Potential airstrike made for strange bedfellows

September 17, 2013

On a pleasant, late-summer evening in Lewes, it seemed as if President Obama had accomplished one of his long-standing campaign goals: ending the divisiveness of American politics.

Finally, Americans from the left and right agreed on an important issue. They were united in opposition to a U.S. airstrike in Syria.

In Lewes, that brought the return of the silent protesters to the Savannah Road-Kings Highway triangle in Lewes, in front of the Zwaanendael Museum.

About 35 people, holding signs with slogans such as “War is Not the Answer,” stood quietly as motorists drove by.

It was much like the Sunday afternoon protests a few years back at the same location, organized to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mark Harris, a priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes who was one of the organizers of the earlier demonstrations, said those protests ended when the new president made a “clear statement we were getting out.”

Now, though, they were demonstrating not against George W. Bush, but the very same president whose promises had persuaded them to drop the previous protests.

The mood last Monday was decidedly different from a few years ago. Back then, Harris said, people driving by “called us pretty incredibly bad names.” There was also the Sunday when the spot where they stood had been graced with horse manure.

But last Monday, passersby appeared to agree with the protesters. They honked horns and waved; some flashed the peace signs. (I hadn’t seen those in a while.)

Joanne Cabry, another veteran of the Iraq-Afghanistan protests in Lewes, also mentioned how the Syrian issue had brought about an unusual convergence of the left and right.

Cabry, as stalwart a progressive as can be found locally, said she found herself on the same side of the issue as Dan Gaffney, a longtime conservative talk show host, now at Delaware 105.9.

“I was surprised how positive he was,” Cabry said.

And out on Route 1, the reliably conservative Hudson Management sign pleaded with the president not to lead us into “another stupid war.”

It was the “another” that interested me. Does that mean the right now officially classifies the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as stupid? That wasn’t something I heard while George W. Bush was in office.

Back then you either supported the troops – in that memorable, meaningless phrase – or you were a friend of the terrorists.

Yes, I support the troops. Everybody supports the troops. But the phrase, while it resonates emotionally, lacks sense and substance as a policy guide. I would still support the troops if they were sent to attack Canada. They’d just be doing their job. That doesn’t mean I’d support the politicians who sent them.

But while the Syria issue may appear to make for strange political bedfellows, it’s not so surprising and speaks to the differences between the two parties.

As horrific as the 9/11 attacks were, many like to recall the national unity that prevailed afterward, similar to how people remember World War II as the “good war.” We felt one as a nation.

But that sense of unity was possible only because Democrats (and independents) were willing to set aside partisan differences in a time of national crisis and rally around a Republican president. This despite a bitter, contentious election where George W. Bush lost the popular vote and likely would have lost the electoral vote if the Supreme Court had not halted the Florida recount. The only vote Bush won for certain was the all-important Supreme Court election.

Twelve years later this sense of unity – not as powerful as that following 9/11, to be sure – is possible only because Democrats are willing to rally against a president from their own party.

Try to imagine Republicans rallying around Obama following a terrorist attack. Last fall, after Benghazi, Republican nominee Mitt Romney ripped into Obama before the dust had time to settle. Republicans have been riding that horse ever since.

Let’s compare Benghazi and 9/11. In Benghazi, four Americans died while on duty at a dangerous foreign outpost. A tragedy, yes. Could it have been prevented? Possibly so.

But the same could be said about 9/11. In August 2001, the Bush administration received warnings about a threat from Osama bin Laden. The next month, 3,000 Americans died on American soil.

And yet, earlier this year, as Bush opened his presidential library, I saw the former president lauded repeatedly as a man who “kept us safe.”

Well, yes, except for the thousands who died in the 9/11 attack and the many thousands more who were killed and injured in the two wars.

For now, at least, it appears an airstrike is on hold. Let’s hope the U.S.-Russia agreement works out and protesters don’t have a reason to gather once again at Zwaanendael Park. Even if the protests do bring about a rare unity.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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