Dowd: Echoes of Iraq in deliberations on Syria

It's a bewildering time here.

Nancy Pelosi is the hawk urging military action. Britain refuses to be our poodle. The French are being less supercilious and more supportive militarily. Republicans are squeamish about launching an attack. Top generals are going pacifist.

The president who got elected on his anti-war stance is now trying to buck up a skittish Congress and country about why a military strike is a moral necessity. Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want to go to war with the Army that Chuck Hagel has. John Bolton is the dove who doesn't think we should take sides, or that it matters "what the intelligence shows."

Once more, we're vociferously debating whether to slap down a murderous dictator who has gassed his own people, and whether we have the legit intel to prove he used WMD.

Many around President Barack Obama are making the case that if he doesn't stand firm on his line in the sand, having gotten so far out on a limb, he'll look weak and America will lose face and embolden its foes. The secretary of state is arguing if the dictator had nothing to hide, why was he so reluctant to let in U.N. inspectors?

In many ways, Syria is an eerie replay of Iraq, but with many of the players scrambled and on opposite sides.

Just about the only completely consistent person is John McCain, who's always spoiling for a fight.

Once more, we see the magnitude of the tragedy of Iraq because the decision on Syria is so colored by the fact that an American president and vice president took us to war in the Middle East on false pretenses and juiced up intelligence, dragging the country into an emotionally and financially exhausting decade of war and an identity crisis about our role in the world.

W. was so black and white, as he mischaracterized and miscalculated, that he ended up driving America into a gray haze, where we're unsure if our old role as John Wayne taking on the global bad guys is even right.

We now actually have a president who understands the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. But our previous gigantic misreadings of the Middle East, and the treacherous job of fathoming which sides to support in the Arab uprisings — are the rebels in these countries the good guys or al-Qaida sympathizers? — have left us literally gun shy.

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