How Spiderman explains the war in Syria.
"With great power comes great responsibility."
These immortal words, imparted by Uncle Ben to his nephew, Peter Parker, form the moral impetus to the career of one of the world's great superheros -- Spiderman.
It's also a philosophy that many of Washington's foreign policy elite subscribe to, casting America as a global Spiderman, responsible for punishing bad guys and maintaining global law and order. And it's the reason why, despite clear opposition from the public, the Obama administration is poised to plunge the U.S. deeper into Syria following the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
Just listen to the language the Obama administration (and outside interventionists) are using to justify intervention. â??Make no mistake," declared Secretary of State John Kerry, "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the worldâ??s most heinous weapons against the worldâ??s most vulnerable people." And who will hold Assad accountable? The United States. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the "violation of international norms" is what is spurring the Obama administration to action. Who is responsible for upholding these norms? The United States.
Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) August 21, 2013
The idea that it is somehow a uniquely American responsibility to uphold the norm against using WMD in war (a civil war, no less) is more than a bit odd. America has not only facilitated the use of chemical weapons attacks against civilians, it was the only country to use nuclear weapons in war. Hypocrisy aside, there are more practical problems with this approach.
In these situations the U.S. isn't like Spiderman -- a nimble hero with precision web-slinging -- but more like the Incredible Hulk, largely ignorant to what's going on on the ground and just as likely to do immense damage as save the day.
There are almost no military analysts who think the kinds of limited "punishment" strikes against Assad will have any significant impact. In fact, one of the very architects of a "surgical" strike plan on Syria has doubts the plan would work. The only way the U.S. could truly punish the regime would be to facilitate its collapse -- but that would merely usher in a period of complete chaos and the likelihood that Syria's chemical weapons would get into the wrong hands. The quest for locating "good guys" to arm and win the day was fanciful in the beginning of the war and has only become more untenable as jihadists have entrenched themselves in the rebel ranks.
None of these practical concerns, however, appear strong enough to overwhelm the administration's momentum to action. For Washington, it's just too tempting to play the hero.