Leon Hadar has written an essay at The American Conservative exploring why Washington loves to go to war and setting our foreign policy against the backdrop of Mark Leibovich’s recent insider tell-all This Town. I think he’s onto something here:
Ask yourself why there is this continual effort by the Beltway insiders and journalists to elevate foreign policy and national security to the top of the agenda. Could it be because they believe a “player” in Washington has a better chance of drawing public and media attention, of gaining recognition, and of accumulating power when he or she is dealing with matters of war and peace as opposed to, say, the makeup of the next budget?
After all, we remember the names of the American presidents—and the men and women who advised them and the journalists who covered them—who led the nation into war or otherwise operated during those “interesting times” when “the fate of humanity was hanging in the balance.”
Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the kind of foreign-policy template that officials, lawmakers, and journalists hope will define their experience in Washington. They fantasize about being “present at the creation,” of taking part in a great historical event as all the world waits and watches.
This explains much of what’s wrong with government. People come to Washington starry-eyed and pumped up on episodes of The West Wing. They thirst for greatness when they should be governing with prudence and wielding federal power cautiously. Far too few are men like the taciturn Calvin Coolidge who genuinely disliked the spotlight and sought to devolve government’s powers. Far too many are men like John Kerry, who began his tenure as secretary of state with a legacy-conscious cannonball-jump into the Israeli-Palestinian pool, and is now demanding that we Do Something about Syria. Washingtonians want action, not the banality of restrained governance.
The Syria debate shows the powerful grip that this mentality has on many lawmakers and pundits. Even with jihadism creeping into the rebel forces, British Parliament saying no, the American people overwhelmingly opposed, some in Washington just can’t let this go. Like, most egregiously, Senator John McCain:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued Wednesday that President Obama should consider bombing Syria without congressional approval, because the credibility of the White House is now on the line.
McCain said that if Obama acts before any vote in Congress, he could argue that he has acted in conformity with past administrations, including President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in the 1980s.
The White House’s credibility is already shot to pieces precisely because it listened to McCain and waded into Syria’s war. But McCain just can’t let this go; the people’s representatives—and the people themselves—be damned. Far better to do something grand than to do something prudent. And best of all, McCain is unlikely to be held accountable for his omni-martial advocacy.
It’s a great gig, if you can get it.