Senator Gone Amuck?

I have always kind of liked John McCain. I respected him as a man of principle though I thought him a bit too hawkish. I have never doubted his sincerity, but sincerity is not enough: Eichmann was sincere after all. One must also be aware of moral and, in this case, international implications. McCain’s trip to Syria raises serious questions about his sanity — and it may also raise constitutional questions about the role of Senators in international politics. A recent story tells us a disturbing fact about his current trip:

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. Senator John McCain was photographed during a trip to Syria with a man implicated in the kidnapping by Syrian rebels of 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims a year ago, a Lebanese newspaper said on Thursday.

McCain, a Republican, has been an outspoken advocate for U.S. military aid to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad and made a short, highly publicised trip to meet rebel commanders in Syria three days ago.

He has insisted that the United States could locate the “right people” to help among rebel ranks infiltrated with radicalized Islamists.

One must wonder who the “right people” are that McCain is speaking about. And what possible grounds could he have for talking about those “people” — despite official government statements to the contrary? McCain would apparently have the rebels believe that they may get official sanction and considerable monetary support from this country. It is not the place of Senators to play this kind of role in foreign policy. One is reminded of Dennis Rodman and his clown diplomacy with North Korea. Is McCain going to ask the rebels to do him a “solid” and take out the recognized government of Syria, which is currently supported by Russia — presumably our ally? Surely this borders on the comical, if not the bizarre.

In a word, even if his convictions about whom the United States should support are on firm grounds, McCain has no business whatever consorting with the rebels on behalf of the United States. Though he can tell them he has no official endorsement, he will surely be regarded by those rebels who desperately want U.S. aid as an official of the United States government.  One can assume that these rebels will now expect to get the aid the man has virtually promised. Though current policy might well change any day,  one must wonder what sort of situation will be created by “the right people” flying in the face of official government policy to aid rebels in a cause that their government has failed to fully embrace.

Barack Obama has been a disappointment as President of late and his policy toward Syria is complex if not incoherent. And the Congress becomes a bigger laughing-stock each day. They seem to play no role whatever except that of obstructionists who are determined to cripple the country if necessary in order to make the President look bad. But for a U.S. Senator who has run for President to take it upon himself to go to a foreign country and consort with known international criminals in the name of the United States is a new sort of low, even for American politicians. I cannot help but recall Henry Adams’ concern that the U.S. Senate was given too much power by the Constitution. He hoped that when Grant was elected President he would straighten things out. But Grant got caught up in a scandal of his own and showed himself to be an incompetent President. So the changes Adams hoped for never materialized. But even in his worst dreams, Adams wouldn’t have predicted that a U.S. Senator would take it upon himself to visit a foreign country and make overtures to a group that has yet to receive any official recognition from the government that the Senator presumably represents. This must be a diplomatic nightmare that Obama and John Kerry must somehow extricate themselves from.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to make excuses for these people. They really do appear to be as stupid and inept as we all thought in our worst nightmares. I’m with Adams here: there ought to be major changes in the Constitution to limit the power of the Senate and allow us to remove those in government who have shown themselves incapable of governing. Indeed, if such were possible there would be very few remaining after the house-cleaning.

Toothless Tigers

The situation in Syria goes from bad to worse. It is estimated that the government has been responsible for the death of at least 14,000 of its citizens. A recent story tells of the attempts to “broker” a peace settlement between groups that hate one another, a nearly impossible task. The story reads, in part,

GENEVA (AP) — An international conference on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered peace plan that calls for the creation of a transitional government in Syria, but at Russia’s insistence the compromise agreement left the door open to Syria’s president being part of it.

The story gives us a sense of the futility of this agreement: But even with Russia’s most explicit statement of support yet for a political transition in Syria, it is far from certain that the plan will have any real effect in curbing the violence. A key phrase in the agreement requires that the transitional governing body “shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent,” effectively giving the present government and the opposition veto power over each other.

In a word, neither side will agree to the agreement: one side wants Assad to remain as President, the other will not agree to any settlement of which he is a part. The U.N. sits in the middle attempting to get the two sides to agree to something (anything!) while all the time they know full well it will not happen. As one who has always advocated reason and restraint and who hates war and bloodshed, this situation is most disturbing. It would seem that increasingly violence is the only thing many people understand and an international group that lacks the power to back up its agreements is indeed a toothless tiger. The members can meet and come to a compromise of sorts, but the people in the streets will continue to kill one another. It’s not a new story, but it is unsettling to say the least.

Leibniz told us long ago that this was the “best of all possible worlds,” and he thought he had argued his point convincingly. But it takes a giant leap of faith to accept his argument. That was a leap Voltaire could not take and he ridiculed the notion in Candide — which he wrote after the earthquake at Lisbon killed thousands of men, women and children. There have been worse catastrophes and now that war includes war against civilians as well as combatants — a situation all civilized countries agreed would not happen when they signed the Geneva Accords — the earthquake seems a minor event. And, of course, our government, which signed those agreements, is very much a part of the problem sending drones into residential neighborhoods to “take out” known (or suspected) terrorists. Doesn’t this make us the terrorists?

One wonders where we have come and where this will lead. The world needs an international group with effective sanctioning powers and a world court with punitive powers as well. I am not an advocate of power except in the case that it will invariably lead to the resolution of conflict involving innocent victims. And I have always supported the idea of the United Nations: it’s important that people come together to discuss their differences. But I recognize that a debate society that makes agreements they cannot get the parties to buy into is not what the world needs in times of trouble. This is certainly the case in Syria. As the above story says in its final paragraph, The United Nations says violence in the country has worsened since a cease-fire deal in April, and the bloodshed appears to be taking on dangerous sectarian overtones, with growing numbers of Syrians targeted on account of their religion. The increasing militarization of both sides in the conflict has Syria heading toward civil war.

It does seem that the only thing people understand in the end is power. If people will not even sit down together then might does, in the end, make right. I cannot accept that even though it appears to be the case. Perhaps that is my leap of faith.