merely ideological. They are also shaped by our reaction to specific cases, by our loyalty to or dislike of specific leaders, and less nobly by temporary political alignments and fads and bandwagons.

That's not to say that there isn't a right answer on Syria. But our current Etch-a-Sketch moment is a good opportunity to reappraise foreign policy from basic principles. Because that's got to be better than the careening, ad hoc, crisis-driven approach we have now.

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2. Dispatches

Did Britain help America rediscover constitutional limits on presidential war powers?

Thanks to fracking, for once oil doesn't dominate discussion of what to do in the Mideast.

Peggy Noonan on the role of work in the American character.

The problem of runaway Tooth Fairy inflation.

In addition to being America's Finest News Source, is The Onion also secretly the country's best op-ed page?

Is Miley Cyrus's "Can't Stop" music video really a cry for help?

Elders react to "twerking," and I found it interesting that their first reaction is to burst out laughing. Old folks know what the young kids don't realize yet: they're making themselves look ridiculous.

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—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

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Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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