Gold and Syria

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With all eyes on the prospect of a U.S. strike on Syria, the market in its collective judgment seemed quite certain Wednesday that gold prices should be lower.  To make the point it finished more than $20 lower, below $1400.  Gold traded lower again on Thursday as well.

Bretton Woods Research suggested that action may mean the strike is unlikely, observing that gold below $1390 was “almost $30 lower than before Prime Minister Cameron’s stunning defeat at the conclusion of last Thursday’s debate in the House of Commons on UK involvement in Syria.”

If war-making is to be averted in Washington, it will have to be done in the House.  That is because members of the lower body, closer to the people and up for election every two year, are reflecting the people’s deep opposition to the opening of another front in the endless war.   The Senate, ever more remote and imperious, is on board for more war, especially after two of its own recent members, now elevated to the Cabinet, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, made their appeal for support on Tuesday.

There is something psychologically amiss in the makeup of our elected representatives.  They have achieved their positions after having spent much of their lives in the pursuit of power.  In their appetite to rule they have had to trim their own consciences, alter their own views, and beg for money.  They have followed carefully planned trajectories to achieve office, ever hungry to wield authority and command power.

And yet, once in office they can’t wait to pass the hot potato on important issues like war off to the president.

For example Representative Peter King of New York, wildly enthusiastic for war at every turn, says President Obama doesn’t need Congress to launch a strike in Syria, and that Obama is abdicating his responsibility.  King says “The President doesn’t need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline.”

Bush the Elder said much the same thing, claiming that he didn’t the permission of “a bunch of old goats in Congress” to launch the first Gulf War.

This buck-passing implies a completely authoritarian state in which the president can go about issuing ultimata and dictates on his own, with the entire nation hopelessly committed to enforcing them whatever they may be.

Of course, this impulse to establish a war-making monarchy in the executive branch is a symptom of legislative cowardice.  If the war is a success, there is plenty of room on the reviewing stand when the victors return home.  If the war goes badly, the blame is limited to the president.  It was his war.

Most of the people on Capitol Hill didn’t want have the ball kicked into their court.  That is why the Senate will do nothing to stop Obama.  They will tinker with his proposed war resolution a bit at the margins, thereby seeming to have fulfilled their legislative mandate.  But they will studiously avoid either declaring or refusing war.

Their behavior should be alarming; their unacknowledged fear should highlight the risks.  The bellicose tell us that a strike on Syria will be limited, that the operation will be over in days, and that we will administer a thumping and be done with it.   Kerry has even gone so far as to insist that the Arab states are willing to pay for the whole thing.

(If you wondering where you have heard this before, you need only think back to Iraq when leading war architect Paul Wolfowitz insisted that the war would pay for itself.  Ten years later the final bill still isn’t in and the economy has yet to recover.)

Wars are nothing if not risky enterprises.  Suppress this realization if you wish, but it cannot be changed.  If the outcomes of war were known in advance they would not be fought.  Would Napoleon have marched on Moscow 201 years ago this week if he had foreseen the calamity of his winter retreat?   With foreknowledge of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would Japan have attacked Pearl Harbor?  Would Bush the Younger have invaded Iraq if he had known that his splendid little cakewalk war would outlast his two terms?  (Perhaps that last is not the best example since Bush, having learned nothing from history, would have been perfectly willing to even invade Moscow in the winter!)

Still, Field Marshall von Moltke famously observed that no war plan survives contact with the enemy.  And it is that unconscious prospect that doth make cowards of legislators.  For all their tough talk and bluster, an apprehension lurks deep that the action may unleash unintended and destructive consequences.    They risk uncorking forces that, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, they are unable to control.

Better to defy the Constitution, which indisputably lodges war-making authority with the representatives of the people who must pay for and die in such wars, and let the President decide.

We are confronting authoritarians with such an appetite for power that they become afraid to wield it for fear of losing it.  It is a subject fit for a Dostoevsky or Shakespeare.

It was a cause for rejoicing when the British Parliament refused the Queen’s Prime Minister authority to let slip the dogs of war on Syria.  It was the first such refusal since 1782 when, incidentally, Parliament voted down further war against the rebellious American colonies.

It will be a welcome sign of a dawning realization that the U.S. Empire has exhausted itself financially and in folly if the House refuses to pass Obama’s Syrian war resolution.

But if it does approve another front in the U.S. Mideast war, buy gold with both hands.

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