Despite his evident reluctance to take America into the Syrian civil war, President Obama appears to be traveling down that road step-by-step. It may be pure coincidence, but the president acted only after being criticized by Bill Clinton.
The former president warned that the current occupant of the Oval Office could end up looking like a "total wuss" and being "lame" if Obama did not intervene in the Syrian killfest. Clinton also said that the president risks looking like "a total fool" if the latter acts cautiously in response to opinion polls.
Of course, former President Clinton always has had a curious view of the purpose of war. He once expressed his frustration that he likely would not be considered a great president without prosecuting a war.
Clinton is an odd person to accuse someone of looking like a "total wuss" and "a total fool" and being "lame." I'm not thinking about storied assignations in and out of the Oval Office. I'm thinking about draft avoider/evader Clinton who, when his nation called him to serve in a similarly messy conflict more than four decades ago, turned out to be "lame" and look like a "total wuss" and "a total fool."
Vietnam was a stupid war in which tens of thousands of fine Americans died as a result of dumb decisions by foolish Washington policymakers. I respect those who served; I don't blame those who avoided serving. Happily I turned 18 after the draft had ended and U.S. troops had gone home.
However, in 1964 Clinton went to Georgetown University and received a 2-S student deferment. As he neared graduation four years later his classification was changed to 1-A, making him a prime candidate for conscription. Then ensued months of complicated machinations. The details are contested and the truth long ago was lost to time, but events do not place the young Clinton in a good light.
Ultimately, after he didn't show up for induction while employing various stratagems to keep the draft board at bay, he was admitted to the University of Arkansas ROTC program, which earned him a deferment and the classification of 1-D. But he didn't enroll as promised, heading off to Oxford University instead.
He was reclassified 1-A, but Selective Service's move to a lottery, and his high number (311), kept him out of uniform. Afterward he wrote Col. Eugene Holmes, head of the University of Arkansas ROTC program, a letter thanking the latter for his assistance.
It's actually a thoughtful missive when Clinton discusses the morality of conscription. But he couldn't help but demonstrate that he was lame and look like both a wuss and a fool.
After lauding friends who made tough decisions and paid the penalty (conscientious objectors and resister), he admitted that he took a different course, requiring decisions that "were the most difficult of my life."
Why did he eschew forthright opposition? He said he wanted "to maintain my political viability within the system. For years I have worked to prepare myself for a political life characterized by both practical political ability and concern for rapid social progress."
He went on to describe his "anguish," loss of "self regard and self confidence," sleeplessness, compulsive eating, and "exhaustion."
After which he hopped onto a plane to England.
Clinton didn't contact either Col. Holmes or the local draft board, he explained, "because I didn't see, in the end, how my going in the army and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved."
During Clinton's presidential run the retired Holmes said that he believed Clinton "purposely deceived me, using the possibility of joining the ROTC as a ploy." Holmes went on to accuse the future president of a "lack of veracity" and purposeful fraud, and raise doubts about Clinton's "patriotism and his integrity."
So Bill Clinton is warning Barack Obama about looking like a wuss and a fool if he doesn't drag America off to war. Bill Clinton?
Intervening in Syria is a serious mistake. The U.S. has no interest at stake that warrants entanglement in another Middle Eastern civil war.
It's bad enough if Obama made his decision because he genuinely believes that the U.S. needs to fight another war in another Muslim nation. It's far worse if the president acted to ensure that he doesn't look like a wuss and a fool. For there's no bigger wuss and fool than someone who allows Bill Clinton to manipulate him into going to war.