Among the many stupid claims made by Senator Marco Rubio during a sit-down with “Fox & Friends” this morning was that Donald Trump launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Syria was “not a declaration of war.” More like a firm handshake, you see, only afterwards there are explosions and people die.
The Floridian dilettante, whose beanie-hat ignorance on foreign policy and endless Bush-on-steroids warmongering seems only to guarantee him a round on the cable news circuit, is standing foursquare behind Trump’s Syria strike today, despite having voted against similar proposed bombings back in 2013 when Barack Obama’s finger was on the launch button. But no matter. To Rubio, not only were Trump’s actions justified, they were imbued with geopolitical magical powers, as he explained to Fox:
I don’t believe that the president sat there and said “I’m going to do this to send a message to North Korea.” I do believe it sent a message to North Korea. If you’re Kim Jong-un and you’re watching tonight, you’re realizing “We’ve got a different thing going on here.” We’ve got someone who doesn’t just talk. He’s probably worried right now.
Kim Jong-un is the opposite of worried right now. Not only has the attack on Syria lifted the attention off of him, it’s buried the United States in a heap of other imbroglios, from the Syrian Civil War to torched relations with Russia to fresh controversy with Iran. Washington likes to think it’s a 600-pound barfly, putting up its dukes and taking on all comers, but it has to prioritize like any other capital, and right now our gaze has been diverted from Pyongyang, perhaps for many months to come.
Also, if North Korea really goes wobbly when America shows force, why didn’t it clean house following the Iraq war back in 2003? Instead the exact opposite happened. During the prelude to the invasion in 2002, Kim Jong-il both accelerated his country’s nuclear weapons program and revealed it to the world. The subsequent toppling of Saddam Hussein, North Korea later said, showed “that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help avert a war, but rather sparks it.” From here on out, it would be nuclear deterrence for Pyongyang, not cooperation, and away it went.
There are other instances of this. Was Iran “worried” after Baghdad fell? No, they were too busy using Iraq’s newly empowered Shiite majority to gain influence over their western neighbor and extend their footprint further across the Middle East. And then two years later they elected the viciously anti-American Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for cripe’s sake. If they were drenched in flop sweat, they hid it well.
Even the disarmament of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction program, which began in 2001 under Moammar Gaddafi and was negotiated with the West over the following months, was endangered by the Iraq invasion. When Saddam Hussein was yanked out of a spider hole, Gaddafi reportedly almost aborted the talks. He was “worried” but for the wrong reason: because he thought his people would view him as weak, not because we might suddenly invade.
That’s because Gaddafi, like the mullahs in Iran, were far more leery of their own people and neighbors than they were of the United States. There is a certain geopolitical butterfly effect at work in the world, where you can flap your wings in Homs and enact change hundreds of miles away, but it’s not as linear as Rubio’s ridiculous “MAKE THEM FEAR US” formula. Sometimes it means a nation doubles down on deterrence. Sometimes it uncorks sectarian strife that you never knew existed. But it’s rarely what you predict—airstrikes aren’t a very effective method of achieving intended political change.
Something to keep in mind before you herald the umpteenth “Marco moment.” With all that time Rubio is spending not being in the Senate, might he carve out an hour to read a newspaper?