Attack on Syria would be latest bad idea

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These days, America feels like it might be just one big Department of Bad Ideas. And these bad ideas aren't static; they're ever changing and run the gamut from the banal to the truly horrifying. They announce themselves with the stench of sulphur and the predictable screech of dissembling.

Bad ideas never originate from a thoughtful place. They begin as moral compromises of some sort and are always steeped in epic levels of cynicism. Our gut isn't always the most dependable barometer of what constitutes a bad idea. Most of the time, a bad idea seems pretty enough -- like that potential lover with the maniacal eyes you find yourself chatting up at the bar minutes before closing time.

Sometimes the revulsion comes only after the bad idea has been roundly denounced by those more attuned to the morality of the situation. There's no loyalty to bad ideas. Every bad idea eventually finds itself dumped on the steps of an orphanage, once a consensus has formed that it has always been an unspeakably ugly baby.

And what an amazing season for bad ideas this has been, too. Recently, a renegade pop singer from the Disney star factory introduced Middle America to "twerking." In a display of narcissism so excessive that it will surely be cited in the first paragraph of her obituary, Miley Cyrus demanded that audiences never take her seriously as an "artist" ever again.

It was a bad idea -- a major "fail," as the kids say. While the audience may have endured a brutal assault on its senses, displaying one's flat butt and vulgar sensibilities to millions is a personal failing and not one of major consequence.

Another bad idea in recent weeks was Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's monstrously glib opinion piece comparing Ms. Cyrus' "twerking" to overly sexualized tween culture and what he believes really happened during the "so-called Steubenville rape case."

Then there was the judge in Montana who wanted to make amends for sentencing a former teacher to only a month in jail after he repeatedly raped a 14-year-old who later killed herself. Public outrage, and perhaps fear of a recall over his comments about the girl's sexual experience, encouraged the judge to confess he "misread" the law. He is now open to resentencing the man to six or seven decades in prison.

Oh, there was plenty to jeer about when it came to bad ideas this past week. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., someone in the Casper, Wyo., branch of the NAACP thought a summit meeting with the local Klan chapter would be a good idea.

The Klan readily agreed to the meeting because it has been trying to get recognition as just another civil rights organization for years. The meeting with the NAACP meant it was no longer a domestic terror organization worthy only of contempt.

It was the sort of classic, unambiguously bad idea that makes everyone who hears it immediately laugh out loud, even though the NAACP boss got the Klan leader to join the civil rights organization for $50 a year; now he is entitled to a subscription to the newsletter.

Still, these bad ideas and the hundreds more I could list here pale next to the worst bad idea of all -- President Barack Obama's decision to attack Syria if Congress gives its OK -- or even if it doesn't.

Mr. Obama's stated reason for instigating military action against yet another Arab country is to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons to murder hundreds of its own people.

Mr. Obama is supremely confident the U.S. military can accomplish the goal of crippling the regime's war-making assets without being drawn into a regional conflagration. To paraphrase Gen. Colin Powell from another context, Mr. Obama believes he can "break" Syria without having to "own it" later.

No one is silly enough to believe a war will ever go the way it is advertised. Despite assurances that there will be "no boots on the ground," military necessity may dictate otherwise, especially if the Russians render the Syrians military aid like the kind we once gave the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.

Still, Mr. Obama insists that concern for civilian deaths motivates his decision to drop bombs that will kill many civilians and destroy much of Syria's infrastructure. Bad ideas always generate their own strange logic.

I don't know if there's a Cabinet-level office called the Department of Bad Ideas, but it wouldn't shock me if evidence for one turned up in the next WikiLeaks dump.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.


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