Fettering discretion
August 30, 2013 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday the House of Commons and the House of Lords debated a response to Syria's use of chemical weapons. The government lost the debate and the commons rejected military action. David Cameron said "the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the Government will act accordingly.." A government MP explains why she voted against and Charles Stross makes a suggestion for what could be done (distributing gas masks, field decontamination showers, NAAK kits, and medical resources to everyone in the conflict zones)
posted by Gilgongo (394 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a pretty significant development from a constitutional angle. Unlike in the United States, there is no legal requirement for the government to consult on military action in the UK. The vote for the Iraq war set a precedent that there would be votes on war and this vote now seems to have established that as the settled way of doing things.
posted by atrazine at 5:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


Channel 4 is saying the last time a PM's war motion was defeated in the Commons was in 1782, when a vote there effectively conceded American independence and led to the end of the Revolutionary War.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:54 AM on August 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


The motion only made sense politically if Cameron was looking for a way out of it. And he succeeded.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:55 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Considering that the people can't even get food or medical care due to the incessant, intentional artillary shelling of concentrated civillian residential areas, I'm not sure that "setting up decon showers" is really a viable option.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think better than a military strike would be to start a campaign to get countries to withdraw recognition of Assad's government in favor of the rebels. It would be symbolic, but so would lobbing a few bombs at him, and at least would result in no deaths of innocents that can be blamed on the US.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think better than a military strike would be to start a campaign to get countries to withdraw recognition of Assad's government in favor of the rebels.

That campaign's been in the work for a couple of years now, but a major hurdle is the question of which rebels? There may be as many as a thousand seperate groups with odd ties to each other and all with dirty hands in this messy, messy clusterfuck of a civil war.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:02 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


The vote for the Iraq war set a precedent that there would be votes on war and this vote now seems to have established that as the settled way of doing things

Robin Cook's headstone.
posted by ninebelow at 6:03 AM on August 30, 2013 [41 favorites]


Gove totally losing his shit in the lobby, shouting 'You're a disgrace!' at the rebels and having to be calmed down ('restrained' by some accounts) by his collages has hopefully torpedoed any lasting chance of him being a future PM
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:05 AM on August 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


The motion only made sense politically if Cameron was looking for a way out of it. And he succeeded.

bizarre that he did not put out a three line whip after all of that noise he made.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty significant development from a constitutional angle. Unlike in the United States, there is no legal requirement for the government to consult on military action in the UK. The vote for the Iraq war set a precedent that there would be votes on war and this vote now seems to have established that as the settled way of doing things.

Whereas the U.S. is like the bizarro-world version; even though there is a legal requirement for congress to declare war it repeatedly abdicates its role to the executive branch with things like the AUMF.
posted by odinsdream at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


bizarre that he did not put out a three line whip after all of that noise he made.

A three line whip on something that isn't a motion of confidence or supply are rare. And it wouldn't be the first time Cameron had put out a three line whip and lost the vote anyway -- in July, the coalition had a three line on the vote to reform the House of Lords, and lost as 91 Tory backbencher rebelled, and 19 more abstained.
posted by eriko at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a big thing domestically. The Tories do not vote against their leadership on foreign policy, let alone in war matters, so it's an extremely clear message that they want Cameron gone before the next election. It also shows that parliamentary discipline has broken down; the whips (who manage the MPs on behalf of the PM) were reporting that it was going to be close/lost for a while, but were apparently ignored - they certainly didn't manage to exert any power over their MPs.

That combined with the general lack of trust following Iraq, the very down-beat official intelligence report, and the absolute lack of clarity over what it was we were going to do, why we were going to do it, and what it was we wanted to happen as a result, made the vote very badly timed indeed for Cameron.

My guess is that the obvious delaying tactic - to wait for the UN inspectors' report from the ground, while presenting a simple, clear statement on the hows and whys, couldn't happen for one of two reasons: there's a hidden deadline for action, or the expectation is that the report will only muddy the waters still further.

But don't underestimate the damage this has done to Obama. If even your poodle won't follow you into the woods, perhaps you shouldn't go in there.

The Guardian is saying that this could mark the time that the UK stops being so transatlantic and becomes more European. I think this is hopelessly optimistic, and that's as someone who'd be really delighted were such a shift in alliances were to happen. (Not that I have anything against the US. Practically family. But we can do a lot more good being European than we can being the 51st state. if we let ourselves.)
posted by Devonian at 6:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


It seems as if there is actually very little solid international support for military action in Syria. There is certainly not going to be a UN resolution authorizing a military strike. It doesn't seem as if there is much political support in the US, either. Yet there will probably be a military strike anyway. And everyone is supposed to believe that this is because the American military-industrial complex cares so deeply about the people of Syria.
posted by oulipian at 6:19 AM on August 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's a perfect storm of several factors:

- The direct result of having been lied to about Iraq. The UN is still asking for evidence the US has about the chemical attack. This feels a lot to British voters like jumping the gun and I suspect a healthy scepticism for claims made by British and American intelligence sources.
- Concern over stretch in the armed forces. The British military is in the process of being downsized and many voters don't know where Britain fits in the world as "World Police" or if they do know don't think we should be jumping into complex regional conflicts at the beck and call of America. There is no obvious exit strategy. Syria is not an area of strategic interest for Britain.
- Fatigue. If you know someone in the army, you probably know of someone who has died. Even if you don't, you are aware of the mounting cost of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Concern over who we're backing. There is concern about who the opposition is and voters are sophisticated enough to understand that arming the "good" guys only is not without blowback.
- Old fashioned politics. Blair's Labour screwed the pooch on Iraq. Ed Milliband is under pressure to show leadership. This is him being an opposition leader. Allied to that, the Lib Dems are still soul searching over what the lurch right in a Tory-run coalition is costing them.
- Conservative unpopularity. Cameron is a weak prime minister, but in fairness to him he's weak because he's leading a coalition and leading a party which is one part progressive centralists and one part reactionary right wingers. It's a recipe for infighting.

Having said that, Britain and other western military are already in Syria. If you don't think special forces have been on for a looksie or are providing some level support then you've missed the memo.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


It was a pretty engrossing debate last night.

'You're a disgrace!' Michael Gove shouts at MPs after Syria vote
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


That "government MP" link is worth reading if you want to see a Conservative MP linking to George Monbiot to bring up the US use of white phosphorous in Iraq as a reason to be skeptical of bombing Assad's Syrian forces for using chemical weapons. Interesting times.

Unlike in the United States, there is no legal requirement for the government to consult on military action

The War Powers Resolution is actually not much of a requirement in the US. The Obama admin can just say what it said to Boehner and Congress about why he could bomb Libya (or Clinton on the Sudan) without their approval:

“We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own...We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped*, or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.

Basically, they're saying that sending a large barrage of multiple cruise missiles at a country that has not attacked them does not count as "hostilities" tantamount to war. Of course, if any other country dared to do such a thing to the USA, the shrieks of THIS MEANS WAR!! would be deafening, but the point is the UK has just demonstrated much more constitutional democracy about war than the US has demonstrated for decades.

*clearly, like most presidents, they do believe this
posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on August 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


The Guardian is saying that this could mark the time that the UK stops being so transatlantic and becomes more European.

Odd since France is pledging support.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:31 AM on August 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Outlined the commons vote to my housemate this morning, who considered it and the US/UK "special relationship" for a while and replied with "Does this mean Britain is no longer America's overly attached girlfriend?"
posted by Wordshore at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston pointed out in her Guardian piece this morning that the Arab League (which supported the misguided bombing of Libya that resulted in a newly armed and resurgent al Qaeda across North Africa) is against a Western bombing of Syria.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2013


Cameron is a weak prime minister, but in fairness to him he's weak because he's leading a coalition and leading a party which is one part progressive centralists and one part reactionary right wingers.

And the reactionary right wingers spiked a core proposal of the progressive centralists and set another one up to fail on a public vote, which makes things even more dicey.

That "government MP" link is worth reading if you want to see a Conservative MP linking to George Monbiot to bring up the US use of white phosphorous in Iraq as a reason to be skeptical of bombing Assad's Syrian forces for using chemical weapons.

WP is a very weak example of a chemical weapon. It will burn you badly if it touches you right after it's launched, and you don't want to breathe lots of the smoke, but after it burns out and the smoke dissipates, it's harmless. Almost every military stocks, and uses, WP, because it is an excellent smoke screen agent. The weapon effects are incidental -- there are far more effective explosives and incendiaries in the stockpiles of the world's militaries.

There are about 18 worlds of difference between WP smoke and Sarin/VX. And it's shit like this -- "oh, he shot someone, he's a terrorist!" "Oh, he used WP, that's a chemical weapon, and WMD!!!" that really pisses me off in these discussions, because they mean words have no meaning.

10mg of WP on your skin burns you a bit. *I've* been burned by more than that. Hurt like hell, like all burns do, left small scar - I'm guessing it was about 100mg, and it needs nothing more than oxygen to start burning. It's dicey stuff, be careful with it, hower I am not dead.

10mg of VX on your skin kills you in a very horrible way. After 15 minutes, the only trace left of the WP will be casing it was delivered in, unless there's no wind, in which case, the smoke will be there too. VX is a thin oil, breaks down slowly in sunlight, far more slowly in shade. So, three weeks later, a kid opens a gate, and the shady part of the handle has enough VX on it to kill him ten times over.

That's a chemical weapon. Flamethrowers and smoke grenades, while bad in other ways, are not chemical weapons. If you consider them such, then every car in the world running on a petroleum based fuel is a weapon of mass destruction -- or a cute little daisy dancing in the forest -- or something, because if you're slotting WP in as an WMD, then word literally have no meaning purple monkey dishwasher.
posted by eriko at 6:44 AM on August 30, 2013 [79 favorites]


The motion only made sense politically if Cameron was looking for a way out of it. And he succeeded.

I'm not at all convinced that this really is the defeat for Cameron that it is on its face. To engage in military action would be a direct recall of Blair's actions on Iraq, and of little benefit to Cameron domestically, or probably internationally either.

In 'losing' his motion, he gets to be seen as acknowledging the will of Parliament and the people. If he had 'won' his motion, his political future would be sunk, as being an echo of Blair's roughshod disregard of public will and reason. In 'losing', he gets to be seen as having met all of his domestic and international obligations, and acceeded to a higher authority of Parliament. He gets to be seen as reasonable, and amenable to change. There will be no cost in lives or treasure. In short, he gets to be the Anti-Blair. There is much more for Cameron to gain by 'losing' than there was by 'winning'.

As I see it, at least. I stand to be corrected by those with deeper knowledge of the UK political scene.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


a healthy scepticism for claims made by British and American intelligence sources.

Yellowcake, anyone?
posted by emjaybee at 6:55 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


"If everyone fought for their own convictions, there would be no war."
- War, What is it Good For
posted by Kruger5 at 6:55 AM on August 30, 2013


Wait, as a non-Brit, I must observe something. So this Gove fellow who was so furious that Parliament didn't want to go to war in Syria is the Secretary of Education!?!

Damn, Britain. The only other time I'm aware of that a hawkish Education Secretary inserted themselves forcefully into military policy, it turned out to be a real rough ride for all involved.
posted by Naberius at 7:05 AM on August 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Odd since France is pledging support.

France has a fairly close and complex relationship to Syria. And to Lebanon, which makes the relationship to Syria yet more complex. Surprised to see Hollande so vehement, though. Socialists aren't usually saber-rattlers.

Gove totally losing his shit in the lobby, shouting 'You're a disgrace!' at the rebels and having to be calmed down ('restrained' by some accounts) by his collages

They should have had some big, beefy oil paintings hanging around to keep order.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2013


The motion only made sense politically if Cameron was looking for a way out of it. And he succeeded.

If he wanted out, he could have just hung back and played a long game. He could have just said 'no'. Instead, he recalls Parliament for an urgent debate and deliberately subjects himself to a severely damaging defeat? His behaviour shows beyond reasonable doubt that he didn't want a way out: he wanted the war and he wanted and expected to win the vote.

it's an extremely clear message that they want Cameron gone before the next election

It would certainly be that normally (if 'normally' makes any sense in such a context), and it's certainly very damaging to Cameron, but my impression is that they actually voted purely on the merits of the motion on this occasion. If they wanted him out there would have been clearer signs of dissatisfaction earlier, wouldn't there?
posted by Segundus at 7:08 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really think there will be a UN resolution with Russia having a veto?
posted by smackfu at 7:12 AM on August 30, 2013


From ninebelow's most excellent link:
"I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of Parliament to decide on war."
From the U.S. Constitution, Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 11:
"The Congress shall have Power... [t]o declare War...;"
The UK government carries out this protection better than the United States, whose foundational document literally tells us Who Decides (and, by implication, Who Does Not Decide).
posted by resurrexit at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not at all convinced that this really is the defeat for Cameron that it is on its face. To engage in military action would be a direct recall of Blair's actions on Iraq, and of little benefit to Cameron domestically, or probably internationally either.
He must've cooked up this strategy during one of those games of multi-dimensional chess with Obama.
posted by fullerine at 7:14 AM on August 30, 2013


The UK government carries out this protection better than the United States, whose foundational document literally tells us Who Decides (and, by implication, Who Does Not Decide).

Yep. And fully expect the executive to lob missiles whether or not the Congress wants it. This end-around the constitutional requirement that Congress declare war is nothing short of disgraceful, it always has been.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


So this Gove fellow who was so furious that Parliament didn't want to go to war in Syria is the Secretary of Education!?!

Oh, Gove is so much worse than that. He wanted to overhaul the entire curriculum on the basis that it had been taken over by the left wing (countermeasures included encouraging former soldiers to become teachers, because disclipine and kids these days). He was going to use state money to provide bibles with his imprimatur to every school in the country, until that idea made contact with the real world. He thinks teachers should be monitored for what he calls extreme views (yet was happy to rubberstamp the UK's first private creationist schools).

My memory is feeble, but there's plenty more of that if you go back further.

Ah yes, and he's been caught doing all the classic politician stuff too - using private email accounts to get around FOI laws, making up statistics to sound convincing, giving kickbacks to former advisors and advisees. He even, as Secretary of Education, attracted a unanimous vote of no confidence from the teacher's union. Quite a chap.

Plus he looks like a middle-aged ventriloquist's puppet.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


Wait, as a non-Brit, I must observe something. So this Gove fellow who was so furious that Parliament didn't want to go to war in Syria is the Secretary of Education!?!

Yes, and he is fucking terrible at the job too.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Miliband was already angry after a government source used expletives overnight to criticise Miliband. A government source told the Times on Wednesday night: "No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a fucking cunt and a copper-bottomed shit."
posted by dng at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


There were pro-Syria demonstrators -- apparently supporters of the regime -- out in front of the Federal building in West LA last night. I was like -- what the actual fuck?

I'm a bit surprised at the way this vote went. And I'm also skeptical that gas masks and decon equipment is a sufficient response from the international community.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2013


Yeah, Michael Gove. Always in the news; not always for glowingly positive reasons.
posted by Wordshore at 7:21 AM on August 30, 2013


Does anyone really think there will be a UN resolution with Russia having a veto?

Russia's been arming Assad for a while now. Again, this is the key reason diplomacy should be the main option here. There are so many international players, and they should all be at the table. Instead, Obama's postponing discussions with Russia in order to float domestic political balloons about bombing another country's military command and control centers (not chemical weapons stores, it should be once again noted; the plan is not to bomb warehouses filled with drums of chemicals but rather to bomb human military units and headquarters).

Get the major players around a table and get to work. For a year, or more, if that's what it takes. Much better than increasing the chaos on the ground by a unilateral US bombing.

Side note:

WP is a very weak example of a chemical weapon.

Yeah, the US was very clear (after having to change its story about using white phosphorous as an offensive weapon when the evidence became too obvious) that white phosphorous is not technically covered under the Chemical Weapons Convention (although it is banned by the Geneva Convention when used as a weapon).

10mg of WP on your skin burns you a bit.

It's highly fat soluble and in larger amounts burns to the bone. I'm guessing you know that. But I'll leave it at that; this is ancillary to the Syria discussion. I just thought a Conservative linking to it was interesting.
posted by mediareport at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Socialists aren't usually saber-rattlers.

Particularly as Assad is at least nominally an "Arab Socialist", but yeah, Socialists are more shoe pounders than saber rattlers.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2013


I think better than a military strike would be to start a campaign to get countries to withdraw recognition of Assad's government in favor of the rebels.

You assume the rebels are going to be any greater bargain for Syria or for the world?

In any event, such a course of action might be mock-worthy and the government is determined to be "just muscular enough not to get mocked".

What exactly we would need to break or who to kill to keep the White House from being mocked, that's a policy question. Myself, I would have thought the White House was used to being mocked - part of the job description, after all - but apparently not.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good lord. From IndigoJones' link:

"They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic."

Would that be 5 civilian casualties from US cruise missiles, or would you need 25?
posted by mediareport at 7:38 AM on August 30, 2013


dng: Miliband was already angry after a government source used expletives overnight to criticise [him]. A government source told the Times on Wednesday night: "No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a fucking cunt and a copper-bottomed shit."
I wonder if Cameron talks to SamCam that way? Or, for that matter, whether the Foreign Office talks to its spouse like that? And what is a "copper-bottomed shit" anyway? So many troubling questions.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


whose foundational document literally tells us Who Decides

It also fails completely to define a threshold for "declaring war." Nor, for that matter, does it specify what form a "declaration of war" must take. Is every use of military force a "declaration of war"? If the US does go through with this mission against Syria will we be "at war" with Syria? What if Syria doesn't retaliate? When will we declare that "war" to have ended?

The constitution is pretty unhelpful on these issues, in fact. Statements to the effect that such and such an action are "plainly unconstitutional" are mostly, in these cases, statements that you disapprove of the action and you want the added moral authority of being able to denounce it as an improper use of force. The constitution is simply unclear on anything short of a full "we all draw up sides and one of us marches into the other one's territory and settles in for a long campaign" kind of war.
posted by yoink at 7:42 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other day I saw a headline about the US was considering "Humanitarian missiles."

My fear in 6 months we'll still be seeing dead civilians on TV, but that the US will be the ones killing them in the name of peace and democracy.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2013


...white phosphorous is not technically covered under the Chemical Weapons Convention

There's nothing "technical" about it. White phosphorus is explicitly listed as a conventional incendiary in the relevant UN agreements. As an incendiary, it certainly has restrictions on use. However, WP is not in the same class of material as a chemical weapon, those substances listed on schedules 1 to 3 of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

This is so important because this blurring of what a "chemical weapon" is, is part of the Big Lie. It's Overton window shifting in motion. WP is dangerous, no doubt, and is controlled by international treaty, yes, but it is not, in action, use or potential effect, as dangerous as those substances covered by the CWC. Referring to it as such is doing the lifting for the warmongers trying to reframe debate.
posted by bonehead at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the Government will act accordingly.

Have a word with your cousins across the pond, please?
posted by Rykey at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2013


"just muscular enough not to get mocked"

I wonder if this is a reference to Clinton's failed cruise missile attack in 1998. As I recall there was a fair amount of mocking.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


MJ Rosenberg: Brits Kill Chances for War With Iran
posted by goethean at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Statements to the effect that such and such an action are "plainly unconstitutional" are mostly, in these cases, statements that you disapprove of the action and you want the added moral authority of being able to denounce it as an improper use of force.

Not necessarily. Those statements are one interpretation of the Constitution. If there is ambiguity in what the Constitution says with regard to war powers, then people can have good faith differing interpretations that are actually arguing the meaning of the Constitution and not gotcha grabs at moral superiority. There is no more added moral authority for the view that sees use of force without congressional approval as unconstitutional than one that sees it as constitutional.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2013


I wonder if Cameron talks to SamCam that way?

She was born in Scunthorpe so I guess he'll claim it as an abbreviation.
posted by Talez at 7:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nearly 80 percent of Americans want Congressional approval on Syria.

Further down they specifically call out that 50% support (correctly, in my view) limited cruise missile strikes, with 44% opposing.

Mostly I wish we had conducted such a strike two years ago and prevented the 100,000 civilian deaths since. The only "good" non-defensive use of the US military, in my view, is demolishing military hardware that is actively and deliberately being used against civilians: it is worth the ~1000 soldiers and ~100 bystander civilians we'd kill while cratering Syria's runways and air force hangars to prevent the further 50,000 deaths said air force will enable during the subsequent year of negotiations.
posted by Ryvar at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Copper-bottomed shit" is a phrase that seems to be in occasional use on the Tory right, and mostly serves to show that the speaker has no idea of naval history. In the eighteenth century wooden ships were given copper-plated keels to preserve them from the effects of weed and shipworm, and to provide a degree of streamlining. The term "copper-bottomed" spread from there via the insurance world to become a general descriptor for plans that are secure and trustworthy.
posted by Hogshead at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


Would an economic, rather than military, action have any effect? Say, seizing Syria's and Assad's financial holdings in the US and UK?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:11 AM on August 30, 2013


Mostly I wish we had conducted such a strike two years ago and prevented the 100,000 civilian deaths since

I seriously doubt limited military action two years ago (lobbing missiles) would have had much of an effect on the number of people killed. I also seriously doubt that the current plan will have much of an effect on the outcome or on the number of people killed. In fact, it will probably cause more deaths, as missiles tend to do.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


You seriously doubt that removing the single military element the Syrian rebels have repeatedly cited as the primary force preventing them from operating effectively to end artillery shelling and helicopter strafing runs on civilian concentrations will prevent deaths? Have you been paying ANY attention to the reports coming out of the civil war? Any at all?
posted by Ryvar at 8:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


100K civilian deaths ryvar? Plus 50k more on the way?

100k total war deaths is the figure cited by the UN and by the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Of that number, 37k are listed as civilian.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/world/middleeast/syria.html

Still awful, of course.
posted by notyou at 8:17 AM on August 30, 2013


And it's shit like this -- "oh, he shot someone, he's a terrorist!" "Oh, he used WP, that's a chemical weapon, and WMD!!!" that really pisses me off in these discussions, because they mean words have no meaning...if you're slotting WP in as an WMD, then word literally have no meaning purple monkey dishwasher.

This is also true of the term Weapons of Mass Destruction itself. The whole point of the term as used since the 1990s is blurring the lines between chemical and nuclear weapons so as to make possession and/or use of chemical weapons grounds for war.

The Syrian government seems to have used chemical weapons, and if true that's horrible. Thinking that's in any way comparable to its having used nuclear weapons is absurd.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would an economic, rather than military, action have any effect? Say, seizing Syria's and Assad's financial holdings in the US and UK?

We've already done that.

"The Syrian government seems to have used chemical weapons, and if true that's horrible. Thinking that's in any way comparable to its having used nuclear weapons is absurd."

Agreed.
posted by Ryvar at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2013


Ryvar: "Nearly 80 percent of Americans want Congressional approval on Syria."

I wonder how much of that reaction is traditional US isolationism / fear of being enmeshed in a long-term quagmire, and how much of it is backlash from having been lied to by the Bush administration about why we "needed" to go to war in Iraq.
posted by zarq at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2013


I'd say this actually goes as far back as Vietnam for a substantial portion of the populace. That and the realization prompted by Libya/Egypt that democracies in that region may - with utter justification - hate us even worse than the tin-pot dictators we've been propping up or tolerating.
posted by Ryvar at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2013


You seriously doubt that removing the single military element the Syrian rebels have repeatedly cited as the primary force preventing them from operating effectively to end artillery shelling and helicopter strafing runs on civilian concentrations will prevent deaths?

Oh I forgot, the U.S will destroy all of Syria's capability to kill.

What are you talking about? We'll lob a few missiles and then go home. Everyone will forget about this in 7 days. If it happened two years ago, it'd have been the same. This strike isn't going to have an appreciable effect. If it stops the many civilian deaths that are to come, I'll eat my hat.

It's not as if Syria doesn't know what's coming.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have new found respect for Parliament after this. Cameron indicating that he'll comply with the decision also raises my opinion of him. That is not to say that something doesn't need to be done to prevent the Syrian government killing civilians, but I'm at a loss about what could be done.
posted by arcticseal at 8:27 AM on August 30, 2013


In Canada's Parliament, you vote party line unless its explicitly declared to be a "conscience vote". If you don't, you're cut off from party resources in the next election and basically excommunicated and turfed out. In practice, no one deviates.

Given that ours is a child of Britain's Parliament, do they not have the same party discipline, or did Cameron declare a conscience vote?
posted by fatbird at 8:30 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I agree with one of the comments above about this been a perfect storm.

Parliament yesterday was Westminster at it's best but it cannot be overstated that this was a terrible miscalculation by the Tories who must have thought they had the numbers to make this vote work. The Chief Whip Sir George Young is already earmarked for been shown the exit door after yesterdays shenanigans. The fact that 2 ministers missed the vote because they (claim) did not hear the division bell and the incredibly tight margin just shows how close it was to going through.

Milliband far from showing his worth in this debacle I think has done serious damage to his prospects. He may have made the right call in terms of been more in line with the majority view point on this issue but, given his recent flip flopping, it is clear this end position was not from conviction but in trying to make the call that political expediency required.

Cameron was far too quick and eager to go down this route and it will have cost him dearly. In terms of drivers here fingers are been pointed at Hague and the FO as well as closer to home (Sam Cam).
posted by numberstation at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2013


Would an economic, rather than military, action have any effect? Say, seizing Syria's and Assad's financial holdings in the US and UK?

Let me put it this way, when you drove around Syria before the war, you saw signs for Mandarin Cola everywhere rather than Coke. In other words, unless the Chinese and Russians are willing to divest, US and UK (further) seizures aren't going to do much damage. There did used to be a fairly sizeable French tourist market and that is clearly gone, but the Assad's money's in Rubles and Yuan these days.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gove = Pob. I know who I'd rather were in charge of Education.

("Who/what the hell is Pob?" I hear you cry)
posted by ZipRibbons at 8:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mostly I wish we had conducted such a strike two years ago and prevented the 100,000 civilian deaths since.

Would an economic, rather than military, action have any effect? Say, seizing Syria's and Assad's financial holdings in the US and UK?


Under what legal framework in both scenarios? This is the problem with the American (that is, the people in that country in favour of "humanitarian bombing") point of view: the US is not the highest moral authority in the world. While the US can certainly act independently and unilaterally, not everyone is going to be pleased about that.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 AM on August 30, 2013


On days like this the mythical one world state cannot arrive fast enough me.

Were this a civil war in a U.S. state it would be a no brainer that federal forces should intervene. It would be both a governmental and moral imperative to protect our citizens.

But we're stuck with what we've got I guess.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2013


This strike isn't going to have an appreciable effect. If it stops the many civilian deaths that are to come, I'll eat my hat.
Some links to Rebels stating that the primary obstacle is the Syrian Air Force:
2011
2012
2013

Assad using said air force to drop certain items on civilians:
Cluster bombs,
thermobaric weapons (aka fuel-air explosives), and
Helicopter gunships, which typically mount guns capable of full-auto firing of 20mm high explosive rounds.

MEANWHILE:
Required Sorties and Weapons to Degrade Syrian Air Force, which makes a very comprehensive and thoroughly-researched case for ending this for $200 million dollars worth of cruise missiles and JSOWs/JASSMs.

If you take away the Syrian air force you remove their ability to assault the rebels with impunity. We can do this for the cost of occupying Iraq for *four hours* without American feet touching the soil or directly risking American lives and yet choose to do nothing. I don't know how your moral calculus operates, but according to mine that's pretty fucking disgusting.
posted by Ryvar at 8:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Given that ours is a child of Britain's Parliament, do they not have the same party discipline, or did Cameron declare a conscience vote?

Canada's parliament is a warped version of Westminster (the PMO has tremendous power in Canada). In British parliament, backbench MP's regularly vote against government motions.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:39 AM on August 30, 2013


The time when we might have intervened just in Syria and helped move things in a salutary direction has passed. What was once a national uprising is now a regional sectarian war, and I’m not sure how one intervenes in that.

The the problem has become really complicated does not arrest any of the consequences, one of which is as follows: the eastern third of Syria and the western third of Iraq are now a single entity where the only functioning power is Al-Qaida. In other words, a sort of radical Islamic quasi-state is being born, which is the common enemy of humanity. (Even Assad views this development as an existential crisis.)
posted by stbalbach at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mostly I wish we had conducted such a strike two years ago and prevented the 100,000 civilian deaths since.

I think this is a very big assumption you are making that targeted strikes 2 years ago would be enough to have prevented civilian deaths. In fact it is precisely this argument that fell flat yesterday. The rhetoric and the way this was framed (at least here in the UK) was that this was not about regime change, or supporting one side more than the other, but a clear statement that the 'International Community' would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. As Fisk and other commentators have pointed out, the West was quite adept at turning a blind eye when (our then Friend) Saddam used them against the Kurds in Hallabjah.
posted by numberstation at 8:44 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Under what legal framework in both scenarios?

The legal framework of being a sovereign nation whose executive branch is entitled to engage in *limited* military actions (as opposed to massive occupations requiring sustained deployments of thousands of soldiers as in Iraq & Afghanistan), and the moral framework of "We have the opportunity to do the right thing without harm coming to us and therefore choose to not stand by and watch innocent people be slaughtered by their own government with military hardware."
posted by Ryvar at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2013


But don't underestimate the damage this has done to Obama. If even your poodle won't follow you into the woods, perhaps you shouldn't go in there.

With the ironic twist that UK diplomats have been lobbying Obama hard for action in the past few months.

It's a perfect storm of several factors

Plus the factor that the Government has been jumping up and down screaming about how we're stony flat broke, so broke we need to rob disabled people, close the hospitals to visitors and immigrants and take food out of the mouths of the poor. If you can't afford £7 prescriptions for dirty foreigners, you certainly can't afford millions to throw missiles at them.
posted by bonaldi at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Given that ours is a child of Britain's Parliament, do they not have the same party discipline, or did Cameron declare a conscience vote?

If Cameron had lots of allies he could afford to excommunicate dissenters. But he's trying to hold together a shaky coalition and a divided party against a Labour party that is leading opinion polls. He has to use the whip selectively because he doesn't want to have his bluff called. He's already had bruising battles on gay marriage and Europe, and interdepartmental warfare on budget cuts.

The MPs who have defied the party whip have, I'm sure, done so having calculated correctly that Cameron needs them in the fold and has to suck it up.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:52 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plus the factor that the Government has been jumping up and down screaming about how we're stony flat broke, so broke we need to rob disabled people, close the hospitals to visitors and immigrants and take food out of the mouths of the poor. If you can't afford £7 prescriptions for dirty foreigners, you certainly can't afford millions to throw missiles at them.

As we are in the US, although our conservatives are more blatant about being ok-dokey with spending billions on bombs while starving the poor, and as for immigrants, pfft, they just want our (shrinking, underpaid) jobs.

And to those who think that some kind of earlier or present military action would save lives, I don't even know what to say. Maybe recommend that you talk to people on the receiving end of our military might once in a while and see how liberated they feel, how much their lives have improved, and how many of their friends and families' lives have been lost in our attempts to save people by bombing the fuck out of them.

There are many types of actions we could take to help in this situation, a military one is both the least effective and most guaranteed to sow future discontent, kill our own people, and perpetuate the violence.
posted by emjaybee at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


And to those who think that some kind of earlier or present military action would save lives, I don't even know what to say. Maybe recommend that you talk to people on the receiving end of our military might once in a while and see how liberated they feel, how much their lives have improved, and how many of their friends and families' lives have been lost in our attempts to save people by bombing the fuck out of them.

My grandparents were children in Nazi Germany and targets of weekly-then-daily deliberate carpet bombing campaigns by the Allies against German residential neighborhoods. The second story of my grandmother's house was blown clean off by a bomb, and a 30-foot crater put in her backyard by a second. My grandfather arbitrarily chose to make his recycling dropoff at one of two stores facing across the street, only for the other store to explode with no survivors (and no air raid warning siren) as he crossed the threshold. I have listened to their stories of that time every other weekend since I was five.

But please, by all means, tell me of these horrors of war.

I think this is a very big assumption you are making that targeted strikes 2 years ago would be enough to have prevented civilian deaths.

Cratering all six Syrian Air Force bases' runways is a $75 million operation, and destroying every hangar therein is a $100 million operation. With the sole exception of Damascus-Mezze Air Base none are adjacent to residential areas, and all have a at least a couple hundred meters between their location and the nearest housing. The margin of error on the cruise missiles proposed is 5 meters. This action alone would not have removed the Syrian government's advantages on the ground - tanks and artillery - but it would have removed its ability to strike with impunity and given the rebellion a chance at victory inside of a year.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Maybe we should take out Egypt's military while we're at it. They're not very nice people either.
posted by Naberius at 9:10 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think a low-ball financial estimate associated with a Middle East military adventure is probably among the least credible ideas that could be put forward into the public sphere right now. Maybe we'll even get to hear about how it will pay for itself.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe recommend that you talk to people on the receiving end of our military might once in a while and see how liberated they feel, how much their lives have improved, and how many of their friends and families' lives have been lost in our attempts to save people by bombing the fuck out of them.

That would depend, though, on who you talk to, woudn't it? Talk to Kosovars about the bombing in Serbia and they'll tell you that they're incredibly grateful that the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo was effectively ended by the Nato campaign. Talk to Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp in Jordan and they'll beg you to unleash a massive bombing campaign against Assad and Assad's forces.

Personally, I'm still hoping that somehow Obama will pull back from this attack (although that seems very unlikely now), but pretending that this is a politically, ethically or militarily simple case is just silly. We're all war-weary now because of Iraq and Afghanistan, but before the Iraq invasion it was, on the whole, the political left who were keen on military engagement on humanitarian grounds. It won't be the military who are pushing hardest in Obama's administration for this intervention (by and large they seem to see the whole thing as an intractable quagmire), it will be lefties like Samantha Power.
posted by yoink at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


So what food item are we renaming, then?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


For anyone else who'd like a recap, 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask The upshot is There are no viable options. Sorry. but do read it if you're feeling uninformed.

Bombing Syria, which still has a Russian naval base, is an escalation of violence. Escalating violence is a crappy and un-effective approach. It would make relations with Russia much worse. Would it teach Assad not to use chemical weapons? I suspect not. In fact, I suspect that Obama's line in the sand of Well, if they were to use chemical weapons... was a very bad idea. Also, bombing Syria, even carefully chosen military targets, punishes the people of Syria.

Providing health care resources for the effects of chemical attacks is a great idea, even if not wildly effective, at least in part because it responds to horrible behavior with compassion instead of more violence, and learning to do that is a fine thing.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on August 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


As Fisk and other commentators have pointed out, the West was quite adept at turning a blind eye when (our then Friend) Saddam used them against the Kurds in Hallabjah.

And just what does a 30-year-old mistake have to do with the action we should take today? Women and children are being gassed to death en masse. We should sit by now because we sat by 30 years ago?

Inaction is a choice, as much as action is. There are often good reasons for inaction, but the facile comparisons of Syria to Iraq or Afghanistan drive me nuts. No one is talking about a ground invasion. The precedents that are most on-point are Kosovo and Libya, where mass murder was averted, and a civil war decided, on the basis of air campaigns that produced minimal civilian casualties. I have no idea how someone who professes to be primarily concerned about civilian deaths can think that air strikes against military targets are going to be a net negative for Syrian civilians who are being massacred daily by the Syrian air force.

It's true that it's hard to see a good result in Syria. It seems to me that the problem is a state created by the West a century ago that forces together people who hate each other, and who should live in separate states. Maybe that's what will happen if the war grinds to a stalemate. That outcome is not going to happen without more civilian deaths, but it's a lot harder to kill a thousand civilians with bullets than it is with poison gas. Anything that can be done to stop the use of chemical weapons is going to save the lives of civilians.
posted by Dasein at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


This BBC report is a video of the aftermath of an air strike with an incendiary weapon against a school in Syria. An aircraft dropped an unknown weapon, which the reporter guesses to have been napalm-like or thermite-like, burning a number of people alive. There is ghastly footage of people burnt over their entire bodies, still alive, and in a physical pain that I simply cannot imagine. I expect that a number of the people filmed are now dead from their injuries. It may very well screw you up for the rest of your life, and I think you ought to watch it. I think you owe it to the people killed and maimed there to witness what happened to them.

This is a report from the Human Rights Watch calling for an investigation of that strike, and condemning it.

I don't think there's anything to make jokes about here. The Assad regime is behaving as though its leaders have lost their rational abilities.

For the West to act comes with great peril. I, for one, think that failing to act comes with greater peril.
posted by samofidelis at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


So what food item are we renaming, then?

I guess because the French are with us this time we could change "French Fries" to "pommes frites"?
posted by yoink at 9:26 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man, what if we just took five minutes to wait on the dumb jokes. What if we try that.
posted by samofidelis at 9:27 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My apologies.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what food item are we renaming, then?

Freedom Muffins
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:30 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the West to act comes with great peril. I, for one, think that failing to act comes with greater peril.

This framing is all too often paired with the notion that the only Action available to us is military action, and more specifically the remote strike action being discussed so casually.

The problem here is that those of us who believe military action is the incorrect choice are being painted as somehow supporting or enabling the atrocities being committed currently.

There are many striking images available of the victims of our own bombings which are literally under way in other countries. These military efforts are focused on very short-term goals, and have in practice resulted in severely destabilized situations like the very one we're all discussing now. To be cautious about further action, or to even suggest that there are other options shouldn't be painted as cowardly.
posted by odinsdream at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


What does the political science literature say on third party interventions in civil wars?

Recent research has begun to focus on the role of outside interventions in the duration of civil conflicts. Assuming that interventions are a form of conflict management, ex ante expectations would be that they would reduce a conflict’s expected duration. Hypotheses relating the type and timing of outside interventions to the duration of civil conflicts are tested. The data incorporate 150 conflicts during the period from 1945 to 1999, 101 of which had outside interventions. Using a hazard analysis, the results suggest that thirdparty interventions tend to extend expected durations rather than shorten them. The only aspect of the strategy for intervening that reduces the likelihood that a conflict will end in the next month is that it be biased in favor of either the opposition or the government. In effect, neutral interventions are less effective than
biased ones.

Also,

Research has begun to examine the relationship between changes in the conflict environment and levels of civilian victimization. We extend this work by examining the effect of external armed intervention on the decisions of governments and insurgent organizations to victimize civilians during civil wars. We theorize that changes in the balance of power in an intrastate conflict influence combatant strategies of violence. As a conflict actor weakens relative to its adversary, it employs increasingly violent tactics toward the civilian population as a means of reshaping the strategic landscape to its benefit.

and:

This article examines the effect of foreign armed intervention on human rights conditions in target countries. It is argued that military intervention contributes to the rise of state repression by enhancing the state’s coercive power and encouraging more repressive behavior, especially when it is supportive or neutral toward the target government.
Results from bivariate probit models estimated on time-series cross-section data show that supportive and neutral interventions increase the likelihood of extrajudicial killing, disappearance, political imprisonment, and torture. Hostile interventions increase only the probability of political imprisonment. The involvement of an intergovernmental
organization or a liberal democracy as an intervener is unlikely to make any major difference in the suggested negative impact of intervention.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:35 AM on August 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wait, as a non-Brit, I must observe something. So this Gove fellow who was so furious that Parliament didn't want to go to war in Syria is the Secretary of Education!?!

Because of the nature of parliamentary democracy ministers are typically chosen from members of the legislature.* This means that ministers are politicians first and foremost and not experts in their field.

*Technically anybody at all can be appointed in the UK, but this doesn't happen.
posted by Thing at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Juan Cole: The Ghost of Iraq haunts Obama on Syria as British Parliament Defects
posted by homunculus at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to compartmentalize how tired I am of the U.S. going to war from my evaluation of the intellectual arguments, but it is very difficult. I suspect most people in the U.S. are like me just sick of new wars. We don't want to be the global police even though what is happening in Syria is terrible. Given that, the President needs to make a really compelling case if he wants this to be at all popular. But maybe that's not a factor for him. He'll probably never run in another election.
posted by Area Man at 9:40 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why does the U.S. have to be the global policeman in this case? If Syria is more important to Russia, why can't Russia take control of and destroy all of the chemical weapons systems?
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:45 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


it employs increasingly violent tactics toward the civilian population as a means of reshaping the strategic landscape to its benefit.

It is argued that military intervention contributes to the rise of state repression by enhancing the state’s coercive power and encouraging more repressive behavior, especially when it is supportive or neutral toward the target government.
posted by MisantropicPainforest


It seems that the Assad regime has already been throwing everything it has (and everything Iran/Hezbollah have) at the conflict.

The only remaining avenue would be full-blown chemical warfare - but considering that the response from the international community would be to directly target the Syrian leadership (and also the possibility of the chemical weapons contaminating the regime controlled areas of Syria) even that seems unrealistic. Not even Russia would stand by at that point (especially since its personnel and citizens would also likely die in the chemical attacks).
posted by rosswald at 9:47 AM on August 30, 2013


odinsdream,--

I actually agree with everything you said. And while I think that a limited air war to destroy some of the Syrian military's offensive capabilities is a vastly different response than some of our bloodier debacles with military adventurism, I do think that we will certainly kill people with our response. And I expect they will die in pain, and that is... very difficult to accept. And I do not think that a military action is the only avenue the West ought to pursue. I certainly don't think it's the most important aspect of a best-of-all-possible-outcomes response.

One of the fears of police officers acting illegally under the colour of authority is that it makes it so difficult for the police forces to play those roles they ought to in a safe, democratic society. The American led invasion of Iraq is perhaps analogous to that problem.
posted by samofidelis at 9:48 AM on August 30, 2013


Why does the U.S. have to be the global policeman in this case? If Syria is more important to Russia, why can't Russia take control of and destroy all of the chemical weapons systems?

What motivates Russia to act to those ends? Can you make a case that they have any interest in doing so?
posted by samofidelis at 9:49 AM on August 30, 2013


This article examines the effect of foreign armed intervention on human rights conditions in target countries. It is argued that military intervention contributes to the rise of state repression by enhancing the state’s coercive power and encouraging more repressive behavior, especially when it is supportive or neutral toward the target government.

But US military intervention in this case would be neither "supportive" nor "neutral" toward the target government.
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on August 30, 2013


The motion only made sense politically if Cameron was looking for a way out of it. And he succeeded.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:55 AM on August 30 [6 favorites +] [!]


By being humiliated as PM and becoming more vulnerable to a leadership challenge from his own party's ranks?
posted by Bwithh at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What motivates Russia to act to those ends? Can you make a case that they have any interest in doing so?

Maybe they've watched the video you linked to earlier.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2013


Inaction is a choice, as much as action is. There are often good reasons for inaction, but the facile comparisons of Syria to Iraq or Afghanistan drive me nuts.

and it should - because intervening in syria's civil war could be the final spark that sets off the middle east - assad has threatened to attack israel if he is attacked - iran has threatened retaliation if syria is attacked

and the people we would be directly helping, the rebels, have as their largest contingent our sworn enemies, al quada

this could be the start of an all out regional war - one in which we really don't have any allies

iraq was somewhat dangerous, and the region isn't better for our interference in it

afghanistan wasn't all that dangerous for us in a grand strategical sense

syria is extremely dangerous - not just for what assad might do but for whatever other people might do
posted by pyramid termite at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Have you paid attention to Russian politics lately? There's an ugly chance that certain powers that be in that nation will look at that as evidence that there's a new opportunity to restock Assad's inventory of incendiary weapons.
posted by samofidelis at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


BBC Video - 'The world has failed our nation'
A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground
(woops, this is linked by samofidelis above)
posted by rosswald at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2013


iraq was somewhat dangerous, and the region isn't better for our interference in it

Iraq was dangerous? We were dangerous.
posted by samofidelis at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2013


the Oatmeal
9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask (WaPo)

What's going on in Syria is terrible and tragic. I don't believe bombing Syria is an effective response. It escalates the violence. Escalating the violence in a civil war might be somewhat useful if the sides were somewhat even, or if the US felt so strongly that the rebels should win that we should absolutely support them, or if we had a strong strategic interest in the country. Bombing a country that has strong ties to Russia, and in which Russia has a military base will really hurt relations with Russia.

Would it teach Syria/Assad not to use chemical weapons? I doubt it. In fact, I think that when Obama drew a line in the sand, saying Well, if they use chemical weapons, the US might have to act... it may have served as a taunt. It sure put him in a stupid position.

I love the idea of sending health care supplies to treat chemical weapons injuries, though its usefulness would be limited, because a compassionate non-military response to war would be revolutionary for the US.

It's horrible to stand by while something awful is happening, but walking into a burning building and spitting on the arsonist doesn't rescue the poor bastards on the 9th floor.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


More seriously, it would seem to me if Russia is able to show they can control the Syrian army and prevent these atrocities, there is a much better chance they can retain an ally and their Navy base or whatever.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2013


the results suggest that thirdparty interventions tend to extend expected durations rather than shorten them. The only aspect of the strategy for intervening that reduces the likelihood that a conflict will end in the next month is that it be biased in favor of either the opposition or the government.

This study, too, doesn't seem all that relevant. Once again, the contemplated US action is "biased in favor of...the opposition." It's not a neutral "peacekeeping" operation. One might also note that the findings of this study are not very surprising. When you send in peacekeepers you often freeze a conflict without resolving it. But "duration" isn't necessarily the most relevant metric when it comes to assessing the cost of a conflict in humanitarian terms. I mean, a nice quick genocide or ethnic cleansing campaign need not have a long duration, but that doesn't mean it's obviously a "better" outcome, ethically, than a 40 year standoff monitored by UN peacekeepers.
posted by yoink at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, as a non-Brit, I must observe something. So this Gove fellow who was so furious that Parliament didn't want to go to war in Syria is the Secretary of Education!?!

Damn, Britain. The only other time I'm aware of that a hawkish Education Secretary inserted themselves forcefully into military policy, it turned out to be a real rough ride for all involved.
posted by Naberius at 7:05 AM on August 30 [6 favorites +] [!]



In the parliamentary, ministerial appointments like the Education post are taken by members of parliament from the ruling party/parties - so all people who could hypothetically challenge the leader of their party in a contest if they have enough party support and take over the PM role if the leader has that. Gove is/was a favourite as a possible future leader amongst the right wing of his party - seen as very smart
posted by Bwithh at 9:58 AM on August 30, 2013


Did I miss something? Has it been shown that it's Assad who used the chemical weapons and not any of the rebel groups? I recall that some VX stocks have been found in rebel possession a while back but I'm not sure how accurate those reports are. What's the latest on who used the chemical weapons and what sort was it?
posted by enamon at 9:59 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love the idea of sending health care supplies to treat chemical weapons injuries, though its usefulness would be limited, because a compassionate non-military response to war would be revolutionary for the US.

How, exactly, is this idea supposed to work? We do what? Package up "healthcare supplies" and mail them to the Syrian authorities with a note saying "please, after you gas people, treat them with this"? If we're supposed to be sending in actual medical teams, how do we stop the Syrians from killing the medical teams? We tell them "no, this time we really mean it. Killing our medical teams is the REAL red line"?
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think this question mark and the fact that neither Obama or Cameron are prepared to state categorically that they have evidence to prove it was the Assad regime who used the chemical weapons (just they consider on the balance of probabilities that it was so) , was a significant factor in what took place yesterday. Personally I thought George Galloway's speech yesterday hit the nail on the head multiple times in fact and is worth a watch here.
posted by numberstation at 10:05 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think there's anything to make jokes about here. The Assad regime is behaving as though its leaders have lost their rational abilities.

For the West to act comes with great peril. I, for one, think that failing to act comes with greater peril.


I don't know about "the West", but I do know that the United States is covertly funding al Qaeda affiliated Sunni militants, and has been for a couple of years. Now that they have lost badly to Hezbollah, America is bringing in all of our military options, ostensibly as part of this ridiculous and pointless proxy war with Iran.

My vote is for the United States, simply in light of how well things went in Iraq -- which is now chock-full of Al Qaeda militants where none had existed before -- to do absolutely nothing beyond what the UN instructs us to do, as far as Syria is concerned. And without having to beat everyone up to get our way anyway. I am radically suggesting that the United States play a part in international affairs, instead of trying to direct affairs like some drunken Caesar.

I don't think Americans realize that all pretense of moral authority has disappeared since we invaded Iraq. The State Department still claims it, but when we have forced feedings in a stateless prison that is beyond the reach of anything resembling the law, and we are obviously responsible for the influx of rebel forces as we have been arranging for Gulf states to fund Sunni jihadists -- also known as "al Qaeda terrorists" when they are operating in Iraq -- there isn't a shred left.
posted by deanklear at 10:05 AM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I suspect most people in the U.S. are like me just sick of new wars.

Nobody needs more reason than feeling "sick of new wars" for opposition to be credible.
posted by notyou at 10:05 AM on August 30, 2013


Has it been shown that it's Assad who used the chemical weapons and not any of the rebel groups?

There is not a single credible source who think the rebels have access to chemical weapons. Assad decided to level the neighbourhood for days after it was gassed - he didn't do that to conceal evidence of the rebels' use of chemical weapons.
posted by Dasein at 10:06 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]



bizarre that he did not put out a three line whip after all of that noise he made.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 AM on August 30 [1 favorite +] [!]


It WAS a three line whip: "Labour peer Lord Reid of Cardowan, defence secretary under Tony Blair in 2005 and 2006, told BBC News last night, "It's unprecedented for a prime minister and deputy prime minister and a government with a majority to lose a vote on a three line whip, on a foreign affairs issue, which involves military action.

"It's certainly not within my living memory and it is therefore a massive blow to the Prime Minster himself, and the Foreign Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister
."

That's why Tory MPs voting against are spoken of as "rebels"
posted by Bwithh at 10:06 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, CNN is showing John Kerry speaking on the left side of the screen and video of dead children on the right side.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:07 AM on August 30, 2013


FWIW, CNN is showing John Kerry speaking on the left side of the screen and video of dead children on the right side.

Not seeing the dead children here (Australia), just yodelling rhetoric ... take care.
posted by de at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2013


My grandparents were children in Nazi Germany and targets of weekly-then-daily deliberate carpet bombing campaigns by the Allies against German residential neighborhoods. The second story of my grandmother's house was blown clean off by a bomb, and a 30-foot crater put in her backyard by a second. My grandfather arbitrarily chose to make his recycling dropoff at one of two stores facing across the street, only for the other store to explode with no survivors (and no air raid warning siren) as he crossed the threshold. I have listened to their stories of that time every other weekend since I was five.

But please, by all means, tell me of these horrors of war.


I find it interesting that you don't end this story "And yet, they loved America and were glad they got carpet-bombed," but that's a different discussion, mostly because WWII is not this conflict, Germany in WWII is not Syria now, and the only actual parallel here, which, interestingly you yourself draw is that the people in Syria are/will suffer, just as your grandparents did.

Even if you believe that every American military action in WWII was completely just, that does not provide a blank check for every military action the US might ever want to take.

Context matters, in war and everywhere else. Every missile we send will have a high probability, even a certainty, of killing and injuring some innocent civilians who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That blood is blood we shed. Those who are pro-bombing think that blood is justified because it will stop more gas attacks and shorten this current conflict, and cut down on the overall amount of blood shed, but I don't see any reason to believe that is true, especially given what we know of the effects of our military actions in similar recent conflicts. Certainly, the idea that bombs will be more effective than diplomacy or providing what relief we can begs for some justification.

It's not about not giving a shit that death is happening. It's about recognizing that our military intervention is not going to stop it. And given the forces still at work in our own military, forces that result in private mercenaries imprisoning, raping, torturing and looting the populace, we are in no place to pretend our intervention is sure to improve the lives of Syria's citizens.
posted by emjaybee at 10:12 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


All I can think of as Kerry lists a bunch of countries and organizations condemning Syria is "don't forget Poland!"
posted by Justinian at 10:14 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is not a single credible source who think the rebels have access to chemical weapons. Assad decided to level the neighbourhood for days after it was gassed - he didn't do that to conceal evidence of the rebels' use of chemical weapons.

Actually there have been accusations as early as May that some of the Syrian rebels have been using Sarin in attacks. Here's one link that I've found.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/un-sources-say-rebel-forces-not-assad-used-sarin-gas/64897/

And that links to this:

http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSBRE94409Z20130505?irpc=932
posted by enamon at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oops, didn't realize I was watching FOX. Not to say that CNN has been any less of a cheerleader.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:19 AM on August 30, 2013


Dasein: "Has it been shown that it's Assad who used the chemical weapons and not any of the rebel groups?

There is not a single credible source who think the rebels have access to chemical weapons. Assad decided to level the neighbourhood for days after it was gassed - he didn't do that to conceal evidence of the rebels' use of chemical weapons.
"

Either you are blind, ignorant (in a non-judgemental way), wilfully ignorant (that is more judgemental, yes), facetious or a propagandist for the current US regime.

UN Accuses Syrian Rebels of Chemical Weapons Use. This was from MAY:
"According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas," del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, said in an interview with Swiss radio late on Sunday.

"We still have to deepen our investigation, verify and confirm (the findings) through new witness testimony, but according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas," she added.

She stressed that the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, which she is a part of, had far from finished its investigation.

Turkish authorities are carrying out blood tests on Syrians who have fled the fighting at home to determine if they have been victims of chemical weapons, a medical source said Monday.

"Samples have been taken from people wounded in Syria who have been transported to Turkey," the source said on condition of anonymity, adding that the results were not yet known.
Of course there's this, written the day after that report:
"A UN commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria has distanced itself from comments made by one of its investigators indicating that Syrian rebel forces have used chemical weapons, saying on Monday that it had “no conclusive proof”. "
Of course it's hard to get "conclusive proof" and of course, what you're now dealing with is a question of he said/she said.

You either believe the US in its claims or you don't. You either believe that what he said is valid and right and just even thought there's "no conclusive proof" and you probably, at the same time, would deny the claims of the UN investigator based upon the fact that "there's no conclusive proof" and yet...

The whole point of law and judgement is to make sure that we have evidence supporting the facts of the matter. And pardon me if I am very leery of giving any credence to anything any US administration says about anything when it comes to war, for the past, oh, 60-70 years, but especially, in particular the past 30-40.
posted by symbioid at 10:19 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


All I can think of as Kerry lists a bunch of countries and organizations condemning Syria is "don't forget Poland!"

I hear you, but Turkey certainly has their cockles a lot closer to the fire in this one than Poland ever did in Iraq.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:20 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Galloway from yesterday's parliament session. Edit: Posted already, I see.
posted by klue at 10:20 AM on August 30, 2013


An additional reason why I'm deeply suspicious of military strikes is the assumption that this will be a cakewalk like Libya was. What if Syria's better infrastructure and deeper access to Russian technology (with Russian naval facilities nearby, you have to imagine Syria gets access to the good stuff) gives them enough of an edge to shoot down a billion dollar stealth plane, or a several-hundred-million-dollar fighter? How many lives and how much treasure are we willing to lay down at the altar of warfare with vague goals?
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:20 AM on August 30, 2013


It's not about not giving a shit that death is happening. It's about recognizing that our military intervention is not going to stop it.

Except you can't actually say that with much more certainty than those who claim that military intervention will stop it. I mean, it's clear that a bombing campaign isn't going to magically end all killing in Syria, but it's not, in fact, impossible that it will make Assad think twice about deploying chemical weapons and it's therefore not impossible that it will actually lead to fewer civilian deaths overall than otherwise.

Personally I think the consequences of bombing are too unclear to be able to justify it, but to suggest that it is a "fact" that it will have no effect is wildly overstating the case. There are definitely examples we can point to of cases where military intervention by the US prevented humanitarian disasters: Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya have been mentioned in this thread. Nor is the argument about the US needing to establish "credibility" entirely without merit. It is probably not a good thing for the world to think "eh, sure, the President of the US said that this was a 'red line' that couldn't be crossed without serious consequences, but we all know that he's full of hot air." Again, personally I'd take that risk because I see more downside consequences than upside consequences but I don't think it helps to hand wave away the arguments on either side of this debate.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


From this article in the Guardian: : "When Miliband made it clear in the call he would not support the government motion without more conditions, an exasperated Cameron accused him of "letting down America" and "siding with [Sergei] Lavrov", the Russian foreign minister, and an ally of Assad."

Letting down America?! Incredible. The toadying that the British political elite engage in is humiliating.
posted by banal evil at 10:24 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sounded to me like Kerry was saying we're going to be taking some sort of action tomorrow.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


And pardon me if I am very leery of giving any credence to anything any US administration says about anything when it comes to war

Fair enough. On the other hand it's hard to interpret the US's behavior up until this particular chemical attack as "desperately seeking an excuse to get involved." The Obama administration has been weathering a pretty constant series of complaints about its unwillingness to act on Syria. If the administration had serious doubts about who originated this attack I'd have expected them to make those doubts known early on so as to make it clear that this attack wasn't necessarily a "red line" incident.
posted by yoink at 10:32 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just to correct Kerry, Australia gets a new prime minister 7th September. When you find time, here's what the incoming Tony Abbott declared about his leadership and Australia's part in the Syria Crisis. We are in the last week of an election campaign.

And this guy is so paranoid about breaking an election promise they're as scarce as hens' teeth.
posted by de at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2013


Obama Promises Syria Strike Will Have No Objective
posted by homunculus at 10:43 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fundamentally, the problem is that many Americans believe the United States is the "end of history" and the best of all possible worlds. What a joke.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


An additional reason why I'm deeply suspicious of military strikes is the assumption that this will be a cakewalk like Libya was. What if Syria's better infrastructure and deeper access to Russian technology (with Russian naval facilities nearby, you have to imagine Syria gets access to the good stuff) gives them enough of an edge to shoot down a billion dollar stealth plane, or a several-hundred-million-dollar fighter? How many lives and how much treasure are we willing to lay down at the altar of warfare with vague goals?

I don't think this attack is a good idea. However, we are going to use cruise missiles from Arleigh Burke class destroyers, according to credible reports. Also, if we do use air power, we will blow up their radar and defense systems first, then bomb their fighters on the ground. Stealth bombers will not be used. Its actually very likely every attack will take place from international waters or the airspace above them.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that you don't end this story "And yet, they loved America and were glad they got carpet-bombed," but that's a different discussion, mostly because WWII is not this conflict, Germany in WWII is not Syria now, and the only actual parallel here, which, interestingly you yourself draw is that the people in Syria are/will suffer, just as your grandparents did.

I didn't end it that way because I realized I'd already let myself be goaded into talking about my family by some asshole on Metafilter claiming that I had never spoken to people who have known the horrors of war when exactly the opposite was true. You are now making more directly false claims.

My grandparents did, in fact, love America and moved here to raise their children. They didn't so much love being carpet-bombed as they loved the end goal it brought about - a fractured country where they were left starved to the point of bloody tooth-and-nail fights with their siblings over garbagecan scraps of food in between dodging roving packs of Russian soldiers raping every girl they could get their hands on. Because even that was better than the limited moral culpability they had as children forced to participate in the Nazi regime, in their view. I have recorded interviews with them discussing this point.

Having been successfully baited yet again, I am asking you, politely, to please stop your ignorant claims as regards me, my family, and what sort of things I do or do not know about. Literally everything you say on those points has been directly contrary to fact, and - evaluated strictly on the merits of your tendency to make assumptions regarding others - you are being an objectively horrible person. Again: please stop.

Even if you believe that every American military action in WWII was completely just, that does not provide a blank check for every military action the US might ever want to take.

Of course not. Who is foolish enough to believe that? Our actions in the Korean War, Vietnam, Latin America, Somalia, and above and beyond all the Middle East have been nothing short of barbaric idiocy. Standing by and permitting others to engage in further barbarism isn't really the way to begin redeeming ourselves.
posted by Ryvar at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My father-in-law watched his town bombed to the ground in a B-29 raid, and he watched his younger sister burn to death. He hated war because of that.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother, who was born in a refugee camp in southern Germany, and emigrated to Canada as a displaced person, hated war too. She could never figure out my obsession with DC's war comics when I was growing up. She could never figure out that the military hardware looked so cool and sexy, especially from 20,000 feet.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2013


US Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013

For Immediate Release - August 30, 2013
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:56 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fundamentally, the problem is that many Americans believe the United States is the "end of history" and the best of all possible worlds. What a joke.

Huh? This seems to me to make as much sense as saying "fundamentally, the problem is that Americans are all fat" or "fundamentally, the problem is that Americans are all sexist pigs!" or something. The case for humanitarian interventionism has all kinds of pitfalls and problems and--as I've said before--I'm not persuaded by it in this instance but everyone in this thread who somehow thinks that this is a replay of the invasion of Iraq is just reflexively fighting the last war. The Obama administration is being quite specific in saying that it sees no probability that any intervention it will make will end the conflict or decisively tip the balance in favor of the rebels. There's no "we are remaking the world in our image" millennialism here. The arguments for intervention have to do A) with humanitarian concerns and B) with concerns about the "credibility" of American power. That's all.
posted by yoink at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ryvar, there is no redemption. Futile trying. Just look how people hold on over generations to the wrongs of battles they didn't know first hand.
posted by de at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2013


it's hard to interpret the US's behavior up until this particular chemical attack as "desperately seeking an excuse to get involved"

We've been funding the opposition for years; it's hard to argue we're not already knee-deep in the shit, and it's easy to believe that this military action is an extension of that shit.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh? This seems to me to make as much sense as saying "fundamentally, the problem is that Americans are all fat" or "fundamentally, the problem is that Americans are all sexist pigs!" or something.

No it's not. In this case, Americans believe in American exceptionalism. You guys are different because you're the pinnacle of human civilization. The rules do not apply to you.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:04 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


As with every other period in human history the rules don't apply to us because nobody else is strong enough to enforce the rules. Same as every other empire you can name.
posted by Justinian at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


In this case, Americans believe in American exceptionalism. You guys are different because you're the pinnacle of human civilization. The rules do not apply to you.

I really don't think that's the case. I'd be all for Russia destroying the Syrian air force with cruise missile strikes (they won't because Syria purchases $4 billion worth of Russian military hardware annually, on average). Or China. Or anybody. No exceptionalism about it: if you have the power to end atrocity with little risk to yourself and choose not to, you have a limited degree of moral culpability in the horrors that follow. This applies to all nations.
posted by Ryvar at 11:08 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the Onion had the most cogent analysis.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:09 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The arguments for intervention have to do A) with humanitarian concerns and B) with concerns about the "credibility" of American power. That's all.

Post-Iraq, who actually believes that the American government's "arguments for intervention" have anything to do with their actual objectives, especially when it comes to military conflict in the Middle East?
posted by oulipian at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2013


Ryvar, not all of us are armed to the eye-sockets so blowing the smithereens out of everything in sight to instil fear isn't how we start reasoning. It's not an option. The US needs to put down the gun (it won't kill you) and allow the rest of us some freewill, self determination, and decision making at the table we're all going to gather at!

The US always has a gun at everyone's head. Do you appreciate that?
posted by de at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fundamentally, the problem is that many Americans believe the United States is the "end of history" and the best of all possible worlds. What a joke.

What in the world does this have to do with anything?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


No it's not. In this case, Americans believe in American exceptionalism
posted by KokuRyu


I would love to know of all of these countries where the people say "Ya, our country is okay, but it is clearly not the best. In fact our country may even be below average."
posted by rosswald at 11:19 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somalia?
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're now arguing about whose family has suffered greater through history, as though that would somehow establish credibility for our arguments. This isn't good.

We're fighting over the last war.
posted by samofidelis at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2013


I would love to know of all of these countries where the people say "Ya, our country is okay, but it is clearly not the best. In fact our country may even be below average."
posted by rosswald at 1:19 PM on August 30 [+] [!]


Take your pick.
posted by DynamiteToast at 11:22 AM on August 30, 2013


No it's not. In this case, Americans believe in American exceptionalism.

Actually, many of the US's allies have been badgering America for some time to take a more active role in Syria; several of them have been, themselves, far more active in Syria than America has been. American is exceptional, militarily, because it spends such a huge amount of money on its armed forces, but to suggest that if America acts now it's because of a belief in American Exceptionalism is just, well...let's just say not clearly supported by any facts.
posted by yoink at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Anecdotal, but I have been to wealthy and "developing" nations and most people seem to have a narrative about their country being unique/special/well-above-the-norm. YMMV.
posted by rosswald at 11:26 AM on August 30, 2013


Anecdotal, but I have been to wealthy and "developing" nations and most people seem to have a narrative about their country being unique/special/well-above-the-norm. YMMV.

There's a big difference between being proud of one's country and believing that one's country has the moral obligation and right to bomb whomever it sees fit.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:28 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


We've been funding the opposition for years; it's hard to argue we're not already knee-deep in the shit, and it's easy to believe that this military action is an extension of that shit.

Oh good lord. Did you actually read the links in the comment you linked to? Trying to turn that motley array of irrelevancies and crackpot conspiracy theories into proof that the whole Syrian insurgency is some grand sinister plot by the US to overthrow Assad is just silly.
posted by yoink at 11:29 AM on August 30, 2013


Ryvar, not all of us are armed to the eye-sockets so blowing the smithereens out of everything in sight to instil fear isn't how we start reasoning. It's not an option. The US needs to put down the gun (it won't kill you) and allow the rest of us some freewill, self determination, and decision making at the table we're all going to gather at!

The US always has a gun at everyone's head. Do you appreciate that?


I'm opposed to attacking in Syria, but is the "right" other countries to gas their citizens without outside interference that sacred?
posted by Area Man at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


believing that one's country has the moral obligation and right to bomb whomever it sees fit.

I think Japan is the only country I can think of whose constitution expressly denies them that right. I think every other country on earth sees themselves as having a right to bomb whomever they "think fit"; what's more, many of them have exercised that right, and have happily proclaimed themselves to be acting on the side of truth and justice in doing so.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on August 30, 2013


There's a big difference between being proud of one's country and believing that one's country has the moral obligation and right to bomb whomever it sees fit.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar


If Turkey could act unilaterally with little chances of their forces being shot-down/killed they probably would. France and others have voiced their support of intervention as well (and if Syria was as underequiped as Libya, France would possibly even be out in front of the US). Only the US has the ability to launch an attack with such overwhelming superiority to almost completely mitigate/ignore opposing fire.

And it is Russia's veto that is forcing the US and its partners to act outside of the UN: if there was no Russian veto chances are high that there would have been a fully UN backed intervention long ago.

Are Russia's reasons for blocking UN action in Syria so sound that others have no reason to find fault with it?
posted by rosswald at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm English, and again am a little mystified that American- and America- bashing has started, even before the USA has decided to take any action, or not. Am not sure if it's some kind of liberal online commentator requirement - in which case, I'm doing this whole liberal thing wrong myself - to seek any online opportunity to generalize and denigrate, often hysterically or overdramatically, sometimes hatefully, the 315 million residents of the USA as one.

I've met many Americans over the years; clocked up 3+ years of living and traveling (31 states so far) and am addicted to meeting and chatting to new people. The very large majority of Americans I've met, of a range of political and social persuasions, have been friendly, interesting, open-minded, easy-going, helpful and generous people. And not war-mongering, imperialist, shouty, gun-firing, ones - you know, the crazed ones you see on the TV as they make good, sensationalist, stereotypical copy. "Look at the angry Americans, mommy."

And that can surely be said about the majority of the people of any country. The USA. Canada. Britain. France. Syria. They're okay people, usually just trying to get by, do good for themselves and their loved ones.

My condemnation is at the people on both sides of the conflict in Syria who have already committed war crimes, over what is now an extended period of time.
posted by Wordshore at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are Russia's reasons for blocking UN action in Syria so sound that others have no reason to find fault with it?

i think they have three reasons for blocking it - one - they think the situation in the middle east is far too dangerous for this kind of action - that's a good reason

two - they don't want to set any kind of precedent that would allow the u n power to interfere in how a government treats its own people - they're worried it would be applied to them

not a good reason

three - they want influence, a trade partner and access to the sea in the middle east - that's not a good reason, either
posted by pyramid termite at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


CSM: For months, polls have shown that most Americans do not favor US military involvement in Syria’s civil war. Even with news of last week’s chemical attack – presumably by the Assad regime – that killed hundreds of civilians, the percentage of those favoring an aggressive US response increases only slightly, according to the most recent survey.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2013


And it is Russia's veto that is forcing the US and its partners to act outside of the UN: if there was no Russian veto chances are high that there would have been a fully UN backed intervention long ago.

Are Russia's reasons for blocking UN action in Syria so sound that others have no reason to find fault with it?


Russia seems to be motivated by some kind of bizarre cold-war mentality, but what's the point of even pretending there's an 'international law' if we're going to blatantly ignore it when it doesn't rule in our favor?
posted by Pyry at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


  • Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey is against getting involved in the Syrian Civil War.

    In a letter to Congressman Engel (D-N.Y):
    "The use of U.S. military force can change the military balance... But it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict...

    "Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides... It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.''
  • Larry Wilkerson, fmr Chief of Staff to Sec. of State Colin Powell:
    This is not just a serious civil war. This is Saudi Arabia funding like mad those people fighting against Assad. This is Iraq fighting on both sides, with Maliki on one side and people like Muqtada al-Sadr on the other side. This is Turkey furiously fighting against Syria, not so much on the on the ground, as Iran is in support of Assad. But this is a whole group of people. This is Russia furnishing Assad with weapons.

    This is not an isolated civil war, which it is--it makes it very dangerous for the United States to think it's just taking the side of the opposition if it should choose to intervene militarily.

  • posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


    Russia is motivated by the Libya bait and switch where dropping the humanitarian bombs of freedom turned into regime change. Why would they trust that this time would be any different?
    posted by Justinian at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2013


    Apology. I thought my post was lost when my browser tanked, so I made another very similar post. whoops, did not mean to be redundant.
    posted by theora55 at 12:16 PM on August 30, 2013


    Oh good lord. Did you actually read the links in the comment you linked to? Trying to turn that motley array of irrelevancies and crackpot conspiracy theories into proof that the whole Syrian insurgency is some grand sinister plot by the US to overthrow Assad is just silly.

    Lots of hand waving going on there. I guess the fact that the U.S. government, along with some European nations and the Gulf States, have been funding, arming, and training the rebel for two years is irrelevant to the current situation. We bear no responsibility for the 100,000 civilian casualties even though we have been enabling the rebel faction to fight on long after they would have otherwise been defeated.

    The people calling for us to intervene are being dishonest. We've been intervening in Syria for some time. To suggest by omission that we have not been knee deep in everything up until this point is just not true. So to try and derive some type of moral argument ex nihilo, ignoring everything that has led to our current situation, is not only intellectually dishonest and morally inconsistent, but also belies a severe misunderstanding of causality and its implications in regards to moral responsibility.

    At this rate if we ever find that we need to bomb a country we can just start a rebellion in said country and wait until the central government of that country starts to inevitably kill its own people in large numbers. Then we can claim the moral authority to go ahead and bomb that country back into the stone age; problem solved.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:16 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    three - they want influence, a trade partner and access to the sea in the middle east - that's not a good reason, either

    Russia seems to be motivated by some kind of bizarre cold-war mentality, but what's the point of even pretending there's an 'international law' if we're going to blatantly ignore it when it doesn't rule in our favor?

    Russia is motivated by the Libya bait and switch where dropping the humanitarian bombs of freedom turned into regime change. Why would they trust that this time would be any different?


    Where is the outrage at Russia? Russia is Syria's closest super-power ally, and supplies them with most of their weapons. Shouldn't it be Russia's responsibility to insure they don't use them to commit these sort of atrocities on their own people? And, again, it seems to me a much surer way for Russia to keep Assad as an ally would be to prevent him from using chemical weapons on his own people, and instead help negotiate a solution. Allowing Assad to use chemical weapons like this seems like a better way to lose their trade partner and access to the sea in the middle east or whatever.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 12:17 PM on August 30, 2013


    We can't very well hold Russia responsible for policing Syria's use of Russian weapons when we won't even call what happened in Egypt a military coup when they're massacring Egyptian civilians with American weapons.
    posted by Justinian at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


    deploying chemical weapons and it's therefore not impossible that it will actually lead to fewer civilian deaths overall than otherwise.

    Not impossible, no, but not at all a certainty, even if Assad stops using chemical weapons. Bombs and guns have proven to be far more effective killing machines than chemical weapons have ever been.
    posted by IvoShandor at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2013


    We can't very well hold Russia responsible for policing Syria's use of Russian weapons when we won't even call what happened in Egypt a military coup when they're massacring Egyptian civilians with American weapons.

    Don't forget about the Bahrainis currently being imprisoned and tortured by the regime in that country. All with the tacit support of the U.S. who bases its 5th fleet there.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:27 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    what's the point of even pretending there's an 'international law' if we're going to blatantly ignore it when it doesn't rule in our favor?

    International law is only for the few countries that aren't allies with the Security Council members. It's impotent otherwise.
    posted by smackfu at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2013


    I wonder if the situation was reversed and Russia was arming, training, and funding rebel groups in Bahrain would the U.S. sign off on a U.N. approved boming campaign when the Bahraini regime inevitably began killing its citizens in an attempt to put down the rebellion?
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    So, again, there is plenty of outrage at the U.S. for Egypt and Bahrain, and probably rightfully so, but no outrage at Russia for Syria. Interesting.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    We can't very well hold Russia responsible for policing Syria's use of Russian weapons when we won't even call what happened in Egypt a military coup when they're massacring Egyptian civilians with American weapons.

    I think there's a good point in there. For all its power and wealth, the U.S. sometimes has less influence in specific situations than is imagined by its biggest boosters and critics, and the same is true of Russia. I'm reminded of the discussion in the 1950s about who had "lost China" to the communists. There are very strong local, regional, ethnic, religious, and even personal factors affecting the decisions being made in Dasmascus and Cairo. The U.S. didn't want the Egyptian generals to massacre the protestors and I'm guessing Russia didn't actually want the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons (for PR reasons, if nothing else).
    posted by Area Man at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    International law is only for the few countries that aren't allies with the Security Council members. It's impotent otherwise.

    For evidence see Nicaragua v. United States.

    So, again, there is plenty of outrage at the U.S. for Egypt and Bahrain, and probably rightfully so, but no outrage at Russia for Syria. Interesting.

    Russia isn't funding any rebellions and then claiming the moral responsibility to bomb other countries which haven't attacked them. I don't understand why it's so hard for people to understand that one can be "outraged" at the behavior of both the U.S. and Russia while still believing that bombing Syria will not solve anything and will most likely make things worse...with the potential for a regional war if we screw up.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Meet the Military Forces Gathering on Syria's Doorstep
    posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The Witnesses: Syrian activists took the YouTube videos that dragged America to the brink of war -- and then paid with their lives.
    posted by homunculus at 12:43 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Russia isn't funding any rebellions and then claiming the moral responsibility to bomb other countries which haven't attacked them.

    I thought Russia was funding some sort of separatist movements in Georgia, which, I admit, only deals with the first part of the sentence. I'm just saying, lets not make the mistake of thinking Russia has some great human rights or international law record.
    posted by Area Man at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2013


    The U.S. didn't want the Egyptian generals to massacre the protestors and I'm guessing Russia didn't actually want the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons (for PR reasons, if nothing else).

    But Russia would seem to have more power than anyone outside of Syria to prevent theses atrocities, and they don't seem to be doing anything about it. I'm pretty sure if Sisi was shooting Sarin gas shells at the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama would do something. It seems to me one thing Obama has been trying to do during the entire Arab Spring is prevent violence. He did allow a supposed US ally to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, after all. Perhaps supporting the rebels in Syria, and not taking any action against Bahrain, are two areas where he has failed to do so.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 1:01 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    But Russia would seem to have more power than anyone outside of Syria to prevent theses atrocities, and they don't seem to be doing anything about it.

    The Russians aren't squeemish about killing sepratists (just look Grozny), but I suspect they tried to persuade the Syrians not to use chemical weapons. If so, it happened in private calls and closed door meetings.
    posted by Area Man at 1:16 PM on August 30, 2013


    What if, instead, they had sent an envoy to Syria to remove or destroy all of the chemical weapons there? Would/could Syria have stopped them? Of course Syria could do just as much, or more, damage with real weapons, but it seems to me Russia could have offered more support to fight the actual rebel armies in exchange for stopping the attacks on innocent civilians, and doing this would put them in a better position to keep at least part of Syria as an ally.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 1:20 PM on August 30, 2013


    what's the point of even pretending there's an 'international law' if we're going to blatantly ignore it when it doesn't rule in our favor?

    You do realize that the use of chemical weapons is, in fact, against "international law," right?
    posted by yoink at 1:32 PM on August 30, 2013


    You do realize that the use of chemical weapons is, in fact, against "international law," right?

    So was our use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, Iraq but I don't remember anyone claiming the moral right to bomb us in response.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2013


    It's double standards all the way down.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    White phosphorous is legal when used for illumination.
    posted by rosswald at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2013


    Russia fears instability more than anything else.
    If Assad goes who fills the vacuum?
    Who Are Syria's Friends And Why Are They Supporting Assad?
    There are hundreds of rebel groups fighting Assad but also each other. If the stability that was previously there before is shattered it will make the blood bath of Iraqi sectarionism look like a Saturday football game.
    Also as the war against Assad continues I believe there is a lot of jockying for power behind the scenes. We really don't seem to know how much actual power he has or who is pulling his strings. It was suggested the chemical attack was ordered by a brother or cousin. There are lots of heinous players in this theatre and many are probably not quite what they seem.
    For those supporting intervention by big stick America I ask what could you possibly gain here ?
    The only winners seem as usual to be the arms industry and war profiteers.
    posted by adamvasco at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    White phosphorous is legal when used for illumination.

    This reminds me of something I read about .50 caliber anti-materiel rifles: An enemy's helmet is technically materiel. I'm assuming that sometimes you just gotta illuminate an enemy position with willy-pete extremely closely.
    posted by Justinian at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2013


    White phosphorous is legal when used for illumination.

    " We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes where we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosives]. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. "

    - US Army's Field Artillery Magazine
    posted by odinsdream at 1:40 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I guess the fact that the U.S. government, along with some European nations and the Gulf States, have been funding, arming, and training the rebel for two years is irrelevant to the current situation. We bear no responsibility for the 100,000 civilian casualties even though we have been enabling the rebel faction to fight on long after they would have otherwise been defeated.

    So the "moral" thing to do when an insurgency breaks out against a corrupt and oppressive regime is to stand by and hope it gets "defeated" quickly so as to keep the peace. Is that your argument? You're in favor of every time the US stood with the strong man against a popular revolt because "stability" is the only important value?

    The problem with that slew of links you put together in the other thread, AE (apart from the hilariously uneven quality of the reporting in them), is that you're treating every single US intervention in Syria as part of "the rebellion." So if the US was funding pro-democracy forces in Syria (i.e., media operations, for example) prior to the rebellion's beginning that's somehow "proof" that they deliberately sparked the rebellion. And if they reluctantly and after an enormous amount of "yay, the Arab Spring has come to Syria" prodding trained and (marginally) equipped a few rebels that's "proof" that every single rebel is a paid agent of Uncle Sam etc. etc. The US has come late to the party on this rebellion and is a bit player among the many forces arming, training and funding the rebels. To suggest that somehow the mere fact of a small level of US participation somehow makes not only the actions of the rebels but Assad's decision to slaughter tens of thousands of his countrymen "America's fault" is not only absurd but offensive.
    posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Syria: release of US intelligence dossier seen as prelude to military strike
    I do hope you all have a happy labor day while once again your politicians approve the splattering of innocent blood and gristle over the earth of a country far away.
    Whats on TV anything good?
    posted by adamvasco at 1:41 PM on August 30, 2013


    I am not exactly "pro" white-phosphorous, but it does have a legal claim for usage. I have never heard of such a thing for sarin/vx/whatever
    posted by rosswald at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2013


    If you can't distinguish between the use of white phosphorous and the use of Sarin gas then you're beyond rational discussion.
    posted by yoink at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


    You do realize that the use of chemical weapons is, in fact, against "international law," right?

    Which law?
    posted by Drinky Die at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2013


    Which law?

    The Chemical Weapons Convention, signed in 1993.
    posted by yoink at 1:47 PM on August 30, 2013


    If you think "Their war crime is worse than our war crime" signals anything other than moral bankruptcy you are badly mistaken.
    posted by biffa at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Which law?

    The Chemical Weapons Convention, signed in 1993.


    Also The Geneva Protocol drafted and signed in 1925 (following the horrors of WW1).
    posted by Ryvar at 1:50 PM on August 30, 2013


    If you think "Their war crime is worse than our war crime" signals anything other than moral bankruptcy you are badly mistaken.

    So war against Nazi Germany was a moral error and should have been opposed because none of the states that went to war against it had never committed a war crime?
    posted by yoink at 1:50 PM on August 30, 2013


    Yeah, Syria is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
    posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    You do realize that the use of chemical weapons is, in fact, against "international law," right?

    Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Anyway, AFAIK the US in this case does not have the legitimacy to unilaterally enforce the Convention.

    In regards to international law and a unilateral "response" by the US in the "precedent" of the NATO bombing campaign without a Security Council resolution, here is some food for thought.

    As I have said in other threads, the use of nerve agents is wrong, but (besides the usual uninformed reasons provided by armchair quarterbacking) how is "humanitarian bombing" with cruise missiles an appropriate response given the danger of regional escalation?
    posted by KokuRyu at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Also, the Geneva Protocol prohibits use of chemical weapons between state parties. Syria used them within its own borders and not against another signatory party. By no means does that make it okay, obviously, but it does mean it wasn't necessarily a violation of the Geneva Protocol.

    International Law is hard!
    posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Oh, one last thing. I would be careful about attempting to use a violation of the 1993 CWC as grounds for bombing a country. The United States, after all, is almost certainly in violation of the 1993 CWC.
    posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Also, the Geneva Protocol prohibits use of chemical weapons between state parties.

    Nice catch, honestly - I missed that. I find it amusing in a tragic head-in-hands sort of way that when Syria signed the Geneva Protocol they did so with that reservation that Israel was still fair game.

    (besides the usual uninformed reasons provided by armchair quarterbacking) how is "humanitarian bombing" with cruise missiles an appropriate response given the danger of regional escalation?

    Your asking a question while dismissing any possible response - no matter how well-supported by the facts - as uninformed is a neat rhetorical trick. Or, y'know, completely disingenuous.
    posted by Ryvar at 1:57 PM on August 30, 2013


    International Law is hard!

    Yeah, but it's largely hard because there is very little in international law that is "law" in the same sense as a single nation's statutory or common law. International law is in part treaty-based and in part based on a constantly evolving set of customary practices and norms. The use of chemical weapons is not accepted as "legitimate" regardless of the fact that a handful of states (including Israel, btw) refused to sign the CWC.
    posted by yoink at 2:01 PM on August 30, 2013


    to paraphrase chairman mao, international law comes out of a barrel of a gun

    yes, that's cynical - but i see little to contradict it in recent history
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:08 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Israel signed the CWC on 13 January 1993. The Knesset didnt ratify it, though. I don't know enough about Israeli law to say what that means for the treaty.
    posted by Justinian at 2:08 PM on August 30, 2013


    I don't think that's cynical, pt, I think it's realistic. For the last 20 years international law has said whatever the United States wants it to say. That will remain the case until the USA cannot maintain its current military dominance either through inability to pay for it or because some other nations decide to pay the piper and increase their military spending to more competitive levels.
    posted by Justinian at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2013


    I do hope you all have a happy labor day while once again your politicians approve the splattering of innocent blood and gristle over the earth of a country far away.

    I agree. I sleep so much better when my politicians sit idly by and allow the slaughter of innocents by others! Makes me feel so much better. 1994/95 represent! Those were the days.
    posted by Dasein at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2013


    Your asking a question while dismissing any possible response - no matter how well-supported by the facts - as uninformed is a neat rhetorical trick. Or, y'know, completely disingenuous.

    Oh, come on. How can anyone participating in this thread really provide any insights into what a "limited" bombing campaign will achieve? The people with expertise in the matter presumably have better things to do than to argue on MetaFilter. This is not a video game.
    posted by KokuRyu at 2:13 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Anyway, AFAIK the US in this case does not have the legitimacy to unilaterally enforce the Convention.

    The conclusion of which is what? That they may choose to gas their citizens to death without consequence?

    I am waiting for the moment when someone on the Internet simultaneously condemns the inaction after Halabja and the possibility of action against the Assad regime.

    A lot of the rhetoric here seems to start from the position that literally any action or inaction the US pursues is somehow tautologically evil, and then digresses a bit, then comes back to the conclusion that, QED, the US has once again been shown to be evil.

    Furthermore, the present US administration has made no statements about bombing Syria into the Stone Age, as suggested sup. Instead, political balloons have been floated about limited strikes against military targets as a show of force that further civilian gassing will not be tolerated. When you argue against leveling the country, you argue against a strawman no one has advanced.
    posted by samofidelis at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Oh, come on. How can anyone participating in this thread really provide any insights into what a "limited" bombing campaign will achieve? The people with expertise in the matter presumably have better things to do than to argue on MetaFilter. This is not a video game.

    That argument against speculation may be directed equally at those arguing for and against action.
    posted by samofidelis at 2:16 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Never said that the US is going to bomb Syria into the Stone Age. The problem with bombing is that civilians will likely be killed; bombing is an escalation and has uncertain consequences; no war aim; lack of proof that the Syrian government is responsible; why is bombing the appropriate response? Why is US unilateral action the appropriate response?
    posted by KokuRyu at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    u s had intel on chemical strike before it was launched
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:25 PM on August 30, 2013


    For one thing, you can make a very solid argument that the UN Security Council was not truly established to cope with these crises, and that is why it doesn't do so easily -- instead, it was constructed to prevent the outbreak of global wars.

    Furthermore, this is not unilateral action. There are a number of nations that have publicly or privately called for greater US intervention. The Arab League has not called for US air strikes, but some of its member nations have pushed for just that. Do they have their own agendas, reflecting the regional power struggle? Of course. Might they also be interested in seeing an end to the loss of innocent life in Syria? They're human, they want that as much as you and I.

    Would such an action represent an escalation? If would be an escalation of US involvement. But if it prevents further atrocities, or at least diminishes them somewhat, it may lead to a decrease in violence in Syria. I do not know what the future holds. No one does.

    What I most want to see is a massive investment in the refugee camps across the border in Jordan. But I'm not opposed to putting a hole in someone's airstrip, either. That much can be done with no collateral damage. It does not guarantee that regime forces -- or rebels -- won't still burn civilians to death. But it might save some lives. I think the risk of an extremely limited military response and an extremely heavy humanitarian response make sense.
    posted by samofidelis at 2:30 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Time - For Turkey, Planned U.S. Missile Strikes on Syria Not Good Enough
    The Obama administration signaled Friday that any action against Syria would be brief and measured. Turkey, however, having declared it would join any international coalition against Assad, with or without U.N. backing, has made it equally clear it wants a more robust intervention. On Wednesday, according to Turkish media, Ahmet Davutoglu, the country’s Foreign Minister, counseled his US counterpart John Kerry that any action should be forceful enough to bring Assad’s regime to the negotiating table.
    posted by rosswald at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2013


    from the white house's own report

    "We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

    Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons."

    1 - could have we prevented this?

    2 - could have we prevented this just by calling them up and saying, "we know what you're up to, knock it off or else?" - or by saying publicly what we knew?

    3 - i've read quite a few people here saying that we can't just stand by and allow such things to happen

    but didn't our government just do that?
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:34 PM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Oh, come on. How can anyone participating in this thread really provide any insights into what a "limited" bombing campaign will achieve? The people with expertise in the matter presumably have better things to do than to argue on MetaFilter. This is not a video game.

    We can provide insights by examining the outcome of past similar scenarios, and by examining proposed objectives, means, and associated risk factors researched by people who during their military service were directly tasked with authoring strike plans similar to the one that would actually be used in any intervention.

    Check the final link of my comment here. It is really, really worth your time to read in depth - includes a listing (and photos) of the probable targets, pricetags for the ordnance, margins of error on the weapons, etc.

    Basically: where things would get messy is if the US went after armor and artillery as in the second stage of the Libyan intervention when it shifted toward overt regime change, which is what Turkey appears to be advocating. Air power is necessarily geographically isolated from residential areas. Artillery and armor? Not so much, and I think it would be a bad idea.

    i've read quite a few people here saying that we can't just stand by and allow such things to happen

    but didn't our government just do that?


    Smacks of the US government sitting on their thumbs until Syria gave them a nice big fat casus belli. [sigh] That's more like the America I remember.
    posted by Ryvar at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    So US intelligence knew about the chemical attack in advance and did nothing because they thought this was a perfect excuse for their war machine to just roll in.
    Cigars and High fives all round.
    Talking about rogue state.
    posted by adamvasco at 2:42 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    any action should be forceful enough to bring Assad’s regime to the negotiating table

    For me, this is the crux of the problem. I don't think anything could bring Assad's regime to the negotiating table, as long as Assad is still in charge. This is a battle for their very existence. How does one negotiate themselves out of existence?
    posted by me & my monkey at 2:43 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    This is a battle for their very existence. How does one negotiate themselves out of existence?

    in other words, how do we guarantee that the alawite population of syria won't be targeted in turn by the new rulers? - isn't that going to take boots on the ground? - are we going to do that?

    i don't think we will - and i think assad knows it - and to guarantee the survival of his people, he's going to take a classic page out of the dictator's handbook and try to reunite syria by giving them a common enemy - no points for guessing who

    this is a dangerous situation and the more we get involved in it, the more dangerous it's going to get
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:50 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    pyramid termite: " 3 - i've read quite a few people here saying that we can't just stand by and allow such things to happen"

    People complain when we take action. They complain when we take no action. A catch-22 of epic proportions.

    The truth of the matter is, we have no responsibility or obligation, (zero, none, zip, nada!) to save the Syrians from themselves. We should not be acting as the world's policemen, and certainly not risking peace in the region or American lives by getting involved militarily in someone else's civil war.

    We should take the Stross route. Supply all parties with chemical weapon antidotes, gas masks and humanitarian aid. And let them sort it out themselves.

    Justinian: "Israel signed the CWC on 13 January 1993. The Knesset didnt ratify it, though. I don't know enough about Israeli law to say what that means for the treaty."

    It's generally agreed that Israel is not a party to the treaty, and the probable Israeli justification for this is they want to keep their options open in case they are attacked with Syrian chemical weapons -- either by Hezbollah or the Syrian regime. After all, the Syrian chemical weapons program began three decades ago after Israel defeated them in three wars, out of fear that Israel would nuke them in the event of a fourth.
    posted by zarq at 2:55 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I do hope you all have a happy labor day while once again your politicians approve the splattering of innocent blood and gristle over the earth of a country far away.
    Whats on TV anything good?
    posted by adamvasco at 4:41 PM on August 30 [+][!]

    So US intelligence knew about the chemical attack in advance and did nothing because they thought this was a perfect excuse for their war machine to just roll in.
    Cigars and High fives all round.
    Talking about rogue state.
    posted by adamvasco at 5:42 PM on August 30 [+][!]


    The definition of anti-Americanism. Within one hour, criticizing the U.S. for being ready to splatter "innocent blood and gristle over the earth of a country far away" and then criticizing the U.S. for not taking unilateral preventive military action as soon as it got a whiff of activity around chemical weapons units.

    adamvasco, can you tell me what it's like to know that U.S. is wrong no matter what it does or doesn't do? Is that comforting, like you always get to be the guy who knows best and who snarks on the internet no matter what happens? Or is it really annoying to have to re-calibrate your political position to oppose whatever the latest news item says that U.S. did?
    posted by Dasein at 2:58 PM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


    Since the end of the Cold War 16 years ago, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been running an experiment with U.S. grand strategy. The theory to be tested has been this: Very good intentions, plus very great power, plus action can transform both international politics and the domestic politics of other states in ways that are advantageous to the United States, and at costs it can afford. The evidence is in: The experiment has failed. Transformation is unachievable, and costs are high.

    The United States needs now to test a different grand strategy: It should conceive its security interests narrowly, use its military power stingily, pursue its enemies quietly but persistently, share responsibilities and costs more equitably, watch and wait more patiently. Let’s do this for 16 years and see if the outcomes aren’t better.
    Barry R. Posen, "The Case For Restraint"
    posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:59 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I would love to know of all of these countries where the people say "Ya, our country is okay, but it is clearly not the best. In fact our country may even be below average."

    Are you kidding? Most countries are pretty frank about their place in the world. I've never experienced the whole "#1 #1 #1" stuff from anywhere else.

    (In fact, my country's take on this is so well-known it has its own wiki page.)
    posted by bonaldi at 3:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    The definition of anti-Americanism.

    my view on it is that either our government just plain doesn't know what it's doing - in which case they're reacting to things rather cluelessly

    or they do know what they're doing - which is pretty scary

    i don't think that our government should have commenced bombing on this intelligence

    but there was nothing wrong with making a phone call or publicly blowing the whistle on this

    it really makes me wonder
    posted by pyramid termite at 3:03 PM on August 30, 2013


    Dasein: "and then criticizing the U.S. for not taking unilateral preventive military action as soon as it got a whiff of activity around chemical weapons units."

    I don't see it as criticizing not taking preventative action, but more that they saw there was finally going to be an excuse that would allow the public's approval to get the war machine rolling and waited patiently for it to happen.
    posted by Big_B at 3:04 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Dasein: "...and then criticizing the U.S. for not taking unilateral preventive military action..."

    Unilateral preventive military action is not the only possible response to that intelligence revelation. We could have announced it to the world and condemned them in advance. We could have pushed diplomatically for them not to go through with it. We could have asked their allies to try and stop them. We could have warned people on the ground and hoped they'd get the message and take action to protect themselves against being gassed.

    We could have shipped in humanitarian aid, etc.

    Lots of stuff we could have done without going in guns blazing.
    posted by zarq at 3:05 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    So the "moral" thing to do when an insurgency breaks out against a corrupt and oppressive regime is to stand by and hope it gets "defeated" quickly so as to keep the peace. Is that your argument?

    No. I hope that the insurgency would win and the regime would be overthrown. The same as I hope the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and almost every other Arab totalitarian regime in the Middle East are overthrown. The fact that we are in the business of dictating to the world which totalitarian regime is legitimate ought to be a clear warning sign to any clear minded person that something has gone horribly wrong with our foreign policy and the fundamental way in which America interacts with the rest of the world.

    If you can't distinguish between the use of white phosphorous and the use of Sarin gas then you're beyond rational discussion.

    Can you distinguish please? I mean I really want to hear your argument on the relative merits of using WP vs Sarin gas in urban settings.

    The definition of anti-Americanism. Within one hour, criticizing the U.S. for being ready to splatter "innocent blood and gristle over the earth of a country far away" and then criticizing the U.S. for not taking unilateral preventive military action as soon as it got a whiff of activity around chemical weapons units.

    On preview what Big_B and zarq said much more eloquently that I was going to.
    posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:06 PM on August 30, 2013


    I don't have expertise in the matter, but from what I understand you can't just drop bombs on chemical weapons sites/personnel without risking just spreading the dangerous chemicals around.

    And most of these units are in populated areas which would prevent the use of the massive high-heat munitions you would need to ensure proper disarmament of chemical weapons without boots on the ground.
    posted by rosswald at 3:08 PM on August 30, 2013


    Yeah either way 1) waiting to use it as an excuse or 2)not doing anything sickens me.
    posted by Big_B at 3:08 PM on August 30, 2013


    dasein as you asked.
    America is proving itself a soft totalitarian state ruled by rampant capitalism.
    Winner takes all mentality.
    If they had made known publically that they knew about the prepararation of chemicals then maybe Russia would have leant on their Syrian clients. Nowhere do I advocate that they should anything other than talk.
    To quote a famous war time leader
    “It is 'better to jaw-jaw than to war-war,'”
    The world hasn't requested a bully in the playground there is enough shit going down without
    America blowing something else up, again, either militarily or fiscally.
    So yes I am anti american, not the people, just the minority crooked baronial and political class who treat the rest of the world and much of their own as disposible serfs to enlarge their bank accounts.
    posted by adamvasco at 3:17 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The US has been publicly and repeatedly discouraging the Syrians from using chemical weapons.
    posted by Area Man at 3:23 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Lots of stuff we could have done without going in guns blazing.

    Yes, maybe a sternly-worded letter to Assad would have done the trick.
    posted by Dasein at 3:24 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    But do you really think "narrow" military action will do the trick?
    posted by Golden Eternity at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2013


    If they had made known publically that they knew about the prepararation of chemicals then maybe Russia would have leant on their Syrian clients.

    Ok, this is nonsense. This is not going to happen. Russia has no expressed no interest in this direction. You either know this and are ignoring it, or you are not abreast of the political situation in the Middle East.
    posted by samofidelis at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Obama had already essentially threatened military action if his "red line" was crossed on chemical weapons and the weapons had still been used previously in the conflict. I don't think there is anything he could have done at the last minute if they recognized potential preparations. If all he wanted was an excuse to attack he has had plenty over the course of this conflict.
    posted by Drinky Die at 3:32 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Ya, I think people aren't properly analyzing the 'foreknowledge' news. The Assad regime knows about the 'red-line' and that satellites are pointed directly at their chemical sites. I assume then that Syria is doing lots of "spin-ups" and "spin-downs" to see how the US and others react.

    It is easy to know of an attack, and then work backwards to determine the actions that lead up to it. It is harder to observe a series of actions and definitively know what they will lead to.
    posted by rosswald at 3:36 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    After all, the Syrian chemical weapons program began three decades ago after Israel defeated them in three wars, out of fear that Israel would nuke them in the event of a fourth.

    I can't imagine a scenario more likely to provoke a nuclear response than killing large numbers of Israeli Jews with gas attacks. I guess a nuclear attack, obviously, but you know what I mean.
    posted by Justinian at 3:38 PM on August 30, 2013


    I wish I lived in the splintered cosmos where the US had acted in anticipation of the chemical weapons use and this thread had people complaining instead about how the States had fabricated the intelligence. Maybe not live there, but visit.
    posted by samofidelis at 3:40 PM on August 30, 2013


    samofidelis you lack logic here.
    Russia doesn't want the US going all cowboy on Syria. They do not want the instability. It is not in their interest.
    If America had made enough noise then the Russians as well as maybe the Chinese could have applied pressure
    The boys at the top table talk to each other you know.
    This reeks of the war machine dying to leap into action again.
    As I say many times follow the money.
    The Syrian populace means nothing to the Syrian Regime, The US Regime or the Russian regime they are not even as important as pawns on the chess board just cannon fodder.
    posted by adamvasco at 3:42 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    HAHAHA ok wow
    posted by samofidelis at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    We can provide insights by examining the outcome of past similar scenarios, and by examining proposed objectives, means, and associated risk factors researched by people who during their military service were directly tasked with authoring strike plans similar to the one that would actually be used in any intervention.

    Yeah, well I would just point your attention to the American invasion of Iraq. And the ongoing global drone campaign for good measure. I know that the majority of Americans (and certainly MeFites) opposed it, but there goes American credibility.

    I don't know much about bombing campaigns or cruise missiles, but I have been alive long enough to know that "collateral damage" is "regrettable but necessary," like a wedding party in Pakistan, or 200,000 Iraqi civilians.
    posted by KokuRyu at 3:45 PM on August 30, 2013


    But do you really think "narrow" military action will do the trick?

    Absolutely, if it's done right. Force is the only language that Assad will respond to. If the goal is to deter chemical weapons use, then a limited strike and clear future communication about what will be struck and under what circumstances could deter future action. If Obama had undertaken strikes a year ago when Assad first started using chemical weapons, this might not have happened. It's not enough just to randomly hit some targets then go home. You have to demonstrate that you have the military assets in place to detect and respond to the use of chemical weapons, and you have to be specific about what action you will take if Assad uses chemical weapons. Deterrence works, but it has to be done right. But you need a credible and specific threat. Obama has, at the moment, just about zero credibility on this, after a year of watching his "red line" be ground into the dust. Get that credibility back, and you can start being effective.
    posted by Dasein at 3:46 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I'm sure a failure to attack Syria will also be held against the U.S. There is really no option that won't play into conspiratorial anti-US sentiments.

    The administration should not attack Syria because that's the right thing to do. It is least likely to inflame a larger war. However, I'm sure in a few years I will be reading comments from Internet leftists blaming the U.S. for all additional deaths in Syria resulting from the use of gas.
    posted by Area Man at 3:50 PM on August 30, 2013


    I'm sure a failure to attack Syria will also be held against the U.S. There is really no option that won't play into conspiratorial anti-US sentiments.

    Yes. The U.S. is criticized when it does nothing for being indifferent to the suffering of Muslims, Africans, or whoever is suffering that day. When they take action, they're imperialist baby-killers.
    posted by Dasein at 4:06 PM on August 30, 2013


    Justinian: " I can't imagine a scenario more likely to provoke a nuclear response than killing large numbers of Israeli Jews with gas attacks. I guess a nuclear attack, obviously, but you know what I mean."

    Yeah, I agree.

    I wish I could say that they were trying for a Mutually Assured Destruction strategy, in which they could say to Israel, "Nuke us and we'll gas you" but Syria tried to keep their chemical weapons program covert for many years. So who the hell knows what they were thinking?
    posted by zarq at 4:11 PM on August 30, 2013


    Here is the uncomfortable truth that underlies all of this, and that we are assiduously avoiding: countries evolve their own societies, write their own history, and should be allowed to do so without external intervention, wherever it may lead them.

    We apparently needed - tragically - to have a Civil War. Would we have appreciated Spain or Britain, or France or whoever to pass judgment from a continent away and decide to interfere in our affairs?

    When BushCo stole the election in 2000, would we have appreciated Russia or whoever deciding that since our democracy is clearly quite flawed, they need to bomb us?

    We have no right, and don't have the insight, or a crystal ball to intervene militarily in another country's internal affairs, including their civil wars.

    Unless a country has been invaded by a foreign power (Gulf War I), the international community should let history be written by the societies concerned, wherever it may lead.

    And we should limit ourselves to defending ourselves and our allies only when directly attacked.

    What is happening in Syria is the internal affair of Syrians. Let them write their own history and determine their own fate. Whether they end up with a democracy of any of a thousand shades, or a dictatorship, or owned by an internal oligarchy (U.S.) is really up to them. It is not their final fate - history continues, and that too shall change.

    But ignoring the utter arrogance and Dunner-Kruger syndrome on the part of the interventionists, the most fundamental assumption underlying the case for military action by the outside world is this: that whatever comes after Assad, assuming he's overthrown will be a net win for the Syrian people, will result in fewer victims and be better for the region and the world.

    I dispute each and every one of those assumptions. Assad is a dictator. Not quite as bad as Saddam, and not quite as bad as his father. He has certainly had people killed and committed crimes. But I have no doubt, that whatever collection of Al-Queda goons and fundamentalists ends up in power (see Afghanistan under the Taliban), will be infinitely worse from each point of view: whether for the number of victims, whether for social progress (especially for women, sexual minorities) regional peace or long range terrorism and instability.

    Overthrowing Assad, might result in a Taliban-style horror a la Afghanistan before 2001. Or it might result in a continuing chaos and a war of all against all with countless factions fighting it out amongst themselves, creating another Somalia style disaster in the heart of the Middle East, exporting instability chaos extremism and terror everywhere, with neighboring states all jockeying for position and supporting their own factions.

    So what do we do then, since we have now helped overthrow Assad and unleashed chaos and murder and rivers of blood? We broke it again, so we own it again? Have you seen how stable Iraq is with practically daily bombings with hundreds of victims, a civil war in all but name? Do we now try to control this with - wait for it - our troops, boots on the ground, nation-building?

    What is the end-game after overthrowing Assad, Mr. Interventionist-Never-Think-It-Through?

    I tell you what. How about, we sit it out, and allow the Syrians to write their own history? How about we don't fund a rebellion, and we don't encourage our allies in the region to fund it either? How about we allow the Syrians to evolve away from the Assad-style dictatorships? Or is peaceful - or semi-peaceful social/political/economic evolution only for white people in Eastern Europe and Russia? Or is it all about oil - again? Lucky the Eastern Europeans didn't have oil, and Russia who did, had nuclear weapons... so no intervention there.

    America should grow up and smarten up. We should decline the invitations from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France and anybody else to get their chestnuts out of the fire for them. It is not in our strategic interest to overthrow Assad, even if other countries would love it for their own parochial (and often sinister) interests.

    The bullshit excuses about humanitarian intervention, often literally couched in "what about the children" terms, are obscene on the face of it. Any intervention will only violently escalate death and destruction in that country.

    The best thing that could happen to Syrians, is that everyone backs off - everyone funding the rebels and the government (including Russia). Let the Syrians write their own history, at their own pace.

    We may not be able to control what France or Israel, or Turkey, or Russia do. But we can certainly decline the invitation to intervene. And that is what we should do.
    posted by VikingSword at 4:13 PM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


    i agree, vikingsword, but i'm afraid there's quite a few other countries and factions that have already decided to write syria's history for it - the u s shouldn't be one of them - not only is it wrong, but there's nothing in it for us
    posted by pyramid termite at 4:19 PM on August 30, 2013


    I wish I could say that they were trying for a Mutually Assured Destruction strategy, in which they could say to Israel, "Nuke us and we'll gas you" but Syria tried to keep their chemical weapons program covert for many years. So who the hell knows what they were thinking?

    I don't know. I'm not an expert in the situation or the region and I think attempts to guess at, for instance, what Assad might be thinking or planning are foolhardy. But my guess is that Syria's chemical weapons program was covert for the same reason Israel's nuclear program has always officially been - a more overt program, rather than an assumed one, would be that much more destabilizing to the region.

    (And as much as I distrust Russia and think Putin's regime is, for lack of a better word, an evil one, they have at least been sensible enough not to provide Syria with nuclear arms or nuclear capabilities as far as I know. Just another odd wrinkle to this, but it's what keeps Syria from being North Korea in this scenario.)

    standard disclaimers apply if I am wildly wrong about all of this
    posted by Navelgazer at 4:19 PM on August 30, 2013


    countries evolve their own societies, write their own history, and should be allowed to do so without external intervention, wherever it may lead them.

    Up to and including genocide? Is there really no act, however heinous, that merits an international response?
    posted by yoink at 4:21 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Obama has, at the moment, just about zero credibility on this, after a year of watching his "red line" be ground into the dust.

    What Obama said about the "red line" was this: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized." I would say that this is the first incident that arguably crosses the red line as announced there. We've had isolated, small-scale incidents of suspected gas use before now; this is the first large scale one almost certainly perpetrated deliberately by the regime.
    posted by yoink at 4:27 PM on August 30, 2013


    What is the end-game after overthrowing Assad, Mr. Interventionist-Never-Think-It-Through?

    The very same question applies to the native Syrian rebels, with whom you do not seem to have such philosophical issues. What is their end game? Is the outcome guaranteed to be the right one, unless we intervene and doom it to be screwed up?

    I'm tired of everyone else's confidence in their own opinions. I know there's an uncertain future; I don't know why everyone else seems so certain that they've got it all figured out -- that they alone have got it all figured.
    posted by samofidelis at 4:45 PM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Up to and including genocide? Is there really no act, however heinous, that merits an international response?

    I see nothing in this Syrian situation, which would justify a military intervention, including the nerve gas attack of uncertain origin (the U.S. - and interested parties - intelligence dossiers have zero credibility).

    If you are trying to prevent genocide, make sure you are not making the situation worse. Take Saddam's genocide against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs. To begin with, it might have been better if the whole attack was avoided in the first place - we should not have encouraged/supported Saddam in attacking Iran, (which allowed the Iranians to exploit Kurdish - understandable - desire for independence), and we should not have lead the Kurds on about our support for their independence.

    And after that, let us tote up the numbers. On one side, let us put all of Saddam's victims. On the other, let's put all the victims of our "liberation" effort, victims who are piling on to this very day. It's an easy call. Overthrowing Saddam has been the single biggest disaster in the sheer number of victims and displaced people in Iraq's entire history. So there.

    Every situation should be evaluated on its merits. Whenever possible, countries should be allowed to write their own history. Because if you look at root causes of a lot of the most extreme cases of genocide, you will find the sad antecedents of earlier interventions. Without colonialism, and without proxy wars by great powers, the Khmer Rouge would never have existed, let alone have been in power. Without colonialism and deliberate power politics by a colonial power, you'd never have had the disaster that the Tutsi/Hutu conflict was. It's best not to create the problem in the first place. Doing more of the same, no matter what you call the current excuse is just creating worse future problems. So stop.

    Before we contemplate intervening to cure an evil, we should remember the obligation physicians have when they contemplate curing an ill: First, do no harm. As it is now, it seems we can declare the disease gone, but the patient is dead. The village saved, but burned to the ground.

    Intervention by external powers - the vast majority of time - is harm. It certainly is so in the case of Syria today.
    posted by VikingSword at 4:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


    I know there's an uncertain future; I don't know why everyone else seems so certain that they've got it all figured out -- that they alone have got it all figured.

    Yes, indeed. Although that is, in the end, why if I were Obama I would not go ahead with any direct military intervention at this point. The future is so totally obscure; there are so many horrible possibilities no matter what path we go down, the only thing I think we can do is try to obey some sort of "first do no harm" imperative: let's at least not kill any more people, until we can really be confident that those sacrificing those lives really does serve some greater good.
    posted by yoink at 4:50 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The very same question applies to the native Syrian rebels, with whom you do not seem to have such philosophical issues. What is their end game? Is the outcome guaranteed to be the right one, unless we intervene and doom it to be screwed up?

    No. I'm not opining on "native Syrian rebels". I don't know if they might be better or worse than Assad. BUT THAT'S MY POINT: IT'S THEIR AFFAIR, whatever the outcome. It is not our business, and the Syrians should decide and not us for them. Let them write their history, not us. Wherever it may lead them, to a better or worse place by whoever's judgment. It is not our business to interfere. Nor is it the business of Uzbekistan to decide what form of government we should have in the U.S..
    posted by VikingSword at 4:55 PM on August 30, 2013


    Ha, VikingSword, I reached for that "first do no harm" analogy without having seen your post. As you see, I agree with you about this specific instance, but I think perhaps you will agree that your earlier formulation was too sweeping.

    The problem with Syria is that genocide is probably coming, one way or another. As many have said, Syria is one of those botched-together post-colonial states. The only ways forward towards equilibrium might be division a la Pakistan/India (with a great deal of slaughter accompanying it), ethnic cleansing and a terrible burden of refugee population in neighboring countries, or genocide. At some point down these roads we'll reach a point where arguments about "minding our own business" because we're not "the cops of the world" will look morally abhorrent.
    posted by yoink at 4:56 PM on August 30, 2013


    Force is the only language that Assad will respond to. If the goal is to deter chemical weapons use, then a limited strike and clear future communication about what will be struck and under what circumstances could deter future action.

    Wow, this is kind of shocking to me. If there ever were an "unknown unknown" it would seem to be what is going on in Bashar El-Assad's head and how he will react to some sort of "narrow" strike. I don't know how you can be so sure about the success of a behavior modification strategy like this, especially when it will probably involve killing innocent people.

    What if he hides all of his generals and other important assets behind human shields? Do we still attack them?
    posted by Golden Eternity at 4:59 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    yoink, I suppose a glib answer would be "every rule has an exception", but the fact is, every situation has its own special circumstances, and we can only extrapolate so much.

    Are there circumstances where one would be justified in intervening? I think so. But they'd have to be pretty extreme (Holocaust extreme), with a lengthy set of conditionals (as happens, Hitler under these rules would never have gotten as far as an actual Final Solution because of the exception "except if we or our allies are directly attacked"... and Hitler started external wars; but even without, the Holocaust would qualify).
    posted by VikingSword at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2013


    Are there circumstances where one would be justified in intervening? I think so. But they'd have to be pretty extreme (Holocaust extreme),

    But I would worry that by setting the bar at "Holocaust Extreme" you end up allowing too much. Was Serbian ethnic cleansing "Holocaust extreme"? Obviously in some ways not. Was Rwanda "Holocaust extreme"? You could make an argument that it wasn't, quite. Etc. etc. I mean, the fact is that part of our reluctance to get involved in Syria here isn't noble unwillingness to meddle in other's affairs but simple fear of blowback. If, say, the Fijian army started using chemical warfare against ethnic Indian Fijians, the tone of the discussion here on Metafilter would not be "well, we've done bad things too" and "why isn't it Australia's job to fix that mess?" We'd be entirely happy to see the US jump in and bang some relevant heads together. In part, of course, that's because the UN would be all over that crap--but then, the only reason the UN isn't all over Syria is because Russia is protecting a client state. It's hardly a shining moral contrast.
    posted by yoink at 5:28 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    What if he hides all of his generals and other important assets behind human shields? Do we still attack them?

    They can't hide forever.
    posted by humanfont at 5:33 PM on August 30, 2013


    yoink, these are complicated questions, and we might be getting a bit far from the OP here so I'm not sure how far to pursue this "first principles" discussion, or if it's even of general interest, so with that in mind, briefly - obviously implementing a fairly strict "non-intervention" policy for all on an international level could not happen in a vacuum. You would have to specify what is in fact an internal affair, even if literally millions of lives are lost (China: Great Leap Forward), and what happens when a country legally stops existing (Yugoslavia) and what happens when it's a civil war or internal struggle for power, armed rebellion etc.. You'd need a whole legal infrastructure built, a viable U.N. intervention force, world courts etc.. Again, you can't implement this in a vacuum. It can be done, and in fact will be done (history has been trending that way for decades), but today, we can only resort to arguments in particular cases. Syria is fairly blatant from that point of view, and we'll just have to continue on a case-by-case basis until such a time when that infrastructure has been built.
    posted by VikingSword at 5:41 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    If chemical weapons use is such a heinous, unforgivable crime, why aren't the American enablers of the Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Kurds and Iranians rotting in a prison cell right now?
    posted by empath at 5:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    They can't hide forever

    Yes, I imagine that if we level the country, we'll probably manage to get them all.
    posted by empath at 5:48 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    We don't need to level the place. We can be patient and hit them when their guard is down.
    posted by humanfont at 6:10 PM on August 30, 2013


    I know that the majority of Americans (and certainly MeFites) opposed it

    FWIW, the majority of Americans initially supported the war in Iraq. Opinion shifted over the course of the war after it became far longer and far more costly than how it was sold to the people, and when WMDs weren't found, but the majority didn't oppose it at the start.

    That's part of why people are so skeptical here. The claims we're hearing now are extraordinarily similar to the claims before the war in Iraq. Do I actually believe, this time, that Syria has chemical weapons and likely used them on civilians multiple times in the past month? Yeah, I think that's probably true. But lots of people believed Bush the first time around. Plus there is even less of a legal basis for intervention here so far as I can tell.
    posted by Justinian at 7:56 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Navelgazer: "I don't know. I'm not an expert in the situation or the region and I think attempts to guess at, for instance, what Assad might be thinking or planning are foolhardy. But my guess is that Syria's chemical weapons program was covert for the same reason Israel's nuclear program has always officially been - a more overt program, rather than an assumed one, would be that much more destabilizing to the region.

    That makes sense to me.

    Also, it's possible that since the Australia Group was founded it has become more difficult for the Syrians to obtain and import the necessary materials to make and stockpile the weapons, so they couldn't do so openly. International restrictions on the transport of ingredients that are used to make chemical weapons have increased over the last 25-30 years. However, many of them do have industrial or agricultural uses, so they could be obtained and then repurposed.
    posted by zarq at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I was thinking the other day that it might actually be that Assad is intentionally drawing the us into the conflict so it can turn into a proxy war between the US and Russia/Iran. Assad might assume the US doesn't want to get involved in a sustained conflict, but that Iran and Russia would send more support in reaction to a US strike.
    posted by empath at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2013


    If chemical weapons use is such a heinous, unforgivable crime, why aren't the American enablers of the Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Kurds and Iranians rotting in a prison cell right now?

    I'll give the glib answer: the same reason why we can't attack Russia, Iran, and/or China for enabling the Syrian regime financially, militarily, and perhaps even scientifically, indirectly leading to their acquisition of chemical weaponry.

    In a proxy war, you don't fight the puppet masters directly. We're no more civilized or humane than the days of the Cold War, or the Great Game for that matter. Same as it ever was.
    posted by Apocryphon at 9:06 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I was thinking the other day that it might actually be that Assad is intentionally drawing the us into the conflict

    Wouldn't it be simpler to say that the regime lost command and control of its nerve agents? That's the nightmare scenario with these things, isn't it? And it happened.
    posted by KokuRyu at 9:08 PM on August 30, 2013


    Syria’s largest city just dropped off the Internet
    posted by homunculus at 9:33 PM on August 30, 2013


    We apparently needed - tragically - to have a Civil War. Would we have appreciated Spain or Britain, or France or whoever to pass judgment from a continent away and decide to interfere in our affairs?

    Well, the rebels would have appreciated some help.
    posted by Drinky Die at 9:46 PM on August 30, 2013


    The claims we're hearing now are extraordinarily similar to the claims before the war in Iraq.

    My recollection is the Iraq War was sold on the basis of dubious threats of a mushroom cloud over the United States. This situation is about chemical weapons attacks on foreign citizens substantiated by eyewitness accounts. Really not at all similar.
    posted by Drinky Die at 9:51 PM on August 30, 2013


    Barack Obama warns of Syria chemical weapons threat to US.
    "When you start talking about chemical weapons, in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time their control of chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organisations, that in the past have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility in which chemical weapons, that can have devastating effects, could be directed at us and we want to make sure that that does not happen," he said.
    You were saying?
    posted by Justinian at 10:11 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Really not at all similar.

    Normally those advocating action offer a plan – of sorts. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya the plan was to replace a dictatorship with a democracy – and while you could disagree passionately, you could see what they had in mind. Not this time".

    Jack Straw, by the way, was Britain's foreign minister (replacing Robin Cooke, who helped facilitate yesterday's Commons vote a decade ago now) leading up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
    posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 PM on August 30, 2013


    You were saying?

    Hah, can't defend that stupidity. Point conceded. I do think the situations are very different, but if you try and sell it on that sort of fear mongering you lose any benefit of the doubt from me.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:31 PM on August 30, 2013


    Yeah to be honest I don't think the situations are the same either. But things don't have to go nearly as badly as they did in Iraq to still be a terrible idea.
    posted by Justinian at 10:37 PM on August 30, 2013


    "When you start talking about chemical weapons, in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time their control of chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organisations, that in the past have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility in which chemical weapons, that can have devastating effects, could be directed at us and we want to make sure that that does not happen," he said.[emph. VS]

    It's like they are not even trying. Just random noises as their lips move. No connection to reality. So, you want to weaken Assad... to have him lose control of the chemical weapons? Can't think of a better way for Assad to lose control of those weapons than by attacking him. And then the weapons might fall into the hands of "known terrorist organizations, that have in the past targeted the United States" - you mean, like the strongest faction of the rebels, Al-Quada, whom we are in effect supporting against Assad, and who therefore are in the best position to get ahold of those weapons upon Assad's overthrow? Sounds like a plan! I'm sure it'll be Mission Accomplished in short order. After all, the AQ are now entrenched in Iraq, whereas they were completely absent under Saddam. I'd say that's some great long term - and short term - and medium term - and any term - strategic thinking right there.

    But details, details, just details - as long as we can get our war on.
    posted by VikingSword at 10:43 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    It's an incredibly scary statement that is rocking my view of Obama as, for all his other many sins, generally a competent operator. The only way control of the weapons will erode out of the hands of the state and into the hands of terrorists who will use them against the US mainland is if the regime continues to fall...so we are going to contribute to making it fall?

    If we are purely reacting to that potential threat to the US, we should be propping up the regime. If this was going to be sold, it was going to be sold on the basis of military intervention being a long term benefit for the Syrian people, they obviously don't think they can make that case.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:59 PM on August 30, 2013


    (Maybe Hillary was the competence? I dunno, but shit has gotten messed up lately.)
    posted by Drinky Die at 11:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    According to Reuters, the Russians have at least 16 warships in the eastern Mediterranean, with more on the way. And beginning last May, the Russians provided the Syrians with new anti-ship missiles, and promises of improved anti-aircraft systems to follow this fall and into next year.

    Whatever this may turn out to be in the immediate future, in terms of an actual air/missile strike by U.S. or NATO assets against Assad's forces, it is already the largest direct U.S./Russian naval standoff since the putative end of the Cold War. As much as Obama may feel his credibility is on the line, I suspect so does Putin, and I really hope no small miscalculation occurs between these fleets, in a tense and crowded Eastern Mediterranean, much closer to Russian territory than many Americans understand.
    posted by paulsc at 11:03 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    The administration has yet to show much, if any, competence in this affair.

    Kerry gave a decent speech, I guess.

    Embarrassing.
    posted by notyou at 11:06 PM on August 30, 2013


    If we are purely reacting to that potential threat to the US, we should be propping up the regime. If this was going to be sold, it was going to be sold on the basis of military intervention being a long term benefit for the Syrian people, they obviously don't think they can make that case.

    Of course Obama's justification for intervention is all a pack of lies either way. That is an ironclad, inescapable conclusion. Because if you want to really control the chemical weapons, then there is one and only one way - a massive invasion by our troops where we scour the country and seize the weapons wherever they are. But we were just told by Obama that there won't be a massive invasion. So the justification that we're going to war to secure the loose chemical weapons is clearly a lie. Alternatively, they are not in the least interested in controlling the chemical weapons, because it's clearly impossible without a massive ground invasion - instead it is a weak excuse to launch some missiles, even though any military action to weaken Assad can only result in an even worse loss of control over those weapons, since, again, we are not going to invade. Either way you cut it, it's a massive lie. We are simply being lied into yet another war.
    posted by VikingSword at 11:10 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Right, you could make a case for limited missile strikes on the basis of, "Regimes who use chemical weapons must be punished." Folks will agree and disagree, but it's an understandable and coherent motive.

    There is no way to secure the weapons with that kind of strike though. To not be afraid of the weapons spreading we either need much more intervention or to allow the regime to have all the control they need to do it themselves which would mean not attacking them.

    We can't allow the government to move forward with this attack when there is clearly no comprehensible justification.
    posted by Drinky Die at 11:19 PM on August 30, 2013


    Description of Russian missile cruiser Moskva now en route to the Eastern Mediterranean from the Atlantic.
    posted by paulsc at 11:33 PM on August 30, 2013


    The Russian navy isn't any sort of conventional threat the United States Navy. Except as a tripwire for the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the planet. Which is a pretty damn big unconventional threat.
    posted by Justinian at 12:06 AM on August 31, 2013


    Is there anything they could do to impede the American ships from launching missiles aside from...like...shooting at them?
    posted by Drinky Die at 12:13 AM on August 31, 2013


    So has John Kerry basically become the Colin Powell of the Obama administration? Definitely loving the dramatic irony of the Bizarro Bush presidency.
    posted by Apocryphon at 12:19 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


    "Is there anything they could do to impede the American ships from launching missiles aside from...like...shooting at them?"
    posted by Drinky Die at 3:13 AM on August 31

    That's a simple question, Drinky Die, with complicated answers, probably being re-visited tonight in Washington and other U.S. command centers.

    The Moskva, if she makes it to station before the Americans deploy a cruise missile strike, would be facing 5 Arleigh Burke class missle destroyers - the USS Gravely, USS Mahan, USS Barry, USS Ramage and USS Stout, plus 2 US carriers - Nimitz and Truman - within flight range of carrier aircraft. On her own, Moskva would not survive long (minutes) if she engaged such U.S. assets, and it is unlikely she would do so offensively. But, if by mis-calculation or mistake, Moskva interpreted a launch of US cruise missiles on Syria as an attack on herself, she could defensively target and nearly simultaneously launch against at least all the U.S. destroyers, and whatever US submarines are on station in the area, in the minutes she felt she might have left.

    And every Russian sailor on that ship is aware of this as they sail tonight, as is the whole Russian command structure. And still, she sails.

    What might happen after such an initial confrontation would be, in the fog of war, anyone's guess. The international chess "game" that is being played tonight hasn't really been played at this level, since the late 1980s.
    posted by paulsc at 12:40 AM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


    What might happen after such an initial confrontation would be, in the fog of war, anyone's guess.

    The United States would be at war with Russia after that event. I don't think it is remotely a likely one.
    posted by Drinky Die at 12:47 AM on August 31, 2013


    I assume the Russians would retaliate by firing missiles at a different set of Syrians, then the Americans hit some more of the Russian's Syrians, and so on until Syria is completely saved.
    posted by Segundus at 12:51 AM on August 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


    If there are no Syrians then they can't use chemical weapons, can they?
    posted by Justinian at 2:03 AM on August 31, 2013


    Pull back and look at the bigger picture. The Wests' great fear is fulfilment of Bin Laden's dream: a united Muslim state, an Islamic caliphate, a strongman in the East. So: the Egyptian Brotherhood is dismantled. Stable regimes like Libya and Syria are white-anted. US troops withdraw from Iraq and allow sectarian civil war. Sunni is set against Shiite. Generational infighting ensues.

    This is nothing more than conjecture, but I think the US has decided the Middle East should look like Africa - local warlords, regional conflict, persistent instability, zero blowback - and has set about encouraging a controlled burn of anything resembling a central power base. For obvious reasons, Russia (or Israel, or the Sauds) don't want this on their doorstep.

    I have no clue whether Assad used chemical weapons, and doubt I'll ever know, but he is a pawn in a much larger game. There was a clear red line, and in crossing it he gains nothing: but maybe others do by drawing the West back into an unwinnable war. They want regional stability, and have used us to police it - the smarter play may be to withdraw and let them fight one another for a thousand years before their gaze again turns in our direction ...
    posted by bookie at 5:13 AM on August 31, 2013


    What truly bothers me: the UN has sent in inspectors. All they are supposed to do is to decide whether or not gas was used. They are not to pin the blame on the rebels or the Assad govt. All I need do is look at photos of the dead and survivors to know gas was used. The real issue for decision making is WHO used them and How.
    A sensible approach given that Russia and China will not allow a Security Council vote:
    Convince all parties to use the UN to resolve the issue--end the war, and remove the gas. It is in Russia's interest, and Iran's that we not attack; it is in our interest that we do not attack with little or no support from other nations.
    If Assad and/or Russia refuse such an arrangement, then an attack would seem reasonable, all options for peace no longer available. If in fact we truly want regime change, then bomb weekly all airport landing fields and any highways that Iran might use so that no weaponry can be delivered by Russia and Iran.

    Obama has said there is a red line that if crossed would have severe consequences. He could "retract " this now, given no support from allies, but then he has also said he would not allow Iran to get nukes--if one "promise" put aside, then why not another?
    posted by Postroad at 5:15 AM on August 31, 2013


    The UK Prime Minister changes his Facebook relationship status.
    posted by Wordshore at 5:42 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


    bonus points for lady marmalade reference
    posted by pyramid termite at 5:53 AM on August 31, 2013


    any action should be forceful enough to bring Assad’s regime to the negotiating table

    pyramid termite mentioned this above, but it's worth another mention: the Shiite Alawites who make up Assad's core of support are a minority - about 20% of Syria - and they have very real concerns about what will happen to them if Assad falls. It's not difficult to imagine what a unilateral US cruise missile strike - no matter how "limited" - will do to their resolve. I think cruise missiles are likely to bring more people to their side, given PATRIOTISM and YOU ATTACKED MY COUNTRY.

    Here's an interesting nuanced interview about sectarian politics in Syria. It's not surprising that many of the worst of the Syrian militia thugs come from the Alawite core, particularly when fundamentalist Sunnis are saying things like this:

    "As for those Alawites who violate what is sacred, when the Muslims rule and are the majority of 85 percent, we will chop you up and feed you to the dogs."

    Given considerations like that, I'm not at all convinced a cruise missile strike (obviously being dictated as much by Obama's need to appear tough to Putin as by any concern for civilians) is going to "bring Assad’s regime to the negotiating table."

    The Wikipedia page on sectarianism in Syria is a good intro (I sure needed it, anyway).
    posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


    For folks interested in the geopolitical history and ramifications, I think Patrick Cockburn's take in the London Review of Books, linked in the previous Syria thread, is worth a look. He sees the current strife across the Middle East as "the end of Sykes-Picot," the 1916 European agreement that divided the region into what now increasingly seem like arbitrary collections of conflicting ethnic and religious groups:

    The feeling that the future of whole states is in doubt is growing across the Middle East – for the first time since Britain and France carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. ‘It is the end of Sykes-Picot,’ I was told repeatedly in Iraq; the reference was to the agreement of 1916 which divided up the spoils between Britain and France and was the basis for later treaties. Some are jubilant at the collapse of the old order, notably the thirty million Kurds who were left without a state of their own after the Ottoman collapse and are now spread across Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They feel their moment has come: they are close to independence in Iraq and are striking a deal with the Turkish government for political rights and civil equality...

    When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it changed the overall balance of power and destabilised every country in the region. The same thing is happening again, except that the impact of the Syrian war is likely to be less easily contained. Already the frontier dividing the western deserts of Iraq from the eastern deserts of Syria is ceasing to have any physical reality. In April, al-Qaida in Iraq embarrassed the [Syrian] rebels’ Western supporters by revealing that it had founded, reinforced with experienced fighters and devoted half its budget to supporting al-Nusra, militarily the most effective rebel group. When Syrian soldiers fled into Iraq in March they were ambushed by al-Qaida and 48 of them were killed before they could return to Syrian territory.


    It's an informative read.
    posted by mediareport at 6:40 AM on August 31, 2013


    Definitely loving the dramatic irony of the Bizarro Bush presidency.

    Well said.
    posted by KokuRyu at 7:59 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Any attempts to use military force to neutralize chemical weapons sounds like a terrible idea, and I'm once again ashamed of my country, seeing Obama parroting Bush in this regard. It's disingenuous, ludicrous to think military intervention would solve anything, and an insult to the intelligence of every American.

    This doesn't change my being in favor of destroying Syria's air force and giving the rebels - Al-Qaeda-backed or no - a fighting chance at removing Assad from power.

    Ultimately I think that the people of the Middle East and the United States are best served by the same state of affairs: democratically elected governments that do not have the appearance of unwavering permanence. Decades of genuine self-determination are the only means by which secular democracies that can be our allies will ever emerge, and it would far better than the current system for the people who live there.

    The hard part of selling democracy in the region to Americans is that the first few decades will generally involve popular theocracies that would love nothing better than to see us destroyed (ie Egypt), but I don't think any American could rationally argue that we deserve better - or even a shred of gratitude - from anybody in the region at this point in history.

    We've talked about the lack of endgame for any intervention in this thread, so that, in a nutshell, would be my preferred one: "Hey guys, we know you hate us but we just wiped out 90% of the air force that was holding you back. Enjoy, good luck with the revolution and dealing with Assad's tanks; we'll talk again in a couple generations."
    posted by Ryvar at 10:05 AM on August 31, 2013


    What happens when Russia sells Assad a new air force? There's no way an American coalition, even a substantial one involving NATO or other major allies, could prevent this even if they wanted to.
    posted by feloniousmonk at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    We've talked about the lack of endgame for any intervention in this thread, so that, in a nutshell, would be my preferred one: "Hey guys, we know you hate us but we just wiped out 90% of the air force that was holding you back. Enjoy, good luck with the revolution and dealing with Assad's tanks; we'll talk again in a couple generations."

    Facepalm. So we should install - potentially Al-Queda and Taliban - and let them run rivers of blood in Syria for a couple of generations, unobstructed? And then we'll call this a "democracy" just because it was us who inflicted this abomination on Syria?

    How about we don't install anyone, instead let Syrians sort things out themselves? If you are willing to inflict the AQ on the Syrians for a few generations, I'm willing to let the Syrians deal themselves with Assad without outside interference - and who knows, as has happened in other parts of the world, Romania f.ex., or Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and many other examples, where the dictatorship gave way, more peacefully, or less peacefully, and the country formed or reformed their own territory? How about we give them a couple of generations - or however long they need to - to do this on their own, at their own pace, in the context of their own history and culture? Why is inflicting externally driven and financed extremists a better idea?

    If I am sure of one thing, it is that a fundamentalist style takeover would not result in a democracy, but instead would result in something far more bloody and regressive than the worst of the worst of an Assad (see Afghanistan). Why somebody would want to forcibly inflict that on the Syrians is beyond me.

    If we are willing to let Syrians suffer for generations under the depredations of Wahhabist extremists we inflict on them, we should be willing to let Syrians take all the time they need to deal with Assad on their own without our murderous influence.
    posted by VikingSword at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2013


    somebody on the slate podcast said that there are forces driving conflict in the Middle East similar to forces driving conflict in WWI. In that a former order is falling apart and there's not an easy answer for what will replace it.

    Note that I don't know anything and thus can't comment on the veracity of the above.
    posted by angrycat at 10:41 AM on August 31, 2013


    also that Obama is a greater abuser of executive power than Bush, which is pretty freakin depressing
    posted by angrycat at 10:44 AM on August 31, 2013


    Shit, he's doing it.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:52 AM on August 31, 2013


    somebody on the slate podcast said that there are forces driving conflict in the Middle East similar to forces driving conflict in WWI. In that a former order is falling apart and there's not an easy answer for what will replace it.

    I've thought along similar lines. In fact, in the same way that WW2 was a result of the Great War, I think these events are an echo of what transpired as the Ottomans fell and the British empire began to disintegrate in slow motion. (Check the book World Undone for an incredibly well-told history of WW1.)

    The basic characterization of this intervention seems off to me. So far intervention is being put in terms of Kosovo or Libya but I think things are different with Syria. We know that Russia values their relationship with Syria very highly due to the access to Mediterranean ports it allows them. With all of the natural resources nearby in the region, we know that there are competing interests from pretty much every international power at play here. I'm not making a direct comparison, but if you put our past military interventions on a spectrum with Libya on one end and Vietnam on the other, due to Russia's involvement, Syria seems closer to the Vietnam end of the spectrum than Libya, but with a struggle for natural resources in place of an ideological battle between communism and capitalism.

    The moral calculus of intervention needs to include an extremely realistic understanding of exactly what the aftermath of intervention will entail. More than the Syrian rebellion is at stake here.
    posted by feloniousmonk at 10:53 AM on August 31, 2013


    Reading ConHome today--the supposed grassroots website of the Conservative party--some commenters were openly mocking the "special relationship". While such a thing is often seen on the left, it's seldom seen on the right.
    posted by Thing at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2013


    Or I guess he is going to Congress instead even though he said he already made his decision as CINC? Well that's something I guess.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2013


    Obama just said that he believes in the constitution and will not go forward without a vote from congress. AWESOME!
    posted by humanfont at 10:55 AM on August 31, 2013


    What are the chances that Congress will not authorize it?
    posted by triggerfinger at 10:55 AM on August 31, 2013


    also that Obama is a greater abuser of executive power than Bush, which is pretty freakin depressing

    Any war that needs to be lied about to the American people (as per the chemical weapons claim of Obama), is not a war worth fighting. If they cannot honestly and clearly articulate the reasons why we must unleash war on a country that has not attacked us, then they are the worst kind of war-mongers. If they are willing to lie about as serious a matter as war, then they are willing to lie about anything.

    The unseemly pressure to hurry up and bomb, the arbitrary deadlines, the trumped up reasons, the refusal to offer proof while insisting on blind trust, yeah, it's all so familiar.

    If the U.S. launches a war against Syria, it will be the end of my support for Obama, period. I will not support a criminal war monger.
    posted by VikingSword at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2013


    What are the chances that Congress will not authorize it?

    It's hard to say. Democratic loyalty to Obama vs. Sometimes anti-war Democratic base. Republican hatred of Obama vs. General love of ass kicking. I'm contacting my reps and asking them not to authorize now.
    posted by Drinky Die at 10:57 AM on August 31, 2013


    When was the last time Congress refused to authorize a conflict? Either directly or indirectly?
    posted by Apocryphon at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    In fact, in the same way that WW2 was a result of the Great War, I think these events are an echo of what transpired as the Ottomans fell and the British empire began to disintegrate in slow motion. (Check the book World Undone for an incredibly well-told history of WW1.)

    Don't forget how much the invasion of Iraq destabilized things for Syria.
    posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2013


    To build on what I was saying about it seeming closer on the spectrum to a Vietnam than Libya, I don't mean that I think there'll be a ground war or anything like that, but rather that the stakes are higher in Syria than they were in Libya because there are more and bigger players involved, similar to the proxy wars of the Cold War.
    posted by feloniousmonk at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    What are the chances that Congress will not authorize it?

    It all depends on the American people. You've got to call and tell them you don't want to bomb Syria.
    posted by Ironmouth at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


    Don't forget how much the invasion of Iraq destabilized things for Syria.

    Definitely. Of course, the very existence of Iraq as a state plays into this from a much longer perspective. There is so much bad history in the region that it is easily lost, but the way the dissolution of the British Mandate for Palestine was handled pretty much guaranteed ongoing conflict in the region much as the more well-known partition of India did with Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
    posted by feloniousmonk at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2013


    Democratic loyalty to Obama vs. Sometimes anti-war Democratic base. Republican hatred of Obama vs. General love of ass kicking.

    It's a little bizarro world right now, in that my Democratic senators, Al Franken and (probably) Amy Klobuchar are both hawkish, while Michele Bachmann wants to stay out of Syria. This is going to be an interesting vote.
    posted by triggerfinger at 11:17 AM on August 31, 2013


    ain't the congresspeople gonna be out and about at voter stuff this weekend?
    posted by angrycat at 11:19 AM on August 31, 2013


    What are the chances that Congress will not authorize it?

    I'd guess at well over 50% given the now reflexive Republican opposition to anything Obama does.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:20 AM on August 31, 2013


    The Onion is retweeting its "It's your turn" article by Assad at the news of the prez action
    posted by angrycat at 11:21 AM on August 31, 2013


    The unseemly pressure to hurry up and bomb, the arbitrary deadlines, the trumped up reasons, the refusal to offer proof while insisting on blind trust, yeah, it's all so familiar.

    Really? Because Obama sure is acting like someone who doesn't want to bomb Syria at all. He said some dumb things a few months ago and used words that the American voter likes "red line." He did not take into account that you cannot say them and not back it up. Now he got his ass in a sling. If he was all fucking gung ho on dropping on in to Syria, January would have been the time, no? This is a guy who made the first big foreign policy mistake of his career. He wants out of the box he self-constructed. This is the way out. If he "wins" the vote, he can say Congress was for it, so don't criticize me. If he loses, he says ok, we won't do this, the people are against it.

    I mean the package being suggested by the Administration is a series of punitive cruise missile strikes, lasting what? two days? He needs no vote, the law only requires notification. And past presidents have done this level of strike without congressional authorization e.g. 100 cruise missiles at the same time against bin Laden by Clinton.
    posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2013


    It's a little bizarro world right now, in that my Democratic senators, Al Franken and (probably) Amy Klobuchar are both hawkish, while Michele Bachmann wants to stay out of Syria.

    Between this and PRISM, it would be an excellent time for Occupy types and Tea Partiers to reconcile and find common ground. Even if they disagree on, say, 80% of policies, the 20% that overlap- against interventionist foreign policy and an encroaching federal leviathan- are still worthy of collaboration on.
    posted by Apocryphon at 11:25 AM on August 31, 2013


    Obama just said that he believes in the constitution and will not go forward without a vote from congress. AWESOME!

    it's a combination of clever, proper and stupid

    of course he should get authorization from congress - but he's already stuck his neck out saying that america has to do something - but now he's not going to get his authorization until sept 9, when congress is back in session - which gives assad lots of time to get ready and everyone else time to calm down and forget about it

    pretty stupid, except now he can say, "by the time congress got around to considering it, it was no longer practical ..."

    ---

    Because Obama sure is acting like someone who doesn't want to bomb Syria at all.

    and wants to make congress the fall guy for it
    posted by pyramid termite at 11:26 AM on August 31, 2013


    If the U.S. launches a war against Syria, it will be the end of my support for Obama, period. I will not support a criminal war monger.

    Isn't anyone reading the NYT? This is about shooting fewer cruise missiles at Syria than we did at bin Laden in 10 minutes. This is not us invading Iraq for no reason to topple Saddam. I'm against the strikes, but could we please get real for a moment? This is smaller than we do in Afghanistan in a day right now If we attack Syria after this vote its because not enough people called their congressman.
    posted by Ironmouth at 11:29 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Even if they disagree on, say, 80% of policies, the 20% that overlap- against interventionist foreign policy and an encroaching federal leviathan- are still worthy of collaboration on.

    They'll only ask you to sell out blacks, hispanics, gays, the environment and the poor. The Tea Party is and always has been a trojan horse of reactionary social policy with low taxes and destruction of social safety nets inside. So think before you drag that horse inside the city walls.
    posted by Ironmouth at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


    However the Congressional vote goes, Obama's already completely inverted Teddy Roosevelt's advice about gunboat diplomacy. And to my mind "Talk big, and then think out loud." isn't nearly as good a motto as "Speak softly, and carry a big stick."

    This President is a political and diplomatic Doofus of the first rank, and right about now, Putin must be thinking to himself "Obama blinked." No telling what this is going to cost on the ground in the Middle East, or as time goes on, in every teacup tempest roiled by every tinpot dictator the U.S. or its allies will face in future squabbles around the world.
    posted by paulsc at 11:34 AM on August 31, 2013


    Isn't anyone reading the NYT? This is about shooting fewer cruise missiles at Syria than we did at bin Laden in 10 minutes.

    Yeah! It's just a couple of cruise missiles! No one will notice!
    posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on August 31, 2013


    He needs no vote, the law only requires notification. And past presidents have done this level of strike without congressional authorization e.g. 100 cruise missiles at the same time against bin Laden by Clinton.

    Yes he does need a vote. Unless we regard the initiation of war as completely within the purview of the president. But that's not how it's supposed to work. The president is allowed to use military force without Congressional approval only in cases of emergency when it is essential to react immediately and you cannot convene a Congressional meeting. If we suddenly discover in the middle of the night that bombers are headed our way, the president has the right to shoot them down and attack the source to protect the country. That was the idea. It was not that the president can wake up one day and throw a dart on a map and decide to unleash a bombing raid "just because". Of course, it is the latter that has been happening under countless presidents - but it is a perversion of what the intent was. We are not under attack in any way shape or form by Syria. Our troops are not in danger. There is no pressing emergency to commence hostilities. It is a textbook case where the president should seek Congressional approval for a war of choice.
    posted by VikingSword at 11:34 AM on August 31, 2013


    This is about shooting fewer cruise missiles at Syria than we did at bin Laden in 10 minutes. This is not us invading Iraq for no reason to topple Saddam. I'm against the strikes, but could we please get real for a moment? This is smaller than we do in Afghanistan in a day right now

    This is an act of war. If some country decided to unleash a bunch of missiles at the U.S., whether military or civilian targets, we would rightly consider it an act of war.

    Why do you imagine the standards are different when we do it?
    posted by VikingSword at 11:37 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


    If we attack Syria after this vote its because not enough people called their congressman.


    Because the opinion of the people of the rest of the world's nations matter not at all.
    posted by de at 11:41 AM on August 31, 2013


    Larry Wilkerson (linked upthread) makes a decent point; what if we send in a few missiles & all Assad's govt does is hunker down & get re-supplied by the Russians & Iran? What then?

    What if they take the hit, thumb their noses @ Obama, & return to doing a decent job of holding their own in the Civil War?
    posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:53 AM on August 31, 2013


    So think before you drag that horse inside the city walls.

    I don't know, for all of the evidence of astroturfing and the influence of the Koch brothers, there's real grassroots sentiment in the Tea Party. And maybe it's in the service of anti-Obama rhetoric and libertarian ideology, but there's been Tea Party organizations involved in movements such as Restore the Fourth. Looking at their website, the Oath Keepers seem to be lionizing Edward Snowden.

    Something something coalition building for a greater cause, followed by pointing out such a tactic is analogous to the Syrian Civil War itself, with secular FSA and hardliner jihadists cooperating against a mutual foe, which makes this political conflict ironic.
    posted by Apocryphon at 12:03 PM on August 31, 2013


    Because the opinion of the people of the rest of the world's nations matter not at all.

    A legislature representing the views and interests of its citizens is basically what democracy is. I'm opposed to this operation based on what's now known, but I wouldn't all of the sudden become a supporter if France, Britain, Russia, and China were enthusiastically in favor of it either.
    posted by dsfan at 12:12 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    An appeal to a legislature representing the views and interests of its citizens is basically what this has become because a coalition of the willing was not forthcoming.

    I'd agree with you: the US, France, Britain, Russia and China are not sufficiently representative of the united nations (any more). The United Nations needs to look into that.
    posted by de at 12:24 PM on August 31, 2013


    Color me pleasantly surprised. This may not make attacking Syria work out any better or worse but at least it'll be legal and will spread the responsibility around. Yay.
    posted by Justinian at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    yoink:

    So if the US was funding pro-democracy forces in Syria (i.e., media operations, for example) prior to the rebellion's beginning that's somehow "proof" that they deliberately sparked the rebellion.

    Are you trying to say that the point of funding pro-democracy forces in Syria is to avoid sparking a rebellion?

    And if they reluctantly and after an enormous amount of "yay, the Arab Spring has come to Syria" prodding trained and (marginally) equipped a few rebels that's "proof" that every single rebel is a paid agent of Uncle Sam etc. etc. The US has come late to the party on this rebellion and is a bit player among the many forces arming, training and funding the rebels. To suggest that somehow the mere fact of a small level of US participation somehow makes not only the actions of the rebels but Assad's decision to slaughter tens of thousands of his countrymen "America's fault" is not only absurd but offensive.

    Let's look at two articles, the first from 6/2012:
    A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

    The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
    Now they are airlifting supplies directly into Syria (written in 3/2013):
    From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
    ...
    “A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.

    “The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
    ...
    The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.

    American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”

    Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.

    Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.

    “Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.
    Sounds like we're doing more than playing a bit part in this narrative, doesn't it? And as far as being late to the party, America's first participation in a coup d'etat in Syria was in 1949. The experiment continued:
    On August 12, 1957, the Syrian army surrounded the U.S. embassy in Damascus. Claiming to have aborted a CIA plot to overthrow neutralist President Shukri Quwatly and install a pro-Western regime, Syrian chief of counterintelligence Abdul Hamid Sarraj expelled three U.S. diplomats, jailed dozens of officers and moved closer to Moscow.

    By month’s end, the U.S., along with Turkey and Iraq, was considering an action that could have escalated into a full-scale, Soviet-U.S. confrontation.

    This abortive CIA coup plot capped nearly a decade of covert U.S. meddling in Syria. As early as 1949, this newly independent Arab republic was an important staging ground for the CIA’s earliest experiments in covert action.

    The CIA secretly encouraged a right-wing military coup in 1949. Repeated CIA covert action during the following decade stimulated Arab anti-Americanism, drove the Syrian left closer to the Kremlin, and made overt military involvement more likely.
    The resulting cycle of coups, counter coups, and the establishment of fanatical totalitarians as the only domestic force capable of allowing Syrians to (sort of) have a country of their own isn't completely America's fault, but we had something to do with it, and no other nation had more to do with those events than we did.

    The US policy towards Syria has been an open secret since 2005:
    Now, the US appears to be following a well-thought-out campaign of ousting Assad. The first phase of that campaign successfully ended when the UN became involved in the inquiry of the assassination of Hariri. The second phase had also been successfully carried out immediately before the beginning of the UN summit in New York this week.

    Assad was planning to make his appearance at the summit as a representative of the new generation of Arab leaders who would transform the region as a promising place of stability and economic progress. He was also to make some promises of initiating Syria's march toward democracy during his speech in New York. That visit was also to mark the end of a long period of isolation of his country.

    The Bush administration, on the other hand, wanted to do everything to deny Assad any recognition or accolades from the West. Syria was told that Assad would have no chance of meeting President George W Bush. In addition, Washington systematically persuaded the EU heads to shun Assad. The Syrian president got the message and abandoned his plan to attend the summit.

    The third phase of the US regime-change plan involves putting pressure on Mehlis to be proactive in seeking to "interview" a number of Syrian officials, including Assad. Naturally, Syria would not agree to have its president interviewed by a UN prosecutor, a process that even Saddam did not encounter when he was in power.

    From the perspectives of psychological warfare, that is also an adroit move. The purpose is to constantly place Assad on the defensive, forcing him between accepting the humiliating option of being himself interviewed by a UN prosecutor, or providing important enough Syrian officials for Mehlis' interviews so that he would not insist on interviewing him. If that measure does not satisfy Mehlis, Assad might meet with him, but only if the meeting were to be labeled as a "courtesy call".

    The fourth phase of the impending regime-change plan is to find an alternative ruler for Syria, an "Ahmad Chalabi version", but with a cleaner reputation than the Iraqi exile courted by the US before the fall of Saddam. On this point, the Bush administration is not having much success. One option is to meet with the late Hafez Assad's brother, Riffat, who does not reside in Syria, and extract some sort of commitment from him to democratize Syria if, or when, regime change does take place.

    The general thinking in Washington is that the US will not repeat the mistake of heavily relying on Syrian expatriates, who, like their Iraqi counterparts, may have the number one objective of self-promotion and telling the US government what it wants to hear. The top US national security officials remember only too well the fairy tales of rose water and sweets that the American troops were to be offered once they walked into Iraq. However, there is no guarantee that a number of fallacious actions immediately prior to and in the immediate aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq will not be repeated.
    Unfortunately, the State Department is much more stupid than the author of the last article could have imagined. The Bush Administration thought they would bring democracy to the middle east, and that their takeover of Iraq would cause the Iranian and Syrian regimes to fall. It was probably part of the sell for "Shock and Awe." But instead, the intense power vacuum created by our catastrophe in Iraq bolstered both regimes, and was one reason Ahmadinejad cold get away with rigging the vote, and getting the Ayatollahs to help; it is also the reason the West still doesn't understand why the Assad regime has so much staying power: neither of these countries want to end up like Iraq. And that goes from your every day working class joe all the way up to the rich and powerful inside of those nations. Living under Assad or the Ayatollahs may be terrible, but living under the puppet regimes of the United States would be much, much worse. That is where our reputation stands in the Middle East.

    Syria has seen over one million refugees -- yet more beneficiaries of America's formidable foreign policy expertise -- pour across the border since we brought desolation, destruction, a huge loss of gender equity, trauma, death, and despair to their neighbors in Iraq. So much so that when given a choice, Syria was the destination of choice for Iraqi Christians fleeing their homes.

    And since then, it bears repeating, Iraq has become infested with sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia elements split across the entire region. Under Saddam's rule, terrorism in Iraq was unheard of. Now terrorism has been liberated by our audacious strategery and is a daily reality across the entire state.

    To sum it all up: The United States has been interfering in the affairs of the middle east for decades, along with the British. The British are finally getting out. We are still there, trying to run a proxy war against Iran. We have destroyed Iraq, and bolstered the Syrian and Iranian hardliners in the process. Now any population will fight tooth and nail for whoever stands a chance of providing an independent state capable of resisting the catastrophe of being a puppet state for the US or our Gulf allies. Which means even as part of our own internal policy goals of reducing Iranian and Syrian influence by invading Iraq, we have utterly failed and achieved the opposite.

    I wouldn't trust the State Department or the CIA with a puppy, and certainly not with the future of a nation on the other side of the world. It is profoundly obvious that they are incapable of producing the results they want, and they almost always end up making the situation worse. To suggest otherwise is not only absurd, but it is offensive.
    posted by deanklear at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


    "Charles Stross makes a suggestion for what could be done (distributing gas masks..."

    Exposure to sarin can cause death in minutes. 1 to 10 mL of sarin on the skin can be fatal, which kind of makes a less-than-adequate supply of gas masks that are supposedly going to be delivered to the people who need them during a civil war a bad joke... especially when Syrian civilians won't get even a few seconds warning in the event of a government chemical weapons attack.

    Charlie also says... "it's being used as a rallying cry to drag the US military—and the UK—into yet another colonial war in the Middle East."

    As opposed to a "limited, narrow" act that is focused on the specific concern about Syria's use of chemical weapons. Use of ground troops and a sustained strike have been ruled out.

    "we don't have the expertise to tell Syrian rebels from government loyalists."

    Unless, of course, the government loyalists are the ones in the government-controlled parts of Syria, located on government-controlled military bases. Not that the goal would likely be to kill government loyalists, as much as to destroy military infrastructure, such as air bases, etc.

    There are good arguments to attack Syria and to not do so... but though Charlie is a talented writer of fiction, a military analyst he ain't.
    posted by markkraft at 1:38 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Because the opinion of the people of the rest of the world's nations matter not at all.

    Because yes, Assad listened to the voice of the world before he created a giant refugee crisis and dropped nerve gas near international borders, and Saudi Arabia asked everyone's fucking opinion before it started shipping weapons in there. Because the entire history of the world is every dude in Bolivia getting a say in what Putin does, or Greenlanders dictating to Bush or Obama. Like it or not, we live in a world of nation states.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should be bombing, but nation states follow their percieved interests. I percieve such an operation to not be in our interests.
    posted by Ironmouth at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


    In many ways, the idea of doing a limited strike against Syria in retaliation for them using chemical weapons --after getting Congressional approval -- is a definite improvement over how the US has used military force during both the Bush, Clinton, and Reagan administrations.

    It should be remembered that Clinton bombed Iraq numerous times, sent troops into Bosnia, Somalia, Yemen, Macedonia, Haiti, and numerous other countries... launched cruise missile strikes against Afghan terrorist training camps, launched sustained attacks against Serbia, launched sustain attacks against Iraq, etc. Clinton has actually been considerably more hawkish on Syria than President Obama.

    Reagan's foreign policy in regards to attacks and interventions was arguably even more aggressive.

    The question is, which is the best thing to do when a nation's rulers do something so patently unacceptable that kills hundreds of civilians?
    Proportional response? Disproportional response? No response?!

    Striking Syria for using chemical weapons sends a message. And not striking Syria for using chemical weapons sends a message.
    posted by markkraft at 2:23 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This looks a lot like the attack on Libya in 1986. There is a lot if debate about the efficacy of those raids.
    posted by humanfont at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The question is, which is the best thing to do when a nation's rulers do something so patently unacceptable that kills hundreds of civilians?

    That's a good question. What are we doing to do about Saudi Arabia regularly beheading their citizens for sodomy and witchcraft? How are we going to respond to the massive suppression of popular will in Bahrain by their dictatorship? How much longer is the US going to consider the military takeover of Egypt and the hundreds of dead civilians there "not a coup"?

    It's interesting that we always come up with different answers if we benefit from the violence.

    But if you really want to ask an interesting question, it's this one: hundreds of US citizens are shot dead by our own police forces every year, and hundreds more are put to death. According to most of the civilized world, this is a barbaric, immoral practice. When should we expect the invasion for being so "patently unacceptable," and which side of the front are you going to be on?
    posted by deanklear at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Look, if Syria was a client state of the us who was massacring and gassing people, we don't even have to ask if strikes would be being considered. We would tut-tut at them and do absolutely nothing. We wouldn't even cut off military aid. This isn't hypothetical, even, we have lots of examples like Iraq and Guatemala of what we do when our allies are mass murderers.
    posted by empath at 2:54 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    hundreds of US citizens are shot dead by our own police forces every year, and hundreds more are put to death. According to most of the civilized world, this is a barbaric, immoral practice. When should we expect the invasion for being so "patently unacceptable," and which side of the front are you going to be on?

    The equating of more than a thousand innocent people being murdered to a few dozen (not hundreds) executions of convicted criminals is crazy, and I say this as a death penalty abolitionist and opponent of bombing Syria.
    posted by dsfan at 2:56 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    VikingSword it is difficult to imagine how you could more completely miss my point, or come away with a conclusion that is further from what I was proposing.
    posted by Ryvar at 2:58 PM on August 31, 2013


    Congress isn't coming back early from their recess for this vote. That's cool. It's not like it's the most important vote Congress has taken since the authorization for use of military force in Iraq or anything. And since many current Congresspersons weren't elected then it's not as if this is potentially the most important vote of their careers.
    posted by Justinian at 3:13 PM on August 31, 2013


    Congress isn't coming back early from their recess for this vote. That's cool. It's not like it's the most important vote Congress has taken since the authorization for use of military force in Iraq or anything. And since many current Congresspersons weren't elected then it's not as if this is potentially the most important vote of their careers.

    Point taken. However, they don't come back for more than a week. The situation in Syria could, conceivably, change to the point where an action we might have taken this weekend doesn't need to ever happen.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2013


    hundreds more are put to death.

    The United States executes between 40-45 people per year, and a very large fraction of those occur in Texas alone. Texas generally accounts for 1/3 of all executions in the entire nation, and that fraction will likely become more like 1/2 in the next few years.

    That's still 40-45 people too many. But you're exaggerating greatly the number. And, I expect, Texas will soon stand more or less alone as a barbaric anachronism. I hope they feel shame. But unfortunately I expect it's mostly pride.
    posted by Justinian at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


    "What are we doing to do about Saudi Arabia regularly beheading their citizens for sodomy and witchcraft? How are we going to respond to the massive suppression of popular will in Bahrain by their dictatorship?

    Are either of these the same as committing a war crime against civilians, using a WMD... especially since the US government specifically warned them not to do so?

    It's interesting that we always come up with different answers if we benefit from the violence.

    Veeery questionable to suggest that we would "benefit" by launching a somewhat small, limited strike. The strike isn't being contemplated as something we could benefit from, as a nation... other than hopefully dissuading nations from using WMDs.

    "we have lots of examples like Iraq and Guatemala of what we do when our allies are mass murderers."

    You seem to view U.S. policy decisions as a continuum, as opposed to having distinctly different policies and interpretations between administrations. It makes no sense to hang Iraq and Guatemala's treatment under Republican administrations around President Obama's neck. Neither is a good reason for him not to do what he believes is the best option, under the circumstances...

    "This looks a lot like the attack on Libya in 1986."

    Historically, it's pretty similar, though the circumstances are considerably different. The targets in that case were primarily air force bases and barracks, and the casualties were primarily military.

    The big difference, really, are the circumstances. The Syrian government's hands are pretty full and they aren't really in much of a position to strike back right now. If they did, it would be damn near suicidal.
    posted by markkraft at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The use of WMD was a significant escalation in the conflict. If we don't do anything in response, dont we risk a worse outcome than if we attack?
    posted by humanfont at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2013


    What's a worse outcome than an all out civil war?
    posted by empath at 4:25 PM on August 31, 2013


    What's a worse outcome than an all out civil war?

    Expanded war w/ Americans & Russians pointing guns at each other shouting "YOU DROP IT FIRST!"

    That is worse than plain all-out civil war by orders of magnitude.
    posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


    A brief history of US military intervention in Syria: "The Baby and the Baath-water" At BBC News, Adam Curtis has a compelling look at how the US intelligence and military services have botched regime change and justice-by-bombs in Syria, over the past 65 or so years.
    posted by nickyskye at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2013 [11 favorites]


    The equating of more than a thousand innocent people being murdered to a few dozen (not hundreds) executions of convicted criminals is crazy, and I say this as a death penalty abolitionist and opponent of bombing Syria.
    The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics has been compiling data on deaths of suspects following arrests, but the information covers just 40 states and only includes arrest fatalities. From January 2003 through December 2009, bureau statistics show 4,813 deaths occurred during "an arrest or restraint process." Of those, 61% (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel, 11% (541) as suicides, 11% (525) as due to intoxication, 6% (272) as accidental injuries, and 5% (244) were attributed to natural causes. About 42% of the dead were white, 32% were black, and 20% were Hispanic.
    This is not to mention the two million citizens currently incarcerated in the world's largest prison system, or the 3,000 currently on death row. But I stand corrected that "only" hundreds are shot to death and "only" forty or so are executed every year.

    Are either of these the same as committing a war crime against civilians, using a WMD... especially since the US government specifically warned them not to do so?

    So the nation that just destroyed the entire nation of Iraq and sent one million refugees fleeing the instability and misery of Iraq when it's being "liberated" by the United States for the more stable and more secure borders of Syria is the one trying to tell Syria how to run things in Syria?

    Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the United States is the only country that is allowed to take unilateral military action anywhere in the world for any reason that doesn't have to have anything to do with something resembling a set of principles or any recognizable legal framework. Let's concede that ridiculous argument and then get to the next obstacle:

    Where is your evidence that America is capable of using violence to make things better and not worse? How are things in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to how they were before the arrival of our armed forces?
    posted by deanklear at 6:29 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Things are significantly better in Afghanistan today than under the Taliban. Mortality rates have steadily declined since the end of the Taliban rule. Access to clean water and sanitation are at record high levels and have doubled since the arrival of US forces. The number of internally displaced persons has fallen by half. Child immunization rates have doubled to almost 70%. Per capita GDP has risen 5 fold.
    posted by humanfont at 8:01 PM on August 31, 2013


    Things are significantly better in Afghanistan today than under the Taliban. Mortality rates have steadily declined since the end of the Taliban rule

    Rubbish. Deaths have gone up every year since the invasion began, and only began declining in 2012.

    Access to clean water and sanitation are at record high levels and have doubled since the arrival of US forces. The number of internally displaced persons has fallen by half. Child immunization rates have doubled to almost 70%. Per capita GDP has risen 5 fold.
    The numbers are staggering. According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan’s roughly $15.7 billion gross domestic product comes from international military and development aid and spending in the country by foreign troops. The economy is already contracting as troops leave, and future growth will be slower, especially in urban areas and areas of conflict.

    To increase the odds for a more gradual and manageable transition, the United States and other major donors pledged $16 billion in development aid through 2015 at a conference in Tokyo last week. It was an important and necessary commitment. Now they have to deliver.

    The United States and other nations have promised that they will not abandon Afghanistan, which happened in 1989 after the Soviet Union was pushed out. The World Bank has warned that an abrupt aid cutoff could provoke a collapse of political authority, civil war and a greater reliance on opium profits.
    Afghanistan's current government could not exist without international aid totalling 97% of their GDP. This is success?

    And where are your stats on Iraq?
    posted by deanklear at 9:09 PM on August 31, 2013


    Things are significantly better in Afghanistan today than under the Taliban.

    Whoa there! You got this exactly backwards. The Taliban can be credited wholly to the accounts of various interventionists. First, the Russians (Soviets), of course, who decided that they really needed to intervene in Afghanistan. Then we decided that we're gonna Vietnam them, and in that proxy fight we financed and promoted and supported a largely Pakistani special services creation, the Taliban. Pakistan of course, was our client state, and their special services were a terrorist-creating factory, spreading chaos, death and destruction from Kashmir to Afghanistan. Not content with that, we abetted every kind of extremist from Arab countries and financed them directly or indirectly, even if they were our sworn ideological enemies (including Osama Bin Laden), because they were actors of convenience for us, and we didn't think five minutes beyond the present utility (sound familiar in the context of Syria today?). We encouraged and facilitated Saudi and other regimes support and export of jihadists and assorted holy warriors from every country we could (sound familiar in the context of Syria today?).

    Then, of course, Frankenstein got away from his creator. We lost control not only of Pakistani special services, who it transpires we never fully controlled and who naturally pursued their own interests in this, but of the entire evil of Taliban. It was full-on blowback.

    So we tried to fight back, and promoted and supported the lesser-evil-thugs of the Northern Alliance.

    And we lost to the Taliban. Afghanistan became a giant blowback, harboring our worst enemies and spreading chaos regionally. Taliban is ours - and our self-goal and self-created blowback.

    And then we had 9-11, and GWB's spectacularly incompetent pursuit of Bin Laden and spectacularly incompetent prosecution of the war in Afghanistan.

    Now, over a decade later, you say:

    Things are significantly better in Afghanistan today than under the Taliban.

    One can only laugh at the amazingly ahistorical statement that looks like something out of the Wrong-Way-Mirror World.

    Things are better now - after trillions spent, by us and allies from all over the world, battling our Taliban mistake. Only here comes the kicker:

    We're leaving. And the Taliban is stronger than ever. How long do you imagine the present puppet gang in Kabul will last under the assault from the Taliban? Almost every day there are bombings on Nato forces. And the day of our departure is approaching fast. But, that doesn't mean we don't have time for a bit of head-spinning comedy:

    Things are significantly better in Afghanistan today than under the Taliban.

    Yeaaah, baby!
    posted by VikingSword at 9:48 PM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Forget "watch this drive". How about watch this game?
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:36 PM on August 31, 2013


    the nation that just destroyed the entire nation of Iraq
    According to the United Nations, the population of Iraq has increased from 23,857,000 in 2000 to between 31,672,000 and 36,977,000 today. UN report. This is a little tangential, but I don't believe entirely unrelated. How do you reconcile what you feel has been happening in Iraq over the past ten years with this increase in population?
    posted by relish at 11:35 AM on September 1, 2013


    Veeery questionable to suggest that we would "benefit" by launching a somewhat small, limited strike. The strike isn't being contemplated as something we could benefit from, as a nation... other than hopefully dissuading nations from using WMDs.

    Very questionable to assume that it would remain a small limited strike. Also, for reference, this 2009 article about Qatar's (major rebel-funder) desire to build a pipeline to Turkey (major provider of tactical support to the rebels, allowing them to conduct affairs from across the border). So, yeah, I am quite sure that many people see benefits from launching a strike. Ensuring that the "winners" of this conflict are US-allies is definitely considered a "benefit" by many in the US. Also, this idea of the US, or "the West" in general as moral police doesn't even pass the sniff test. There still isn't even hard evidence that it was a chemical attack, or that it was the regime! I'd be against an attack if it turns out that it was the regime, and that it was sarin gas, but I find it especially worrisome that everyone wants to jump the gun without the evidence even being fully there.

    Honestly, this whole thing freaks me the fuck out - there is the potential for this to escalate into a much broader conflict, involving Russia, Iran, the US, Turkey, Israel and god-knows who else - I mean, if things get real messy, China could even get involved. We are talking about nuclear powers here.
    posted by molecicco at 12:02 PM on September 1, 2013


    Nobody is going to fight the United States. It's not possible at present. What's happening could cause huge diplomatic problems but neither Russia nor China is stupid enough to believe they can meaningfully engage the US military.

    And I don't think Obama is stupid enough to get involved in another occupation. I'd feel a lot better if I was confident enough that I didn't have to put the emphasis on the word think.
    posted by Justinian at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2013


    According to the United Nations, the population of Iraq has increased from 23,857,000 in 2000 to between 31,672,000 and 36,977,000 today. UN report. This is a little tangential, but I don't believe entirely unrelated. How do you reconcile what you feel has been happening in Iraq over the past ten years with this increase in population?

    That is meaningless without context. So, what has happened to Iraq's healthcare system?
    The impact of the 2003 invasion and subsequent conflict on Iraq’s healthcare system has been well-documented. (Check out consistent coverage of the health consequences of Iraq’s conflict by the Lancet medical journal here). The conflict shattered Iraq's primary healthcare delivery, disease control and prevention services, and health research infrastructure. Attempts to resurrect Iraq's healthcare system remain hindered by a number of factors, including fragile national security and lack of utilities like water and electricity.

    Much of the damage incurred in the first few years of the invasion continues to have an impact today.

    Iraq had prioritized healthcare at least since the 1920s, when the Royal College of Medicine was formed to train doctors locally. By the 1970s, Iraq’s health care system was “one of the most advanced” in the region, according to researcher Omar Al-Dewachi, a medical doctor who worked in Iraq during the 1990s before emigrating to the US. Health indicators improved quickly and significantly in the 1970s and 1980s, only to deteriorate again after the first Gulf War of 1991, which destroyed health infrastructure, and during a decade of sanctions, which drastically reduced government spending on health and led to a brain drain in the medical profession.

    After the 2003 invasion, the healthcare situation deteriorated considerably, and Mac Skelton, a contributor to the Costs of War project, fears it may never recover. Between 2003 and 2007, half of Iraq’s remaining 18,000 doctors left the country, according to Medact, a British-based global health charity. Few intend to return.

    “Getting back to that robust, excellent standard [of healthcare] is not going to happen anytime soon,” Skelton told IRIN. “Unlike buildings that can be rebuilt, migration patterns aren’t reversed easily.”
    And now let's ask that population about how they feel:
    Since the end of the war in Iraq, thousands of civilians have died in violence on the streets. Support for the coalition forces based in Iraq is low - with 82% expressing a lack of confidence in them and 69% thinking they had made the security situation worse.

    posted by deanklear at 1:24 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Relish wrote: According to the United Nations, the population of Iraq has increased from 23,857,000 in 2000 to between 31,672,000 and 36,977,000 today.

    You're citing figures from the first table of the first page of the report: the UN's figure for 2010 (31,672,000) and its projected figure for 2015 (36,977,000). If you look at the second table of that first page you will see the reason for the projected increase: natural population growth. Here's the historical data from that table with some notes:
    Period       Population growth rate (%)
    1980‐1985    2.38 Iran/Iraq war
    1985‐1990    2.31 Iran/Iraq war, invasion of Kuwait followed by first US attack
    1990‐1995    3.10 
    1995‐2000    3.24 
    2000‐2005    2.74 US invasion of Iraq
    2005‐2010    2.93 US occupation of Iraq
    2010‐2015*   3.10 Present and projected birth rates
    Do you see what that table is actually telling us? Iraq's population growth shot up after the Iran/Iraq war, presumably because there were fewer casualties, less starvation and so forth. It remained at that level for a decade, then fell sharply during the US invasion and occupation. Now, why do you think the population growth rate was lowered by the US occupation? Answers on a postcard please.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Answers on a postcard please.
    Can you find an example of another country being invaded where it has a positive growth rate? Typically, you would expect a negative number, right? And not just a little negative number - deanklear is suggesting the country was entirely destroyed - so it would have to be bigger than, say, the negative 13 percent Russia experienced 1941 to 1945. I'm amazed others would jump in to suggest that a positive population growth rate is evidence of entire destruction. In any case, thanks for at least reading the report before responding.

    Nobody is going to fight the United States.
    This is a very silly and dangerous idea. Russia accepted a few years ago that it probably could not fight and win a conventional war with NATO. Consequently, the Russians removed the no first use declaration from its military doctrine; recognizing they might need to use nuclear weapons first in a conventional fight.

    I'm sure Russian generals are floating the idea of a "tactical" nuclear response to any Russian causalities in Syria, say drop a 40 kiloton warhead in the eastern Mediterranean, hopefully miss, yet still scare off the Americans. If Russians die as a result of an American attack, Russia will be very constrained in terms of how it can respond, but the Russian people are going to demand a response and the Russians certainly can fight the United States. So, there seem to be some very significant risks on the table.
    posted by relish at 5:11 PM on September 1, 2013


    We dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan and it still had a positive growth rate. It takes a lot of work to kill more people than are born in a given year.
    posted by empath at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2013


    I think the phrase "entirely destroyed" went too far and has created something of a derail. Japan and Germany weren't "entirely destroyed" after WWII. The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq can be a major humanitarian disaster and strategic blunder of the highest order without actually having "entirely destroyed" Iraq. Even Paraguay wasn't "entirely destroyed" after the War of the Triple Alliance. The entire destruction of a country is a silly accusation to level at the U.S. and ridiculous metric for those defending the U.S. to use.
    posted by Area Man at 6:06 PM on September 1, 2013


    We dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan and it still had a positive growth rate
    Do you have a source for this? My understanding is that many thousands of people died in the air raids (of course there was no invasion, so the number are in the hundreds of thousands, not millions) not just limited to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the more deadly raids on other Japanese cities. The Tokyo firebombing being the most deadly. Wikipedia suggests Japan lost 1.5 of it's population from 1940 to 1945. I'd expect most of those people died in the first eight months of 1945, when the air raids became a matter of routine.

    something of a derail
    Right. I did kick off my comment with "tangential". Still, I don't get the verbiage. For instance, for me, a "strategic blunder of the highest order" involves mushroom clouds warping up into the atmosphere. Such a blunder would be like what I passed at above - actual weapons of mass destruction being fired off as warning shots or worse. Maybe I'm not amped up enough for this thread. WMD exchanges were not a realistic possibility in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it seems like as long as the Russians are engaged with tripwire troops on the ground in Syria you could have such a blunder "of the highest order". The prospect of general global conflict with nuclear weapons seems like a significant order of blunderiness - what words would you use to describe it?
    posted by relish at 7:19 PM on September 1, 2013


    Fine, how about calling it a major strategic blunder?
    posted by Area Man at 7:39 PM on September 1, 2013


    I think the phrase "entirely destroyed" went too far and has created something of a derail

    Iraq went from the most secular, most secure, and modern Arab state to one of the least secure, least secular, and is now seeing all of its professional workforce disappear while it struggles to get running water, sewage, and electricity into parts of the country that have had that infrastructure for decades.

    Not only have we destroyed Iraqi infrastructure, but our failure to secure things like The Iraqi National Museum led to looting -- in this case, tens of thousands of items were lost. Practically every ministry in the country was sacked and looted of all of their equipment. Then we disbanded the government. Then we disbanded the army. The ensuing sectarian crisis and power vacuum has claimed the lives of probably one million Iraqis, and to the current refugee crisis:
    Not much has changed at the end of 2012, a year after US forces pulled out of Iraq. "Some one million people remain displaced throughout the country, of whom hundreds of thousands live in dire conditions," the UNHCR recently noted. "Most are unable to return to their areas of origin because of the volatile security situation, the destruction of their homes, or lack of access to services."

    More than 2 million have fled to neighboring countries, where many subsist in designated resettlement areas. The United Nations reports that women are increasingly forced to resort to prostitution. Child labor has become a scourge. In Syria, more than 30 percent of Iraqi children are without schooling.
    Just imagine if your country was invaded, your government and military sacked; your electricity, water, and sewage is cut; friends and family are being killed in a horrific sectarian war that your country has never experienced before the invasion; you're forced to flee your home and live in a tent hundreds of miles from your old life, your children have to work instead of go to school, some of your family may be resorting to prostitution, and you have virtually no hope of your life getting better.

    I stand by "entirely destroyed."
    posted by deanklear at 6:38 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


    (except for Kurdish regions, of course)
    posted by deanklear at 6:39 AM on September 2, 2013


    The tracker for the share price of Raytheon, who make Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.
    posted by Wordshore at 6:39 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I stand by "entirely destroyed."
    You make life worth living.

    major strategic blunder?
    Sounds more reasonable with just "blunder". Washington looks at Iraq and is more concerned with the human and material cost, not the outcome.
    posted by relish at 9:59 AM on September 2, 2013


    In first major test, Obama overrules new team
    posted by Golden Eternity at 11:56 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Iraq went from the most secular, most secure, and modern Arab state

    Saddam ruled Iraq from 1979 until his ouster in April of 2003. 1/3 of his file was spent fighting Iran, and another 50% in conflict with the US following his decision to invade Kuwait. His modern secular impulses did not apply to Shi'ites who had their major holidays and festivals banned, leaders exhiled or killed and whom suffered badly under his regime. It also didn't apply to the Kurds. Millions died in his disastrous wars, and in revolutions and uprisings against him. The idea that Iraq was a secular peaceful paradise is wrong. Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist, and brutality. The violence we are today is a direct result of his rule.
    posted by humanfont at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2013


    Saddam ruled Iraq from 1979 until his ouster in April of 2003.

    He didn't just fall out of the sky in 1979. He was a western educated lawyer, and vice president in the early seventies, and Saddam largely came to power because he was part of the coup setup by the CIA to oust Qasim in 1963 who had ousted the Western friendly monarchy -- like the kind that still govern Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states. You know, because America firmly believes in democracy. Sometimes.

    Anyway, Saddam was part of our team. Then there was another internal coup in 1968, and that's when Saddam rose to VP along with the guy he'd later overthrow in 1979. But, let's start with the basic facts: Saddam Hussein was a friend of the United States from 1963 until he started getting friendly with the USSR in the 1970s.

    1/3 of his file was spent fighting Iran

    Iran as run by the Revoluationary Guard, correct? You're talking about the Iran-Iraq War, which was similar to our current setup in Syria, since we are basically providing intelligence and logistical support so Gulf Arab money can get weapons into the hands of our allies.
    Starting in 1982 with Iranian success on the battlefield, the United States made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, normalizing relations with the government, supplying it with economic aid, counter-insurgency training, operational intelligence on the battlefield, and weapons.
    ...
    Howard Teicher served on the National Security Council as director of Political-Military Affairs. He accompanied Rumsfeld to Baghdad in 1983. According to his 1995 affidavit and separate interviews with former Reagan and Bush administration officials, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly directed armaments and hi-tech components to Iraq through false fronts and friendly third parties such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait, and they quietly encouraged rogue arms dealers and other private military companies to do the same:
    [T]he United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required. The United States also provided strategic operational advice to the Iraqis to better use their assets in combat... The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq. My notes, memoranda and other documents in my NSC files show or tend to show that the CIA knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, munitions and vehicles to Iraq.
    But wait, there's more that is very germane to this discussion:
    The report then detailed 70 shipments (including Bacillus anthracis) from the United States to Iraqi government agencies over three years, concluding "It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the UN inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program."

    Donald Riegle, Chairman of the Senate committee that authored the aforementioned Riegle Report, said:
    U.N. inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and [established] that these items were used to further Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs. ... The executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think that is a devastating record.
    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control sent Iraq 14 separate agents "with biological warfare significance," according to Riegle's investigators.
    And those shipments were before Halabja, and before anyone in "the West" cared about it -- that is, until it was a part of the propaganda effort for the first Gulf War.

    and another 50% in conflict with the US following his decision to invade Kuwait.

    And only a few hundred thousand died during the sanctions, and if you'll read above, the sanctions were so ridiculous that it further damaged the healthcare system that was already damaged by the first Gulf War.

    His modern secular impulses did not apply to Shi'ites who had their major holidays and festivals banned, leaders exhiled or killed and whom suffered badly under his regime.

    Wow, that sounds like Kurds under the repressive policies of Turkey. Or regular old Saddam while he was our ally from 1979 to 1990.

    It also didn't apply to the Kurds.

    Now that's funny.

    Millions died in his disastrous wars, and in revolutions and uprisings against him. The idea that Iraq was a secular peaceful paradise is wrong. Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist, and brutality. The violence we are today is a direct result of his rule.

    That literally makes no sense. If his rule was the problem, why has the country been vastly worse since his rule ended? The torture chambers are still operating under the new government. Sectarian violence is at an all-time high. Christians have abandoned the country because of the total lack of security and uprising in extremism. Al Qaeda affiliates are poised to take over the country.

    And besides, from 1979 until 1990, Saddam's brutality, disastrous wars, and ability to rule with an iron fist earned him a seat at the table with the United States every single year. They even removed Iraq from the State Sponsors of Terror list in 1982 so the Reagan Administration could sell him more stuff.

    This is all just my opinion of course. If you could pick out a few years from our five decades of interference in Iraqi affairs, what timeframe would you highlight as evidence of our expertise in their politics?
    posted by deanklear at 4:26 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


    The country has not been vastly worse since his rule ended. Things have remained terrible. Iraq was neither securlar, nor secure during his reign.
    posted by humanfont at 4:54 PM on September 2, 2013


    Professor Juan Cole had this to say:

    The American public still for the most part has no idea what the United States did to that country, and until we Americans take responsibility for the harm we do others with our perpetual wars, we can never recover from our war sickness, which drives us to resort to violence in international affairs in a way no other democracy routinely does.

    Population of Iraq: 30 million.

    Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187

    Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243

    Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17

    Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50


    Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.

    Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.

    Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.

    Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.

    Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.

    Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million

    Internally displaced [pdf] persons in Iraq: 1.3 million

    Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8

    Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175
    How many refugees were there in Iraq under Saddam?

    How many died every month in terrorist attacks when Saddam was in power?

    As for treatment of minority religions:
    Attacks against Christians in Iraq have persisted since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime there were about 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Since then, about 50 percent have fled, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

    "Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country were punished, arrests following a murder or other crimes are rare," according to the report covering attacks in the period between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010.

    Since then, there have been a growing number of incidents in Iraq. Clinton noted last month's attack by al-Qaida gunmen who stormed the Sayyidat al-Najat Syrian Catholic Christian church in central Baghdad during a Sunday evening service, killing at least 37 worshipers and wounding 56 other people.
    posted by deanklear at 6:38 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


    No dean, if we didn't literally kill every single person in Baghdad and salt the fields, Mongol-style, then everything was fine.
    posted by empath at 8:36 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


    How many refugees were there in Iraq under Saddam?

    More than 2 million during the 1991 uprising. 1-1.5 million during the Al Anfal campaign in the 1980s.

    How many died every month in terrorist attacks when Saddam was in power?

    Iraqi's continue to find the mass graves of people and whole villages that were routinely rounded up and executed for various crimes. Between 2000-5000 kurdish villiages were destroyed, and chemical weapons were used more than 200 times. A 2002 European Union report described a political system built on state controlled murder, rape and hostage taking. Or do we not call it terrorism when you are gassed by your own government, or when soldiers show up with bulldozers to clear the village.

    Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

    Measurement of CPI (corruption perception index) in Iraq by Transparency International was not possible until 2003. If we consider 2003 as a baseline then about all that can be said is that Iraq continues to be corrupt. There is ample evidence of Saddam's government being extremely corrupt. For example look at the evidence about corruption in the Oil for Food program.

    Interesting that you cite Juan Cole and a statistic about Afghanistan. Juan Cole was a strong supporter of the American invasion of Afghanistan, calling it "The right war at the right time." I'm not sure that statistics from Iraq in 2000 regarding the poverty line or availability of housing can be considered accurate. Non-government sources have been shown to be extremely unreliable as evidenced by the WMD estimates. Saddam's own announcements from various ministries were completely unreliable. He claimed for example that he was re-elected with 100% voter turnout and that 100% of votes were cast for him.
    posted by humanfont at 9:05 PM on September 2, 2013


    No dean, if we didn't literally kill every single person in Baghdad and salt the fields, Mongol-style, then everything was fine.
    posted by empath at 10:36 PM on September 2
    [+] [!]


    If that is directed at me, it is really not fair. I said the invasion of Iraq was a humanitarian disaster. I didn't say "everything was fine." I criticized the phrase "entirely destroyed" because it is not accurate. What happened was bad enough. There is no need to exaggerate.
    posted by Area Man at 10:26 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


    1-1.5 million during the Al Anfal campaign in the 1980s...

    Iraqi's continue to find the mass graves of people and whole villages that were routinely rounded up and executed for various crimes. Between 2000-5000 kurdish villiages were destroyed, and chemical weapons were used more than 200 times. A 2002 European Union report described a political system built on state controlled murder, rape and hostage taking. Or do we not call it terrorism when you are gassed by your own government, or when soldiers show up with bulldozers to clear the village.
    The campaigns of 1987-1989 were characterized by the following gross human rights violations:

    a) mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages;

    b) the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children;

    c) the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned", "destroyed", "demolished" and "purified", as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas); Since 1975, some 4,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed by the former Iraqi regime.

    d) Human Rights Watch/Middle East estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating 182,000 Kurds were killed.

    e) Army engineers destroyed the large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) and declared its environs a "prohibited area," removing the last significant population center close to the Iranian border.
    Surely this brutal assault by Saddam caused the United States to cease support for their ally or at least condemn him bitterly and officially in public for his evil dictatorial ways, right? Try and find one written before Saddam was off the team.

    The reason that you can't is because all of that occurred while he was an ally. No harm against US interests -- a hundred thousand dead or not -- no foul. From December 1989:
    President Bush is preparing to lift a ban on federal government loans to Iraq, a move expected to rile lawmakers opposed to the country's human rights abuses, heavy indebtedness and ballistic missile program, administration officials say.

    Bush is expected to invoke a provision allowing him to lift the ban -- imposed by Congress several months ago -- on grounds of U.S. national interests...

    The administration is especially eager to expand trade with Hussein, who commands a powerful military force and the world's largest proven oil reserves.
    It's deeply ironic that you are implying that I support that kind of behavior. I was just a kid, and the only people in the world rewarding Saddam Hussein for his genocide was the US government. (That was around the same time that they were making plays to Turkey, so not only were the Kurds getting killed by US foreign policy in Iraq, they were also getting killed by US foreign policy that was meant to appease Ankara.)

    More than 2 million during the 1991 uprising.
    Many Iraqi and American critics accused President George H. W. Bush and his administration of encouraging and abandoning the rebellion after halting UN Coalition forces at Iraq's southern border with Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War. In 1996, Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted in his book My American Journey that, while Bush's rhetoric "may have given encouragement to the rebels", "our practical intention was to leave Baghdad enough power to survive as a threat to Iran that remained bitterly hostile toward the United States." Coalition Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr has expressed regret for negotiating a ceasefire agreement that allowed Iraq to keep using helicopters, but also suggested a move to support the uprisings would have empowered Iran. In 2006, Najmaldin Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute, called it a "betrayal of Iraq", blaming the policy of "a dangerous illusion of stability in the Middle East, a 'stability' bought with the blood of Middle Easterners and that produced such horrors as the massive 1991 bloodletting of Iraqis who sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein."

    Soon after the uprisings began, fears of a disintegrating Iraq led the Bush Administration to distance itself from the rebels. American military officials downplayed the significance of the revolts and spelled out a policy of non-intervention in Iraq's internal affairs. U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney stated as the uprisings began: "I'm not sure whose side you'd want to be on."... The U.S. Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher said on March 6, "We don't think that outside powers should be interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." On April 2, in a carefully crafted statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said: "We never, ever, stated as either a military or a political goal of the coalition or the international community the removal of Saddam Hussein."
    ...
    Major General Martin Brandtner, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "there is no move on the [part of] U.S. forces...to let any weapons slip through [to the rebels], or to play any role whatsoever in fomenting or assisting any side." Consequently, U.S. troops that were deployed in southern Iraq blew up enormous stockpile of weapons to prevent them from falling into hands of the opposition, blocked the rebels from advancing onto Baghdad and even actively disarmed some rebel forces; according to Middle East expert William B. Quandt, U.S. forces also "let one Iraqi division go through [their] lines to get to Basra because the United States did not want the regime to collapse."

    At the same time, the Bush Administration accused Iran of sending arms to the rebels.
    It seems like every time America gets involved in Iraqi affairs, dead bodies and refugees seem to be inevitable. Whether malice or incompetence, it doesn't matter to anyone who has to suffer the consequences.

    Interesting that you cite Juan Cole and a statistic about Afghanistan. Juan Cole was a strong supporter of the American invasion of Afghanistan, calling it "The right war at the right time."

    Interesting like a desperate non sequitur ad hominem is interesting? You probably want to read the article that's quoted from.

    I'm not sure that statistics from Iraq in 2000 regarding the poverty line or availability of housing can be considered accurate. Non-government sources have been shown to be extremely unreliable as evidenced by the WMD estimates. Saddam's own announcements from various ministries were completely unreliable. He claimed for example that he was re-elected with 100% voter turnout and that 100% of votes were cast for him.

    Facts are possible. If you find yourself disagreeing with them on a regular basis, you may want to reconsider your positions.
    posted by deanklear at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Meta

    The new thread
    posted by rosswald at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2013


    Surely this brutal assault by Saddam caused the United States to cease support for their ally or at least condemn him bitterly and officially in public for his evil dictatorial ways, right? Try and find one written before Saddam was off the team

    According to your statement above these actions are representative of Iraq being "the most modern and secular state in the Arab world." You also seem to be arguing that these actions also essential to protect the Christian minority in Iraq. I'm not sure how you reconcile your assertion that Iraq was modern, peaceful, and secular under Saddam with the ample evidence I've provided to the contrary.
    posted by humanfont at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2013


    According to your statement above these actions are representative of Iraq being "the most modern and secular state in the Arab world."

    No, they are representative of being run by a total madman. Who has, at one time or another, been an official ally of the United States, right through his worst atrocities.

    You also seem to be arguing that these actions also essential to protect the Christian minority in Iraq.

    No, I am telling you the fact that about half of the Christians in Iraq have fled after the American occupation because there is no security left. Iraq is very nearly a failed state.

    I'm not sure how you reconcile your assertion that Iraq was modern, peaceful, and secular under Saddam with the ample evidence I've provided to the contrary.

    It was more modern, more secure, and more secular under the dictatorship of Saddam.

    I'm not saying Saddam's dictatorship was great. I'm saying it was awful, but as bad as it was, it was still better than the unbelievable incompetence of the United States Government.
    posted by deanklear at 3:40 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Saddam ruled Iraq from 1979 until his ouster in April of 2003.

    He didn't just fall out of the sky in 1979.


    Thanks for the Memories
    posted by homunculus at 4:15 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


    In 2002 per capita GDP was $802, this year it is $6708. Inflation was at 19%, today it is 5.0%. The number of civilian deaths per year is lower than under Saddam. Cabinet ministries and key political leadership positions reflect demographics rather than domination by Sunni arabs. By 2009 electricity production was double pre-war levels. By every measure Iraq is more modern and pluralistic today.
    posted by humanfont at 4:51 PM on September 3, 2013


    2002 would have been after ~20 years of international trade restrictions (especially onerous in the 90-96 period); not an illuminating point of comparison.

    Per capita GDP in 1989, prior to the beginning of sanctions in 1990, was ~$2300.
    posted by notyou at 7:08 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


    We could also baseline to 1978 when GDP was $2100 which is just prior to the start of Saddam's rule. If one compares the percentage decline in per capita income from 1978 to 2001 in Iraq vs. Afghanistan, the decline in per capita GDP in percentage terms was actually less in Afghanistan. Saddam was the worst ruler in Mesopotamia since Darius III.
    posted by humanfont at 8:51 PM on September 3, 2013


    Afghanistan had less far to fall.

    In addition to some obvious leadership flaws, Darius and Saddam both had the misfortune of being overrun by Western Imperial armies.
    posted by notyou at 7:23 AM on September 4, 2013


    The number of civilian deaths per year is lower than under Saddam.

    Not possible, unless you are counting the occupation of Northern and Southern Iraq and crushing sanctions from the US as "Iraq under Saddam." Even then I'm pretty sure you're short of the hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees the United States created in less than a decade. Citation?

    Cabinet ministries and key political leadership positions reflect demographics rather than domination by Sunni arabs.
    Across the country, the sectarianism that almost tore Iraq apart after the American-led invasion in 2003 is surging back. The carnage has grown so bloody, with the highest death toll in five years, that truck drivers insist on working in pairs — one Sunni, one Shiite — because they fear being attacked for their sect. Iraqis are numb to the years of violence, yet always calculating the odds as they move through the routine of the day, commuting to work, shopping for food, wondering if death is around the corner.

    "Sectarian Attacks Return With a Roar to Iraq, Rattling a Capital Already on Edge"
    NYT August 18th, 2013
    By 2009 electricity production was double pre-war levels.
    The 1990 installed capacity of 9,295 MW consisted of 120 power-generating units in various thermal, gas turbine and hydroelectric power stations. Approximately 70% of Iraq’s installed power generating capacity was damaged or destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War. All major power stations were damaged and nearly 80% of the gas turbines units were affected. After 1991, only about 50 units were available, with a generation capacity of 2,325 MW. The construction work on three new large thermal power stations at Yousifiya, Al-Shemal and Al-Anbar were stopped, because of the ensuing sanctions.
    By every measure Iraq is more modern and pluralistic today.
    Contrary to popular imagination, Iraqi women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist government than women in other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, equal rights for women were enshrined in Iraq’s Constitution in 1970, including the right to vote, run for political office, access education and own property. Today, these rights are all but absent under the U.S.-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki.

    Prior to the devastating economic sanctions of the 1990s, Iraq’s education system was top notch and female literacy rates were the highest in the region, reaching 87 percent in 1985. Education was a major priority for Saddam Hussein’s regime, so much so that in 1982 Iraq received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) award for eradicating illiteracy. But the education system crumbled from financial decay under the weight of the sanctions pushing over 20 percent of Iraqi children out of school by 2000 and reversing decades of literacy gains.

    Today, a quarter of Iraqi women are illiterate, more than double the rate for Iraqi men (11 percent). Female illiteracy in rural areas alone is as high as 50 percent.
    ...
    The loss of husbands and fathers over the last decade has left 2 million Iraqi women widowed. Furthermore, estimates put the number of orphaned Iraqi children at 5 million, most of whom are growing up without an education. As a result, says OWFI, there are now “more than 3 million women and girls with no source of income or protection, thereby turning them into a helpless population” and making them vulnerable to “trafficking, sexual exploitation, polygamy, and religious pleasure marriages.”

    OWFI’s President Yanar Mohammed told this writer that the greatest tragedy has been the impact on the youngest generation. “We’ve lived through two decades of war,” she said. “Eventually we reached a point where the young ones have no good memory of life in Iraq.”
    Why are you making things up in order to pretend our interference in Iraq was a success?
    posted by deanklear at 10:59 AM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Contrary to popular imagination, Iraqi women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist government than women in other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, equal rights for women were enshrined in Iraq’s Constitution in 1970, including the right to vote, run for political office, access education and own property.

    How does one seriously assert that anyone had the right to vote other than Saddam during his dictatorship. There were no free elections during his rule. No one was free to run for office. By contrast there have been a number of multi-party elections subject to international monitoring since the US invasion.

    Article 20 of the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 guarantees the right of women to vote and nominate candidates for office. There have been a number of multiparty elections held with the participation of international monitors since the US invasion. Article 47, section 4 attempts to ensure that 25% of the members of the legislative assembly are women. Today the Iraqi parliament has 25.2% women vs. 17.7% for female members of Congress.

    Regarding Civilian Deaths

    Between 1980-1989 Iraq was engaged in a brutal war with Iran. More than 100,00 civilians were killed. Between 1987-1989 Human Rights Watch documented the destruction of over 4000 Kurdish villiages, estimated refugees at over 1.5 million, over 250 chemical weapons attacks were documented. The death toll from this has been estimated as between 150,000-200,000 dead. A low level insurgency lead by Al Dawa (the political party now headed by Nouri Al Malaki) ran in the Shi'ite south throughout the 1980s. It is unknown how many civilians died. However in one documented incident where Saddam's motorcade came under fire several thousand civilians were arrested and over 150 were sentenced to death. This all prior to the 1991 uprisings in Basra and the Kurdish areas. It has been estimated that 10,000-50,000 Shi'ites were killed and over 100,000 Kurds.
    The Iraqi Body Count which collects stats on civilian casualties during the US occupation places the deaths at 114,212. During his first 10 years Saddam came close to tipple that number.

    Why are you making things up in order to pretend our interference in Iraq was a success?

    I have not suggested it was a success. I've merely pointed out that your statements regarding the state of Iraqi modernity and stability under Saddam are incorrect.

    in 1982 Iraq received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) award for eradicating illiteracy.

    If you did not attend Saddam's mandatory literacy classes and pass you faced three years in jail. It is unclear if the numbers of successful graduates were inflated by officials unwilling to enforce such a punitive statute.
    posted by humanfont at 7:22 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The Iraqi Body Count which collects stats on civilian casualties during the US occupation places the deaths at 114,212. During his first 10 years Saddam came close to tipple that number.

    Most of that with our direct aid and assistance.
    posted by empath at 7:26 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I'm loving all the editorial cartoons that paint Syria as mostly a distraction from the threat of NSA eves dropping.

    Land Mine Treaty Won't Be Signed By Obama Administration
    posted by jeffburdges at 6:10 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The IraqiBodyCount states thar on 13% of civilian deaths were attributed to the US lead coalition forces.
    posted by humanfont at 7:46 PM on September 6, 2013


    Onion Poll : Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria
    posted by jeffburdges at 5:53 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


    12 U.S. Intelligence Officials Tell Obama It Wasn’t Assad

    "Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you."
    posted by jeffburdges at 6:27 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


    And Michael Hastings' death becomes more interesting if John Brennan really wants a war.
    posted by jeffburdges at 7:08 AM on September 10, 2013


    The question of whether it really was gas has no relevance to the real questions:
    1) Is intervention practicable?
    2) Will it have good effects?
    3) Is it morally justifiable?

    The only reason the debate is framed around poison gas is Obama's stupid "red line", which turns the genuine issues into a pissing match: did Syria disrespect Obama? Does the USA need to retaliate?
    posted by Joe in Australia at 2:58 PM on September 10, 2013


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