The Obama Administration, in media-marketing parlance, is trying to “sell” a war.
But the American public and its caveat-emptor Congress aren’t buying.
The administration’s so-called product — a bombing campaign in Syria — has a series of non-disclosure clauses bound up with an implicit government promise: “trust us.”
Last week, at hearings of a U.S. House and Senate committee, the administration and some backers talked compelling evidence against Bashar Assad’s regime.
But the most compelling information about chemical weapons use in Syria was classified. When it was about to be made public or skeptics asked good questions, Barack Obama’s team said answers needed to be reserved for closed-session briefings.
This happened at least 36 times in two days, according to committee hearing transcripts.
Again, for emphasis: “classified” or “closed session” meetings were invoked or referenced 36 times in a debate about literal life-and-death policy, war.
“The Administration has got to make more evidence public,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a hawkish Miami Republican who listened to the presentation before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, told The Herald.
“They’re coming to us always classified and classified and classified. And it drives us crazy,” she said. “You’ve got to be open. You’ve got to convince the American people.”
But rather than speak openly or line up public or congressional support before he started talking about Syria crossing a “red line,” Obama appears to be doing it after the fact, almost in reverse.
This is no way to make a “sale.” And it shows.
Poll after poll after poll show considerable percentages of people from right, left and center just don’t want to get involved in Syria. A majority of Florida’s congressional delegation, reflecting sentiment in the U.S. House, is ready to vote against authorizing a strike.
Ros-Lehtinen is one of the few Republicans on the fence, but leaning yes. Fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart says he’s “reluctant.”
Miami Democrats such as Joe Garcia and Frederica Wilson haven’t clearly said how they’d vote. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose congressional district includes parts of Miami Beach, is the only definite yes in Miami-Dade.
The concern, even among Democrats, is a reflection of the fact that we’re a war-weary public and we’re a public wary of the trust-us-we’re-from-the-government salesmen of the military-industrial complex.
There are reasons for caution: from the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor that began the Spanish-American War to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that helped escalate the Vietnam War.
And of course there’s the faulty and manipulated intelligence the Bush Administration used to invade Iraq. The Bush administration also used budgeting gimmickry to help hide the costs, all with the help of some big-spending saber-rattling Republicans made dovish and budget-conscious in the era of Obama.
How much would a bombing campaign of Syria cost?
The Pentagon and White House won’t say how much it is.