Previously published on BillMoyers.com
Let us now praise common sense. Once again a president was about to plunge us into the darkest waters of foreign policy where the ruling principle becomes: "When in doubt, bomb someone." Strategists in the White House, militarists in the think tanks, the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and arm-chair warriors of all stripes -- neo-conservatives and liberal humanitarians alike -- were all telling Barack Obama to strike Syria, no matter the absence of any law or treaty to justify it, no matter the chaos to follow. Do it, they said, to show you can, or what's a super power for?
But they hadn't reckoned on public opinion. The people said no! Not this time. Not after more than ten years of soldiers coming home broken in body, screaming nightmares in their brains, their families devastated. Not when our politics is an egregious fraud, unable to accomplish anything except enable the rich, while everyday people struggle to make ends meet. Jeannette Baskin, who lives on Staten Island not far from the Statue of Liberty, who describes herself as neither Republican nor Democrat, told The New York Times: "We invest all this money in foreign countries and fixing their problems, and this country is falling apart."
Don't think these people callous -- those pictures of children gassed in Syria sicken them. But there are limits to military power when religious rivalries and secular passions come armed with blowtorches. A retired educator named Alice Ridinger in Hanover, Pennsylvania, spoke for multitudes when she also told the Times that while she finds the use of chemical weapons "terrible." She fears the deeper involvement that could follow a military strike. "I don't think that would be the end of it," she said. Truth is, no one knows what would happen once the missiles fly. Not the White House or Pentagon; not the CIA or NSA; not even the all-seeing oracles of cable television, the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, or the seers of such influential publications as The Economist -- hawkish now on Syria despite having been wrong on Iraq.
In time, the White House, Congress, and the punditry could all be grateful to a suddenly attentive and stubborn public. They may have been spared a folly, thanks to this collective common sense that became so palpable it was a force in its own right. Now politics and diplomacy have a chance. Perhaps only a slight chance -- the Washington Post reports that the CIA has just begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria -- deepening America's stake in the civil war. But we can't know if politics and diplomacy work unless we give them a try. Meanwhile, give a cheer for common sense.