As the Senate Majority party – the GOP of course – exercises the nuclear option and allows cloture with a simple majority vote, there is an interesting historical connection that arises. One that seems very relevant today.

Cloture – the ending of debate on Senate bills – came into being in 1917 during WW I, over the blocking of legislation by a group of senators that would have allowed merchant ships to arm themselves. Against whom? The Kaiser’s U-Boats of course, who were pursing a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking merchant ships, passenger ships, and naval ships of any allied or even neutral countries. It was a scorched-earth policy carried out underwater, as a way to try and gain some control of the seas against the Royal Navy.

And in a rather eye-opening piece in the Federalist, John Davidson compares America’s current dilemma with that which the emerging superpower found itself in in 1917. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram which exposed a mad plan by Germany to support a Mexican invasion of America’s southern border (remember the Mexican-American War was a far more recent event in those days), with a possible alliance (or axis if you will) with Japan as well.

The public demanded America defend herself and she entered the First World War and became an ally of the U.K. Something America had arguably not been up until that point.

Now we have the southern border as a deeply divisive domestic issue, as well as the Middle East and ISIS, looming over any decision on foreign policy that Trump’s administration might make. And of course, Syria is the latest heart of darkness, following in the bloody tradition of Afghanistan and Iraq.

And once again, Syria presents us with horrifying images, cruel enough to make the humanitarian in each of us want to weep and them grab a weapon and go hunt for Assad. Pronto.

President Trump has signaled he wants action on this. But what action? Davidson’s warning in the Federalist essentially says that you need a very clear set of policy objectives before invading a country like Syria. Or entering a World War. In another related article also at The Federalist, Sean Davis lists a dozen questions that should be asked before committing to invading Syria. All of them tough and all of them hard to answer. And Rob Tracinski (yes also at The Federalist) models a possible approach on America’s support of Afghan rebels in the 80’s. When Osama Bin Laden was one of the famed mujahadeen.


Yes, America can start a proxy war in Syria and we can all feel we are helping those wounded children – the ones who survive the gas attack that is – and as the operation bogs down and the “rebels forces” America supports in yet another proxy war, become indistinguishable from ISIS terrorists, what then? Do you send in American ground troops (some are already there by the way)? Do you start WW III with Russia and unleash a nuclear conflict? And unlikely outcome, but not impossible.

Or – at best perhaps – does Syria turn into another Afghanistan. Always just a few policy and defense tweaks away from becoming stable and not a nightmare patchwork of corruption, tribal betrayals, and islamic terrorism?

Do you send in a Navy Seal team to somehow kidnap and bring Assad back to, say, Guantanamo Bay? And then what happens in Syria? Peace? From one day to the next? Justice and revenge are linked. Let’s not kid ourselves. But they are not the same. And thinking that justice can be achieved in Syria by taking revenge on a killer like Assad makes for dangerous foreign policy. Trump’s generals in his administration need to think this one through carefully and advice the president well. Syria must not trap America in a quagmire.