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I'll take "What is Syria" for $100, Alex
September 1, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe


 
I read this yesterday morning and thought it was great. I had no idea how complicated the civil war there was, or that Russia was still so involved in the area.
posted by mathowie at 12:57 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where's Damascus?
posted by leotrotsky at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Because people forget:
The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.
posted by mulligan at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century.

HENRY V, Act IV, Scene VII:
FLUELLEN: Kill the poys and the luggage! 'tis expressly
against the law of arms: 'tis as arrant a piece of
knavery, mark you now, as can be offer't; in your
conscience, now, is it not?
posted by Justinian at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2013 [43 favorites]


Thanks for sharing this. I'm sending it off to a few friends who wanted this kind of quick overview about Syria but weren't entirely sure where to find an article that breaks down the key facts in an easily readable format.
posted by sabira at 1:02 PM on September 1, 2013


JEOPARDY DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY
posted by blue t-shirt at 1:04 PM on September 1, 2013 [39 favorites]


Dang, I learned something as early in the article as "It’s about the same size as Washington state". Way bigger than I expected! I feel like in the US it's stressed so often that any country smaller than, like, China or Canada is a "tiny nation"-- and how "huge" our Western states are-- that I have a skewed idea of other countries' sizes vis-a-vis US states. I have great overall geographic literacy but my sense of scale is totally out of whack.
posted by threeants at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century.

HENRY V, Act IV, Scene VII:
FLUELLEN: Kill the poys and the luggage! 'tis expressly
against the law of arms: 'tis as arrant a piece of
knavery, mark you now, as can be offer't; in your
conscience, now, is it not?

I'll see your Fifth of King Henry and raise you a Horatii & Curiatii.
posted by The White Hat at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had no idea how complicated the civil war there was,

applies to all civil wars, I suspect
posted by philip-random at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'd suggest someone forward this link to members of the House of Representatives but I'm not sure all of them can read, so it might not help.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


This doesn't seem to answer the question of why Syria's government would feel punished for having a bunch of their people killed by us, when the problem is that they're killing too many of their own people. It seems like we'd be saving them the trouble.
posted by bleep at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the idea is we'd kill the people the Syrian government doesn't want killed as opposed to the people they do want killed.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I had this vague sort-of knowledge about Syria, but I had no idea how hazy it was until I read this article. I forwarded it to my son, who is a college freshman. I hope it helps him make sense of what seems, to him, like an imminent war.
posted by Biblio at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2013


It's a good overview of the situation. Doesn't make any pretence that there's an easy solution nor a quick one.
posted by arcticseal at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This doesn't seem to answer the question of why Syria's government would feel punished for having a bunch of their people killed by us

I thought it did a great job of explaining how pointless that would be, how it's mostly just us saying "please stick to the 'no chemical weapons' rule" but that launching missiles wouldn't help the gov't or rebels.
posted by mathowie at 1:17 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


"The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century.

just finished watching all 17 hours of the BBC's 1972 version of War + Peace. The rules of war came up quite a bit, sometimes as Napoleon flagrantly broke them, others as embittered veterans commented on the inherent hypocrisy of such; that the very notion of having them somehow legitimized war.

It's an old discussion.
posted by philip-random at 1:17 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I felt like the breezy tone edged over into paternalistic with this:

Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is.
posted by threeants at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, bleep:

If it the aim (literally and figuratively) is Anything like the Libya intervention, the risk of civilian deaths from western strikes is pretty low. Not to say there won't be fallout from the chaos causes by more counties getting involved.
If military bases, air fields are troops moving to rebel territories and the targets it lowers the risk.
When I was in Libya last year, the buildings in tripoli that were hit were pretty specific and building next to them were still standing.
(Note this is not to say I endorse or do not endorse intervention, just giving my assessment of the risks)
posted by mulligan at 1:22 PM on September 1, 2013


the movie Carlos offers some interesting background on Syria, certainly where the regime was in the 80s when Carlos was there (being protected). Basically (as the movie puts it), the Syrian leadership had no interest in being just another middle east backwater anymore, getting slapped around by the various superpowers. So they were arming themselves, intent on becoming players, doing some of that slapping around (thus aligning themselves with the likes of Carlos). The kind of policies which (I'm extrapolating here) seem to have led to the regime being armed to the teeth and thus very hard to overthrow ...
posted by philip-random at 1:24 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Explain Syria like I'm five and you're a condescending journalist with cliché-ridden language and no actual knowledge of the situation.
posted by klue at 1:32 PM on September 1, 2013 [23 favorites]


So one question which the article didn't answer, which I have been wondering:

Are there any of the modern, quasi-secular/Western, liberal activist types who started the ball rolling left? Like the folks in Egypt who worked for Google, used online social media, etc.? Or were they mostly killed off in Assad's first round of retaliation, and now it's just local ethnic militias and foreign jihadists running the rebellion?

Hope someone here knows the answer (and I'm too lazy to use my weekly Ask MeFi ration).
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:32 PM on September 1, 2013


6. Why hasn't the United States fixed this yet?

"I'll take Neoconservative Foreign Policy for 400, Alex."
posted by oulipian at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


The musical break is a amazing
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Are there any of the modern, quasi-secular/Western, liberal activist types who started the ball rolling left? Like the folks in Egypt who worked for Google, used online social media, etc.? Or were they mostly killed off in Assad's first round of retaliation, and now it's just local ethnic militias and foreign jihadists running the rebellion?"

There are still a bunch of them, though many have fled, and they don't necessarily have the same importance now that bullets are flying. But plenty of them appear regularly on NPR :\
posted by klangklangston at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


""I'll take Neoconservative Foreign Policy for 400, Alex.""

Only if you mean that the "fixed this" framing implies neoconservatism. Otherwise, the answer really is that there's no good way to fix this without a time machine.
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


(10). What, exactly, in precisely defined terms, is the goal of American intervention, or would be considered the "optimal" outcome of American strikes?
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


(10). What, exactly, in precisely defined terms, is the goal of American intervention, or would be considered the "optimal" outcome of American strikes?

The global consensus agreement barring the use of chemical weapons is reinforced. They will not be deployed again in this conflict, and are less likely to be deployed in future conflicts, as their use will result in (at minimum) cruise missile strikes against military targets.

That's not as precise as you're goalposting, but it's as precise as it can get, and at that level of precision is a worthy goal to pursue. Especially considering the low cost of missile strikes.
posted by kafziel at 1:41 PM on September 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century.

Just War Theory (that's why general knowledge is useful).
posted by ersatz at 1:45 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


(10). What, exactly, in precisely defined terms, is the goal of American intervention, or would be considered the "optimal" outcome of American strikes?

Did you read right through? They answer that pretty well. The point is try to discourage Assad (and others) from using chemical weapons. That's about it. The optimal outcome would be that Assad doesn't use them any more and that the general international consensus that they are illicit weapons gets reinforced.

Explain Syria like I'm five and you're a condescending journalist with cliché-ridden language and no actual knowledge of the situation.

What significant things does this piece get wrong?
posted by yoink at 1:46 PM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]




Just War Theory

Not to be confused with the framework practiced by present-day lawmakers, who when asked for their vision, reply "...just war".
posted by threeants at 1:47 PM on September 1, 2013


Just War Theory (that's why general knowledge is useful).

Just War theiry has, at least in the Western philosophical tradition, been more concerned with the justifications for war than the practice of the war. The piece in the FPP is simplifying, obviously, but it's basically right that the idea of international regulation of methods of warfare has only in fairly recent history had any real practical meaning. People could make claims in the past as to what was or what was not "permissible" in warfare but it was no more than a moral opinion. There was no equivalent of the Geneva Conventions or of the Hague court etc.
posted by yoink at 1:52 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


a lot of he current fighting in the region seems to stem from the fuckupedness of redrawing everything in the region post WWII. People just seem to resent being told who they have to live next to without their consent.
posted by edgeways at 2:01 PM on September 1, 2013


I have a problem with this otherwise useful Q and A, in that there isn't a word about the impact of climate change, crop prices, water, and subsequent urbanisation in an authoritarian poitical culture, which astute observers have written about in the last year.


Syrian, unrest, and climate change

Climate and Security/Syria
posted by C.A.S. at 2:13 PM on September 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


This list of questions and answers about Syria, by William Polk, is much more informative.
posted by painquale at 2:16 PM on September 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm suffering from a major case of Middle East Military Intervention Fatigue, so I'm sure I'm missing details, but this sounds like Group 1 is killing Group 2 in unauthorized ways, so we'll kill Group 1 the right way until they shift back to their previous, approved killing methods. That's a mission that's hard to get excited about.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:29 PM on September 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


The question I haven't seen an expert asked is this: Why hasn't the Syrian Army revolted against its Alawite president? Would the Sunni rank-and-file in the Syrian army really go along with this civil war?
posted by surplus at 2:40 PM on September 1, 2013


> The musical break is a amazing

You ain't kidding. This anti-Assad jam is an absolute stomper, and a tragic story worthy of a separate mention.
posted by planetesimal at 2:43 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are there any of the modern, quasi-secular/Western, liberal activist types who started the ball rolling left? Like the folks in Egypt who worked for Google, used online social media, etc.? Or were they mostly killed off in Assad's first round of retaliation, and now it's just local ethnic militias and foreign jihadists running the rebellion?
While conventional wisdom suggests that the Syrian Revolution has been "lost" - hijacked by jihadists and crushed underfoot by foreign repression - this interpretation of events happens to be vociferously disputed by many Syrians themselves. In many places across the country, the same groups of people who originally launched popular protests against the regime are still largely in control of their struggle, and many fighters doing battle against the government are not ideologically affiliated with extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Simply put, the argument that the democratic Syrian revolution no longer exists is fallacious.
I don't agree with the author that the correct response to this asserted information is to arm the rebels, but it's food for thought. My suggestion is, if the "reason" Syria is such a mess is directly because of the West's imperialist history and current tensions with Iran, Russia, China and, in a sense, Israel, then the "solution" is not to intensify those tension through another bombing or other military campaign with no readable, recoverable objective -- but to engage diplomatically with all sides in an open, transparent and reciprocal manner; recognize past wrongs and look to redress them; and work democratically with the people who have the most at stake in a stable and equitable Syria (i.e. Syrians).
posted by Catchfire at 2:44 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, the whole "no chemical weapons now or in the future" stand the OP claims Obama is taking rings a little false when one considers the United States' use of white phosphorous in Fallujah. Ethical credibility, ur doin' it wrong.
posted by Catchfire at 2:47 PM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The question I haven't seen an expert asked is this: Why hasn't the Syrian Army revolted against its Alawite president? Would the Sunni rank-and-file in the Syrian army really go along with this civil war?

70% of the army is Alawite, the officer core 80% and the elite regiments close on 100%
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:51 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Catchfire: "Also, the whole "no chemical weapons now or in the future" stand the OP claims Obama is taking rings a little false when one considers the United States' use of white phosphorous in Fallujah. Ethical credibility, ur doin' it wrong."

You silly, it's only forbidden for other countries.
posted by Memo at 2:54 PM on September 1, 2013


Nope, Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza and we didn't do anything.
posted by desjardins at 2:57 PM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Israel is the 51st state.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:58 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This anti-Assad jam is an absolute stomper

ye gods, that's catchy.
posted by desjardins at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought the bombing is supposed to be in response to the Syrian Electronic Army hacking the New York Times website... oh wait, that's just the NYT's justification...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2013


This list of questions and answers about Syria, by William Polk, is much more informative.

Seconded. That was a good read.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:01 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope, Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza and we didn't do anything.

White phosphorus is an incendiary, not a chemical weapon. While indiscriminate use of incendiaries against civilians falls under most definitions of war crime, it is neither useful nor accurate to conflate white phosphorus and chemical weapons (such as VX, sarin, etc).
posted by chimaera at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


when one considers the United States' use of white phosphorous in Fallujah.

According to the Chemical Weapons Convention Schedule of Chemicals, the chemical P4 is neither a toxic chemical nor a precursor to a toxic chemical. -- FAS

WP is governed by the incendiary devices rules of Protocol III which prohibits their deliberate use against civilian populations, but does not explicitly define WP as such if it is used as an illuminant or other battlefield aid; the US is not a signatory to Protocol III.

Sarin, however, is utterly prohibited by the CWC.
posted by dhartung at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


"That's a mission that's hard to get excited about."

I don't really understand this point of view that chemical weapons are no worse than conventional weapons. Mustard, chlorine, and phosgene gases during WWI freaked people out. For the people who lived through that period, soldiers and the general public, it very much seemed like a qualitative difference. The organophosphates that are the nerve gases, like sarin, are even more horrifying.

I think there's very strong reasons for reinforcing the convention that these weapons are not to be used. Some of them are very cheap and impossible to control internationally. Everybody has stockpiles of them, particularly the US and Russia. A world where they're regularly used would be a notably worse world.

It's not clear what the US or the rest of the internal community can do at this time to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. It sure would be nice if Russia could use its influence in this fashion.

"Also, the whole 'no chemical weapons now or in the future' stand the OP claims Obama is taking rings a little false when one considers the United States' use of white phosphorous in Fallujah."

Well, it's not prohibited under the treaty, exactly. That doesn't mean that it's not wrong to use white phosphorous as a chemical weapon; but keep in mind that the important thing is to maintain the status quo that's existed about chemical weapons (with the sole exception of Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war). White phosphorus has been used by many. But if using sarin goes unpunished, then that's a substantial weakening of the international status quo against it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't really understand this point of view that chemical weapons are no worse than conventional weapons. Mustard, chlorine, and phosgene gases during WWI freaked people out. For the people who lived through that period, soldiers and the general public, it very much seemed like a qualitative difference. The organophosphates that are the nerve gases, like sarin, are even more horrifying.

Well, yes. The point is that chemical weapons appear to be exploited for exactly this popular affective response. Is "because they freak people out" really a good foundation to base one's foreign policy?
posted by Catchfire at 3:17 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clinton's strikes were made on unoccupied military infrastructure. If Obama's strikes are planned for strategic military targets and chemical weapons plants, would it not be a tactical move to herd civilians into and around these areas? Evil yes, but the administration in Syria has gone beyond evil.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:18 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jadaliyya, sister publication of the Arab Studies Journal, has a handful of pertinent articles:

BASSAM HADDAD: Well, the issue here also is the fact that the situation can spin out of control in a very, very quick manner. You have a very strong opposition to this strike, even from the camp that the U.S. is allied with, including Britain, as we have seen. We have international actors, like Russia and China, who are clearly not just against this move, but there have—there has been some movement, some military movements and preparations on the Russian side. You have a regional environment that is also, in many ways, opposed to this, including, of course, the allies of Syria in the region. And we have a possibility of this becoming something much more than what many envision. This is not Libya. Syria has a lot of allies locally. The Syrian terrain is very different than that of Libya. And we’re looking at a potential serious set of consequences that actually might not be in favor of anyone, and certainly, in all cases, the Syrian people will be the victims.
As the United States Prepares to Strike Syria: Jadaliyya Co-Editor Bassam Haddad on Democracy Now

"A US- or NATO-led attack, which appears to be imminent, is likely to be disastrous for Syrians (as well as Lebanese and Palestinians). If the attack is intense enough to completely destroy the Syrian regime it will destroy whatever is left of Syria. If it is not, it will leave the regime in place to retaliate where it is strong, against its internal enemies, except now having its nationalist credentials bolstered as having fought off US aggression. Either way the strike will be devastating to millions inside Syria, not to mention the millions of refugees and internally displaced populations who are living hand to mouth and who depend on daily humanitarian aid that will surely be disrupted or stopped. There is no such thing as a surgical strike, and no possibility in a country as densely populated as Syria for an attack that does not incur civilian casualties. This is excluding the fact that US foreign policy in the Middle East, past and present, including its own complicity in chemical weapons attacks, makes it impossible not to be cynical about the motives behind this attack. Moreover, in the past two years people within the region became convinced that US policy towards Syria is dictated—as before—by what benefits Israel, which had not desired a total regime collapse but was benefitting from a perpetual conflict in its northern border so long as it remained contained."
Chemical Attacks and Military Interventions

Syria Media Roundup (August 29)

Syria News Update (29-30 August 2013)

US Strike on Syria An "Uncalculated Adventure": Jadaliyya Co-Editor Bassam Haddad on MSNBC
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Every year, landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people — most of them children, women and the elderly — and severely maim countless more.

From 2009:
Land Mine Treaty Won't Be Signed By Obama Administration
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:43 PM on September 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is "because they freak people out" really a good foundation to base one's foreign policy?

If it's true that the reason they freak people out is that they're primarily effective at (a) killing civilians and (b) causing extra horrible deaths while (c) not being particularly effective at destroying an opponent's war-making capacity, then a foreign policy that tries to address that probably has merits.
posted by weston at 3:49 PM on September 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


The global consensus agreement barring the use of chemical weapons is reinforced. They will not be deployed again in this conflict, and are less likely to be deployed in future conflicts, as their use will result in (at minimum) cruise missile strikes against military targets.

And now back to planet earth. The only thing our intervention will do in this situation is escalate the use of chemical weapons in future conflicts. The reason is extremely simple: it's a way to get us involved, and every actor will be acutely aware of this. So, the false flag operations will explode - chemical weapons will be now used where before there was no reason to. Already we have multiple reports that it was actually the rebels who used chemical weapons, precisely so that the big dumb kid on the block will come running like Pavlov's dog to bite whoever it is that's been set up. All because of mere talk of "red lines". That's how fast this one went.

Oh, but Kerry assures, just assures us definitely guys, pinky-swear, honest they have proof it was Assad, only they can't release the proof because... national security!!!1UNO11, so you'll just have to trust us guys, and you know you can trust us, right? Never mind a ton of contrary claims - with equal amounts of "proof", that it was actually the rebels. In either case, we are supposed to take it on faith - hey, trust 'em, what could go wrong?

And so, I trust neither party (obvious in case of Russia etc.). And the reason isn't simply because our government has demonstrated that they are non-stop liars (see Obama's recent lie about the intervention being designed to "secure loose chemical weapons" - facepalm... it's really insulting that he's expecting anyone to swallow that tripe). It's not that I even think they have forged or over-interpreted the evidence, such as it is (though I put nothing beyond them when it comes to trumping up reasons to go to war).

It is because of the massive - massive - I cannot overemphasize this point - EPIC incompetence of our intelligence services and the assorted hacks responsible for interpreting the intelligence. If you think they've learned anything from Iraq, think again - these are the guys who get awarded the highest medals in the land for their incompetence, for some of the biggest cock-ups in the history of intelligence services anywhere, at least as counted by the number of victims that resulted from this "intelligence". So it's not exactly competence that's being promoted.

Given the lengthy history of utter ignorance and failure we've demonstrated in Syria since WWII, I have exactly zero faith in any "intelligence dossier" Kerry is waving about while having a giant hard-on for bombing raids.

Bottom line - we don't know jack, and should refrain from sticking it in (as one poster put so charmingly in another thread) over there.

Nor should we allow ourselves to be played by any interested party, whether Turkey or Israel, or Suadi Arabia, or "rebels", or Assad.

If we get blood in our eyes every time someone makes a claim about this or that, and rush to beat up random parties, we will only make the situation worse.

So what should we do about this CW use and claims in Syria? Nothing. Unless we want to encourage their use, in which case, by all means, let's do some random bombing so that the most skillful liar may win.
posted by VikingSword at 3:57 PM on September 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Just War theiry has, at least in the Western philosophical tradition, been more concerned with the justifications for war than the practice of the war.

The practice of war hasn't been terra incognita either though e.g. Cicero says:
For there is a limit to retribution and to punishment; or rather, I am inclined to think, it is sufficient that the aggressor should be brought to repent of his wrong-doing, in order that he may not repeat the offence and that others may be deterred from doing wrong.

Not only must we show consideration for those whom we have conquered by force of arms but we must also ensure protection to those who lay down their arms and throw themselves upon the mercy of our generals, even though the battering-ram has hammered at their walls.

There is extant, too, a letter of the elder Marcus Cato to his son Marcus, in which he writes that he has heard that the youth has been discharged by the consul, when he was serving in Macedonia in the war with Perseus. He warns him, therefore, to be careful not to go into battle; for, he says, the man who is not legally a soldier has no right to be fighting the foe.

Our forefathers have given us another striking example of justice toward an enemy: when a deserter from Pyrrhus promised the Senate to administer poison to the king and thus work his death, the Senate and Gaius Fabricius delivered the deserter up to Pyrrhus. Thus they stamped with their disapproval the treacherous murder even of an enemy who was at once powerful, unprovoked, aggressive, and successful.
posted by ersatz at 4:20 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks. This is the tightest, most informed, and most necessarily somber writing I've seen regarding Syria I've seen. A must-read for any American trying to sort it all out.
posted by NedKoppel at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2013


I am very much opposed to unilateral American strikes, but if the UN won't approve any meaningful symbolic action reinforcing the unacceptability of deploying sarin gas, I'll accept the US stepping into that role.
posted by 256 at 4:45 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always wondered what happened to that kid from Rushmore.
posted by etc. at 4:45 PM on September 1, 2013


Hypocrisy is palpable

Fade in: woman on crowded street, holds small child on one hip. Another child hugs her thigh. Hand extended from the bottom of the screen holds a microphone. Unseen person speaks.
.
.
Prospective Collateral Damager: "Tell me, madam, do you prefer that you and your children be instantly rendered into hamburger by a missile, or would you rather that you all die screaming while your skin falls off?"
.
.
Prospective Collateral Damagee: "Um...Missiles, I guess."
.
.
Prospective Collateral Damager: "I believe we can help you."
.
.
Prospective Collateral Damagee: "Thank you. Thank you so much."
.
.
Omniscient Narrator: "What matters is that we send the right message."
(fade out & fade in): birds singing, small stream and bushes &ct.
.
.
Baritone Voice: "We return you to your regularly scheduled broadcasting."
.
.Chorus: "Feel better....feel better about it...feel better."
(repeat and fade)
.
.
(Cut to commercial)
posted by mule98J at 5:21 PM on September 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


NedKoppel: "Thanks. This is the tightest, most informed, and most necessarily somber writing I've seen regarding Syria I've seen. A must-read for any American trying to sort it all out."

I hope this refers to the William Polk piece posted by painquale.
posted by Aiwen at 5:26 PM on September 1, 2013


this sounds like Group 1 is killing Group 2 in unauthorized ways, so we'll kill Group 1 the right way until they shift back to their previous, approved killing methods

I have an equally simplistic answer. We cannot stop the civil war raging in Syria, a war the government is now decisively winning with the assistance of their client, Hezbollah. But we can respond to the use of chemical weapons to slaughter civilians.

Using chemical weapons is terrorism. And state sponsored terrorism is even more intolerable.

Also if no one responds you'll love the way the Syrian government winds up this war, not to mention the green light for every other authoritarian regime that decides to treat civilian population like vermin that require a chemical exterminator.
posted by bearwife at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2013 [8 favorites]




Prospective Collateral Damager: "Tell me, madam, do you prefer that you and your children be instantly rendered into hamburger by a missile, or would you rather that you all die screaming while your skin falls off?"

This misses the point in any number of ways-- perhaps the most salient being that the anti-Assad Syrian population feels deeply betrayed by Western nations for their failure to repond militarily to Assad's use of chemical weapons. If one is going to be all "won't anyone think of the poor Syrians" you could spare a thought for the Syrians who see the US as their last, best hope.

As it happens, if I had a vote in the US congress, I'd vote not to proceed with the bombing; it seems to me too unclear what the repercussions will be and how Assad will react (although I might approve a "next time gas is used, the President is authorized to take action" resolution so that it is not read as an automatic green light to Assad to gas his way to security.) But the glib and simplistic attacks on the President's decision here on Metafilter are pretty disappointing. Somehow, we are to believe, all this is just a deeply cynical ploy to gain some ill-defined an nebulous advantage for the US. Perhaps Syria is a giant pinata and Obama really just wants to shake loose some candies?
posted by yoink at 5:53 PM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]




Polk, excellently as always, casts doubt on the idea that the evidence proves Assad did it. While there is a family history of brutality toward the Syrian populace (Hama, 1982), there are reasons to wonder whether Assad the younger is guilty.

And I despised that WashPost piece as insulting and written as if the American public was made up of sixth-graders. The basic content was okay but really, there's nothing worse (in the journalism world) than a journalist--and I am one--who talks down to the rest of the world.
posted by etaoin at 6:01 PM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


"This misses the point in any number of ways-- perhaps the most salient being that the anti-Assad Syrian population feels deeply betrayed by Western nations for their failure to repond militarily to Assad's use of chemical weapons. If one is going to be all "won't anyone think of the poor Syrians" you could spare a thought for the Syrians who see the US as their last, best hope."

Honestly, what I've heard from anti-Assad Syrians through the media is that some of them want strikes, some of them don't. Some of them think it would be a good idea, some of them think it would be a bad idea. I just don't think there's a credible speaker for all of Syria right now, or even all of the anti-Assad Syrians.

I'm with you on how I'd vote, though. I just don't see a way that we win here with missile strikes. I want there to be some lever that we could use to enforce this norm, but I don't think there is, not without doing more harm than good. We should step up our humanitarian efforts — I do think that the idea floated about widely distributing anti-gas kits would be a good start — but military action, especially without UN imprimatur, just seems like a bad choice that Obama backed himself into.

The only scenario where anything good could come of this is if the strike killed Assad and pretty much only Assad.
posted by klangklangston at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2013 [7 favorites]



"This misses the point in any number of ways-- ...."

If the point was supposed to be which people we select to kill (not counting the oops factor, oops being the collaterals who didn't raise their hands when they got to vote on the missiles), then yes, I missed the point. I thought the point resided somewhere back in the murky confines of our foreign-aid policy that had to do with helping people in ways that didn't involve either dropping bombs on them, or arming their enemies.

All that seems to have gone out of fashion. It was a prominent factor in our foreign policy both in Europe and Asia after WWII. We thought to improve nations through diplomatic means. So-called First-World countries contributed money, goods, and personnel to help those who needed it. The United Nations made some gains, but foundered in the Cold War scramble for hegemony. Well, we got to blame the commies for that. I suppose in reality the foxes were already stealing chickens. We pretended to hold the high moral ground while using smaller countries as proxies. By way of only one example, I offer the game played between the US and the Soviet Union, using Iran and Iraq as our proxies.

I guess we no longer have to even pretend that we mean well. The derisive term we used to use was Gunboat Diplomacy. Maybe nowadays it's better called Pre-emptive Patriotism, or something.

The people in the Middle East are in a mess. Various ethnic entities are fond of blaming the West (often with good reason) for keeping them stirred up and strung out. Hell, most of their national boundaries are the doings of the West. Our meddling now clearly isn't doing anything to help them resolve issues they consider mortal. Pretending their interests concern us is the hypocrisy I referred to. My offering in this area is the way the former Iraqi regime used chemical weapons on a few tens of thousands of its people without international comment. Finally, the efficacy of chemical warfare is established: it's not as effective against military forces as it is against helpless civilians. That it's horrendous is only a side issue. Minefields are still being used, because they work. They deny enemy troops the use of tracts of land, and channel his military movements into vulnerable routes. Collateral damage is just the price they pay for not surrendering before we get a chance to put down the minefields. The horrendous effects of minefields on civilian populations is heavily documented. Here's another checkmark for hypocrisy. I can go on, if necessary. Like others on the blue, I have personally seen bomb craters and the human miscellanea scattered about such places. This, to me, is not a message. Nobody ever won a war by dropping bombs on people. How you could expect a "message" to be delivered this way is beyond my power to apprehend. The working effect of a bomb is to kill or destroy something. You have to kill the right thing for it to work. I can't make it any simpler.

Like you, I would vote against sending in the missiles, perhaps for some of the same reasons.

However, the ban on chemical weapons is not a notion the US came up with. It's part of an international agreement. If the UN suddenly woke up and took a vote, then it would be they who ought to come together and condemn this act of barbarity by Assad. The key question in this regard is not whether to drop the goddam ordnance on them, but why we can't seem to come up with any support among the other signatories (of the chemical ban), who, presumably, also are outraged.

The US has no mandate to send a message (of outrage) on its own. This is a world-wide issue.
posted by mule98J at 6:59 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I appreciate Zakaria's view that a lot of these problems stem from post-colonial borders having thrown people together who didn't belong together. However, at what point does that grievance stop? why are some countries--the Czechs and Slovaks, for example--able to split peacefully why others--Yugoslovia--are not? And though the French and Brits primarily divvied up "their" territories in ways that make no sense to the locals, those ethnic enclaves have long co-existed, and successfully, under the Ottomans. Why is it that no recent Arab government has been able to find a similar peace that doesn't depend on repression to keep those smaller constituencies from killing each other?
posted by etaoin at 7:20 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I just read the news that the Rebels admitted it was their fault after all.

Now can we please stand down from starting WW3? I'd rather not see mushroom clouds out my window.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2013


It would be nice to see the AP report rather than a content farm blog.
posted by raysmj at 7:51 PM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


That story alleges that the chemical weapons were supplied by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. The allegation is very consistent with a number of curious points - the apparent forewarning of an attack; the description of the missiles as appearing home made; and the fact that a game-changing weapon was apparently used for no tactical advantage.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2013


raysmj: Is it the report itself being questioned, or just the possible link-baitiness of it?
posted by MikeWarot at 7:54 PM on September 1, 2013


I still want to see the actual AP story, not an Examiner piece. (On precise: yes, it's a source of dubious reputation.)
posted by raysmj at 7:55 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The article MikeWarot links to isn't from the AP but from a recent journalism start up MintPress News. Original here. Reported by Dale Gavlak, who's done work for AP and has appeared on NPR, and Yahya Ababneh who was in Ghouta.

I found this story on MintPress' founding from the Minnesota Post. Note this sentence: "[founder] Muhawesh has investors, “retired businesspeople” whom she will not name — unfortunate for a journalism operation fighting alongside people seeking transparency. (The site's "About Us" page is similarly skinny.)"
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:56 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brown Moses doesn't believe it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:59 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Water is also a problem. Syria's groundwater is overexploited. The water table is declining. Assad's buddies doing aggressive irrigation during a drought didn't help matters. Global warming could be a factor if you look at it that way, but Water Management is always a challenge in the Middle East.
posted by ovvl at 8:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if this is true, I guess we need to launch a few cruise missiles into Saudi Arabia to teach them a lesson and enforce the Geneva convention. Just a narrow, limited strike.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:26 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure which side of the argument I stand on, but it seems like if our goal with a strike is to uphold our definitive stance on chemical weapons, we've already blown it. It looks like Assad threw down a challenge and we blinked. Actually, still blinking.
posted by double bubble at 8:41 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ovvl-- in the earlier link Polk says:
Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011. Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well. But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.
Could you elaborate on your statement that "Assad's buddies doing aggressive irrigation"? Do you mean they were deliberately wasting water? It just seems odd that a Pro-Assad farmer would tap a well and waste the water, while an Anti-Assad farmer would tap it and just use enough, or is it more the case that the Pro-Assad farmers tend to be wealthier and therefore have the ability to move to an irrigated farming method? I'd be grateful for a little more information from you.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:48 PM on September 1, 2013


And I despised that WashPost piece as insulting and written as if the American public was made up of sixth-graders.

The U.S. population is not comprised entirely of children, but the sixth graders of my acquaintance are scared as hell and would really enjoy a comprehensible run-down like this one. (Though I am not confident this recap would make them less scared...but possibly less bewildered.)
posted by like_a_friend at 9:16 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I despised that WashPost piece as insulting and written as if the American public was made up of sixth-graders. The basic content was okay but really, there's nothing worse (in the journalism world) than a journalist--and I am one--who talks down to the rest of the world.

Seriously, we can at least handle 8th or 9th grade reading.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:23 PM on September 1, 2013


METAFILTER: the answer really is that there's no good way to fix this without a time machine.
posted by philip-random at 10:20 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


etaoin Being part of an empire is different from being part of a "modern" state. The empire could afford to let the smaller constituencies work things out among themselves in the vast territory of the middle east. The smaller states that eventually arose from the Treaty of Versailles, each with it's own power elite endeavoring to get the most from what fell within their "soveriegn borders", were neither capable of governing their new constituencies peacefully, nor the least bit interested.
posted by carping demon at 10:46 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Czechoslovakia's breakup was possibly unique: national dissolutions or redivisions are typically imposed by a Great Power, or are the consequence of a civil war. The mirror image of these occurs when borders stay the same but ethnic groups are shifted around. This is what happened with Greeks and Turks following the Turkish War of Independence, ethnic Germans after WW2, and Hindus and Moslems subsequent to the Partition of India.

So the question isn't really "why can't the Middle East be more like Europe"; it's "why was Czechoslovakia special?" I think the answer has to do with existing administrative divisions and the knowledge that Czechoslovakian nationalism was being subsumed into a European identity anyway, but I don't really know.

With respect to Syria, I think the only stable arrangement will be a confederation of ethnic successor states, although that doesn't mean that there actually will (or can) be a stable arrangement. Iran has aspirations in Syria and would very much like to have access to the Mediterranean; Russia wants a dependent ally to protect its naval interests; the Kurds straddle existing states; and it's not as if you can actually draw lines on a map and make everyone happy. All these things will work against a peaceful solution, but I think in this case there can be no solution without dissolution.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:50 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only scenario where anything good could come of this is if the strike killed Assad and pretty much only Assad.

Yet that would create a power vacuum in which any number of bad actors will step into Assad's place. Just look at Egypt. Even Al Qaeda could get a foothold, as they are--in this context--our friend (enemy of our enemy). No doubt Assad deserves nothing less than a double Sarin cocktail, but his potential replacements aren't Mr Rogers.
posted by zardoz at 12:10 AM on September 2, 2013


Amid civil war, Syria’s remaining Jews to celebrate High Holy Days
The few remaining Syrian Jews, concentrated in the center of the capital city of Damascus, have been living under the protection of the Assad regime, according to Aleph, a source in contact with representatives of the community.

Aleph, who asked that he not be identified in print to protect his identity as well as those with whom he corresponds, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that there are only about 50 Jews left in the country, most of whom are middle aged.
Via Point of No Return, which reports that there may be as few as 16 Jews remaining in Syria.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:43 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the risk of coming in way, way too late to this discussion, I would like to add in a reasonably informed opinion on why chemical weapons deserve their Big No-No place, especially when compared to, as mentioned, white phosphorus.

Chemical weapons earn their spot on the Big No-No list because out of the three members of the Weapons of Mass Destruction League, it holds a particular distinction. Nuclear weapons can level cities and kill hundreds of thousands with a single bomb, while biological weapons can potentially cause a global pandemic and kill billions from a single battle, but both are incredibly difficult to use effectively, or even get to work. Manufacturing viable bioweapons is the work of a dedicated and very expensive lab staffed with people who really know what they're doing, and in order to kill more than just the people you initially expose you have to work very hard to get your delivery method and pathogen just right. Nuclear weapons, for all their power, require the dedicated effort of thousands of people, billions in building, equipment and material costs, high-level geniuses to design and build them, and even when you finally build one that works, even an accidental drop or shock can knock them out of alignment and turn them into a not-particularly-effective dirty bomb instead of a nuclear explosive.

Chemical weapons, on the other hand, are the only WMD that are 100% effective at their job simply existing. The chemicals used are so outrageously lethal that you simply need to let them out and they start killing everyone - particularly the nerve agents that everyone favors these days. Pesticides will set off nerve agent detectors because many of them share the same basic organophosphate chemistry - which is to say that nerve agents are basically pesticides for people, and that doesn't cover the blood agents (like hydrogen cyanide), blister agents (like mustard gas), and choking agents (like chlorine gas). Also, they are by far the most resilient to destruction: care and handing aside, you can disarm a nuclear bomb in a pinch with a screwdriver and hammer (or by dropping another bomb on them, or as in The Peacemaker, a Swiss Army Knife) and biological weapons respond very poorly to being set on fire, or even a weak bleach solution in most cases. Chemical weapons, on the other hand, must be carefully treated through multi-step processes involving delicate reactions and multiple reagents in order to be rendered fully safe. Lighting chemical weapons on fire, no matter how hot, just makes them angry: at best, you consume the agent through rapid oxidation (aka burning) if it can be burned, but then release a ton of still-wildly-toxic-but-not-as-lethal byproducts from said burning which are now dispersed across the next 50 square miles in a toxic plume, and at worst you simply pressurize and rupture the containers, spilling their lethal contents into the surrounding area and fill the air with a ton of toxic byproducts and chemical agent from the fires. They can also be made (if you don't care too much about the people making them) for not that much money using equipment that's freely available, especially if you have a chemical engineer good enough to make the precursors you need from non-controlled chemicals - and that's just the complicated ones like nerve agents. The other types can be made literally at home - and often are by accident.

But the big reason for it being on the No-No List is that chemical weapons are essentially useless against a real military force, and are only really good at killing and terrorizing civilians. Unlike white phosphorus, chemical weapons do absolutely no damage to structures or materiel, they only kill people. Even the most lethal nerve agents are stopped by standard-issue chemical protection and can be mostly reliably counteracted with atropine and pralidoxime chloride autoinjectors - which is great if you have those things, and most modern militaries do. Tanks and transports are all CBNW-sealed as a matter of course in design these days, and chemical weapons can be washed off of materiel and areas fairly easily if you're in a hurry. But none of that helps civilian populations. They don't have chemical protection equipment, they don't have autoinjectors of drugs to counter nerve agents, and they can't just wash the chemicals out of every home and every road. Chemical weapons are spectacularly effective against people that aren't prepared and can't easily leave the target area - which pretty much only describes civilians.

White phosphorus is horrific for a few minutes, but it doesn't fill every available space with a toxic cloud that kills in hours if you get so much as a light misting or a single breath even weeks after its use. You break open a WP charge, it burns for a few minutes and then goes out, you do the same to a chemical weapons charge, it fills the building and the surrounding area with an invisible plume of concentrated death. WP can be inactivated by simply immersing it in mineral oil or simply letting it burn itself out, chemical weapons can poison a city for months. They are the only way we have to kill everyone in a city, but leave that city otherwise intact - an unscrupulous dictator could simply gas an entire area, wait for the chemicals to clear, and then move in as if no one was ever there. That is why it is so important that chemical weapons stay a Big No-No.

Is that a good enough reason to lob cruise missiles at Assad's forces? That's up to the individual, but for me, the big question about that isn't so much if it's really going to help, but how the fuck we're going to hit his chemical weapons stores without turning the surrounding square miles into a toxic deathtrap.
posted by Punkey at 3:25 AM on September 2, 2013 [314 favorites]


Oh, look, Henry Kissinger agrees with me. What an odd feeling.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hm... this seems a little one-sided to me. Is it really as simple as "America good, Russia bad" (again)?
posted by gorcha at 4:10 AM on September 2, 2013


City of the Lost
In the world’s second-largest refugee camp, Syrians find that it’s not easy to flee the war.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:19 AM on September 2, 2013


I've seen that tone from lots of younger journalists recently--Planet Money and Wonkblog come to mind. But the latter, at least, is worth it in spite of the tone.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:57 AM on September 2, 2013


On the other hand, I felt like the breezy tone edged over into paternalistic with this:

Agreed. This article combines a patronizing "I, the expert, am being straight with you ignorant masses, inserting music breaks in acknowledgement of your short attention spans" with plenty of breezy assertions predicated on unquestioned assumptions about the necessity and justifiability of a "realpolitik" approach. On whose authority does the Obama administration get to "punish" people far away, no matter how horrific the things are that they've done? It's not even very specific about where those few cruise missiles are supposed to land, or how they'll constitute an effective deterrent, or why the Obama administration has the moral authority to do that sort of thing. (Does this moral authority flow from the fact that the U.S. only mutilates civilians with "conventional" weapons*? Is it because it's somehow worse, or invites more punishment, to murder civilians in one's own country than it is to murder civilians beyond one's own borders?)

The overwhelming preponderance of historical evidence should make us strongly skeptical about claims that U.S. military action is motivated by humanitarian concerns, or has anything to do with "punishing" a dictator for their deplorable behaviour**.

Also: how come "Russia wants" and "Russia has a Cold War mentality" and "Russia still loves Syria" and "Iran still loves Syria" and "Iran's thinking", while there is much less lazy personification of the U.S. (most references are instead to the Obama administration). There are exceptions:

Finally, the mind boggles at the number of ideological assumptions baked into question 6. No, asshole, that's not the question I'd ask, if I wanted to ask about the clusterfuck in Syria.

*Japanese and Vietnamese civilians excepted.
**I mean, fuck: assuming this sort of benign intent on the part of the U.S. war machine, please explain what is the procedure for determining whether to punish, oust, support, or install a brutal dictator?
posted by kengraham at 5:18 AM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


it holds a particular distinction. Nuclear weapons can level cities and kill hundreds of thousands with a single bomb, while biological weapons can potentially cause a global pandemic and kill billions from a single battle, but both are incredibly difficult to use effectively

Read: "Chemical weapons hold a particular distinction because they are the weapons of mass destruction* most likely to be available to a government that is not an established major (western) power."

*The characterization of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as weapons of mass destruction is loaded and arbitrary; normal chemical explosives dropped from airplanes have almost certainly been the most destructive (and destructive of civilian life and infrastructure) weapons ever used (albeit because of the restraint shown with "not as particularly distinguished as chemical weapons" nuclear weapons).

It's also something of a historical accident that aerial bombardment of places where there are civilians is not considered a war crime: it was seen as inadvisable at the Nuremberg trials to consider this type of warfare criminal, since the Allies had been such overachievers in the massacre-of-civilians-with-aerial-bombs department. Perhaps this explains the unfortunate tendency to not recoil in horror when our own government blows folks up, shreds them to bits with shrapnel, or lights them on fire, but instead to confine our outrage to the use of an arbitrarily chosen category of (horrific) weapons that, conveniently -- due probably to their very military uselessness! -- western militaries are content to agree not to use.
posted by kengraham at 5:34 AM on September 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Ouch. I'm hurt, article writer.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:43 AM on September 2, 2013


And I despised that WashPost piece as insulting and written as if the American public was made up of sixth-graders.

As someone who generally despises the WP, I don't think that comment's entirely fair. The title of the piece is "questions you were too embarrassed to ask", so I think the assumption is that anybody clicking on that article is by default self-identifying as maybe not entirely up to speed on foreign affairs (which is, to be honest, a lot of the American public even if they/we are not all sixth-graders.) Anyone looking for a less simplistic discussion of the issue has probably got other sources; this does what it says on the tin really.
posted by ladybird at 8:12 AM on September 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


At least he didn't populate the article with animated GIFs.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love that article and it really helped me understand the basics. thanks for posting! I'm the kind of person this article was written for.

(Except, I'm not American and it would never have occurred to me to ask "why isn't the USA stopping this from happening?" My question is more along the lines of "why on earth are they getting involved again after the bloody disaster in Afghanistan and with the massive holes in their budget?!")

People who criticised the article: Is there anything the writer got blatantly wrong? It's obviously impossible for me to tell.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2013


Even Al Qaeda could get a foothold, as they are--in this context--our friend (enemy of our enemy).

Mythbusters could take on "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," but all they'd really have to do is present the whole of American history to prove it false.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2013


> how the fuck we're going to hit his chemical weapons stores without turning the surrounding square miles into a toxic deathtrap.

If the contents of chemical weapons are dispersed, there won't be any question over whether the regime possesses them anymore, will there?

Also, it's not like Catoctin Mountain Park is being despoiled. Assad-land and the civilians who choose to live there will be affected. Perhaps "better" to poison those holding the weapons then let them use them?
posted by morganw at 10:28 AM on September 2, 2013


Adam Curtis writes on the history of the blighted nation in "The Baby and the Baath Water." When you play the Game of Nations... actually, you probably shouldn't play the Game of Nations.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


If the president were Republican, all the opinions in here would be flipped.
posted by telstar at 11:58 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You mean I would suddenly support the bombing if Bush was doing it? I err....don't think so.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Baby and the Baath Water

Wow. That was a great article. I highly recommend reading this in place of the FPP.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2013


If the president were Republican, all the opinions in here would be flipped.

Yeah, you're wrong.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:20 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]




I really like the comment by Punkey above, laying out exactly why chemical weapons are so evil.

However, because this situation may actually kick off WW3, bringing Nukes into it, could we please wait to get the full UN report, which clearly assigns blame? I don't trust the US government, and neither should you.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obama is pretty much the Bizarro Bush because the more things change, the more they stay the same or get even worse.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would like to favourite the link in Palinquale's comment one thousand times. Also loved Baby and the Baath Water.

Here is a list of great questions that people should be asking (preamble is oddly focused on the journalist, but the questions are very valid). Here's a couple of important ones, for those who truly believe that a missile strike would be a limited, focused, one-time thing:

- what if chemical weapon stockpiles are destroyed, and Assad continues to win the war?
- what if Russia deploys anti-missile systems, along with troops to operate them, in order to protect alleged stockpile sites? Back down or escalate?

Even forgetting the myriad of horrible potential consequences (nuclear powers!), the evidence just isn't there to even make such a risky decision. I find it entirely plausible that a rebel group is responsible for the chemical attack. France claims (CNN) that chemical weapons have been used several times so far in Syria, at least once definitely by the government... but what about all the other times then? A UN official also went on record in May to say that rebels had Sarin gas. Not surprising, since many of the rebels are army defectors and would know where to find it (if not how to use it). And since Obama's red line comment, have had a pretty good motivation to use it (if not against Assad, then other rebels).

Of course, I also find it plausible that Assad is responsible. Now, it would be really stupid of him, considering he is currently winning and he would not want to trigger US involvement. But hey, some people are stupid and arrogant. And/or there might be a wildcard in his government that stupidly carried out this attack.

But the idea that it is clear cut is just so bizarre -- again, just like with Iraq, we have the US government insisting that we the public have to believe the evidence that they won't show to us. Evidence that comes from their own informants (presumably rebels who very much want to trigger US involvement). They will only tell us the conclusions they have come to, and insist that we must believe them and make the same conclusion. That is very, very suspicious behaviour. I do not believe for a moment that Kerry wishes to protect people from chemical warfare. I believe that it is simply a convenient argument. If the real goal is simply to topple a friend of Iran and Hizbollah, then just say so. Don't masquerade as the moral police.
posted by molecicco at 1:22 PM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


"why are some countries--the Czechs and Slovaks, for example--able to split peacefully why others--Yugoslovia--are not?"

Well, one big reason is that Czechloslovakia became a "federated republic" in 1968 and had separate (though Soviet controlled) administrative apparatuses for what became the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
posted by klangklangston at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really appreciated the article. I love seeing things broken down in straight-forward, plain language. This gives me a basic framework of understanding which makes it much easier to approach more complicated material.

Thanks for posting, desjardins. I wish I had a link like this for all the major world events.
posted by bunderful at 3:56 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


molecicco: But the idea that it is clear cut is just so bizarre -- again, just like with Iraq, we have the US government insisting that we the public have to believe the evidence that they won't show to us. Evidence that comes from their own informants (presumably rebels who very much want to trigger US involvement). They will only tell us the conclusions they have come to, and insist that we must believe them and make the same conclusion. That is very, very suspicious behaviour. I do not believe for a moment that Kerry wishes to protect people from chemical warfare. I believe that it is simply a convenient argument. If the real goal is simply to topple a friend of Iran and Hizbollah, then just say so. Don't masquerade as the moral police.

Not to single you out, you were just the closest examples of what I want to address.

First, there is zero doubt that what happened was a nerve agent attack. There is nothing that kills that many people that quickly and causes those symptoms. I was serious when I called nerve agents "pesticides for people". It's the same organophosphate chemical family as parathion and malathion, the pesticides used for West Nile mosquito and fruit fly control, and it kills by irreversibly binding to acetylcholineesterase, an important enzyme that allows your nervous system to function. With AChEase knocked out of action, all of your muscles go limp and you develop the SLUDGEM spectrum of symptoms: salivation (the foaming at the mouth), lacrimation (excessive tears), urination, defecation, gastrointestinal motility (as your gut goes slack), emesis (vomiting) and miosis (tight pupils). The public footage out of Syria from that attack shows many of those symptoms, and I'm sure that if full images and footage of the afflicted was available, we'd see every single one. There's no doubt about it being a nerve agent, it's just a question of who gave the actual order. And it's not just coming from our "allies" like Israel; the NSA got an intercept between a Ministry of Defense official and the leader of a chemical weapons unit demanding to know why they had used the gas. You can choose your own level of paranoia as to the NSA's veracity, but I'm willing to believe that they're not lying to us on this one.

That uncertainty is part of the weird mixed message that the Obama administration has been sending, but it's not the whole story, I think. The White House has been trying to think of a way to get involved in Syria in a very limited way for months - not out of any sort of proxy war/empire building exercise, but simply because Assad was being such a fucking douchebag. I think the White House really liked the attention and, well, the feel-goods they got when they intervened in Libya, and were looking for a second hit with Syria, on top of it being one of the few unambiguous Good Things that they thought they could do.

However, the problem with Syria is that it's a much more densely populated country with a much better organized military, so the drones and bombs approach from Libya isn't going to work. The other problem is that most of the rebel groups are as big an asshole as Assad is, or worse. There's reports throughout rebel-held areas of mass murders, rapes, pillaging, and all sorts of horrible shit. Not to mention that the most powerful rebel group in Syria is a direct al-Qaeda affiliate. So, if we do get directly involved, it's going to require a significant on-the-ground presence in order to effect any sort of positive change, and when we get there, we're going to spend as much time fighting the rebels as we do Assad's men - and when we do get Assad out of power (it's a when, not an if if we decide to take him down), we'll be creating a power vacuum that some asshole can then fill, and after we just went through that headache with Egypt (some asshole taking over, not the toppling someone part), we're really keen on that not happening again. Not to mention both the public and White House aversion to putting boots on the ground. Believe me, there is nothing the White House wants less than to get involved in another ground conflict in the Middle East, no matter how limited.

So, if we're not gonna put boots on the ground, and we don't want to help topple Assad, that kind of ties the White House's hands, except for one thing: Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Obama can still make a statement making using those strictly verboten, and if Assad does use them, that'll give him a clear reason to get involved and save lives. Except now that he has, he's rallied the ships and their missiles for a strike before he turned around and realized that we really don't want to get involved in any of their shit. The whole world is weary of playing Room Monitor for the Middle East's homicidal and fratricidal streak, and even though Assad is using one of the most horrific weapons ever designed against civilian populations, we really would rather not get entangled in their disaster at all. And the fact that there's no good way - as far as I know - to strike at the chemical weapons storehouses and not just crack them open in a cloud of nerve agents. And that Russia and Iran don't really give a shit about the horribleness of chemical weapons and are standing by their ally. And that Obama's week of grandstanding has given Assad plenty of time to start squirreling away some Sarin for a rainy day.

I think that Obama really, genuinely wants to help in Syria. But he's hamstrung by the incredibly complicated politics, both in Syria and internationally, and both the public's and his own resistance to putting American lives at risk on the ground in the Middle East. So, now that Assad as done something even more incredibly horrible than just massacring your own citizens, he saw his chance to get involved and help - but he's rushing forward rashly. I don't think he wants to topple Assad (because of the aforementioned "rebels are mostly assholes and even AQ" problem), and I don't think he sees this as a proxy battle with Iran or Russia (not entirely). To put it in Internets Terms, Obama is white-knighting here, and it's about as poorly thought-out as most white-knighting attempts are. And I think after the last few days, he knows it.

That's why he tossed it to Congress to put a spike in it; between the neocons that won't be happy with getting involved with Syria unless it involves invading Tehran, the libertarians that want to completely isolate ourselves from the rest of the world, the far-right-wingers that will kill it just to spite Obama, and the many on the left that simply don't think we should get involved - or at least not without knowing the extent of what we're committing to and what rough effects it'll have - there's no way Congress is authorizing military action in Syria.
posted by Punkey at 4:48 PM on September 2, 2013 [30 favorites]


The west's threat to attack Syria is an idiotic gesture

That is why the public on both sides of the Atlantic are sceptical. They cannot see the point of their leaders puffing up their chests, rattling their sabres and talking tough, when all these leaders intend to do is rearrange the furniture on the outskirts of Damascus – and boost Syrian morale if they have to back down. If the west really wants to "save Syria", it should go in and save it. Otherwise shut up. It is not the west's "values empire" that is in retreat. It is idiot deployment of aerial bombardment as a cure-all for the world's ills. That at least is good news.

That about sums up how I feel, though "rearrange the furniture" is a bit too hyperbolic. I would hope a cruise missile strike could at least take out runways, missile launchers, airplanes, and a few other things that can't be hidden behind human shields. But all in all, I doubt it would change much, and there is always the risk of accidentally killing innocent people or Russian soldiers, etc. If Assad's regime were crippled, the retaliatory massacres incurred on the people of Damascus and its suburbs by Al Qaeda and the the remnants of the regime would probably be absolutely massive in comparison with the 1,400 people killed in this chemical attack. I don't think a missile strike can make up for the failure of diplomacy, particularly between the U.S. and Russia, that it seems to me is primarily responsible for the continuing massacre in Syria. Unless Obama, or someone, can layout a plan that would realistically end the bloodshed, they wouldn't get my vote for a strike of any kind at this point. Maybe if the chemical attacks continue unabated I would agree that force should be used to stop it, but a lot more pressure should be put on Russia to do something first if that were to happen.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:12 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


But the idea that it is clear cut is just so bizarre -- again, just like with Iraq, we have the US government insisting that we the public have to believe the evidence that they won't show to us.

Except in the case of Iraq we all knew that the administration was desperately keen for an excuse to go to war. (We also all knew that the administration's case was largely bogus pretty much as it was being made; that the administration was, at the very least, grossly exaggerating the strength of its case was not something that slowly leaked out months after the invasion or something, it was something we knew as they were making their claims.)

Neither of those things applies here. To argue that the Obama administration is somehow desperately looking for an excuse to go to war with Syria is to simply ignore the fact that they've had hundreds of such "excuses" already; they have, in fact, been almost continuously abused since the beginning of the uprising in Syria for failing to act more decisively. This isn't even the first gas attack in Syria, and the administration was, again, the object of derision (including from such liberal/left sources as the Daily Show writers) for failing to act immediately at the first hint of a crossing of the "red line."

Even now, if you somehow imagine that things changed and the administration suddenly developed some ulterior motive for wanting to pick a fight with Syria and is looking for an excuse to get involved, we have the fact that Obama has chosen to ask Congress's permission to launch an attack: a frankly inexplicable move if that is your hypothesis. Far better for him to order the mission and get the US entangled first if that is his plan.

So, in fact, the comparisons with the Iraq case are just silly. "A bunch of completely different people lied to us in the past about something they clearly wanted to true; that's why I can't trust these people when they tell me that something they clearly don't want to be true is the case."
posted by yoink at 5:36 PM on September 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


There are unconfirmed internet kinda rumours that one of our F22s was downed, and that's why the President backed down and decided to "consult" Congress.

If true, the downing of our best technology by Russian supplied defenses makes any attempt at "punishing" Syria downright stupid, and probably a trigger to WW3.

Rumor / conspiracy theory / truth?? can't say for sure, but it does puts puzzle pieces together rather nicely.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:36 PM on September 2, 2013


So, now that Assad as done something even more incredibly horrible than just massacring your own citizens

Why? Why is massacring people by one method worse than massacring people by another method? Is massacring people with whom one shares citizenship worse than massacring citizens of some other country? (Such an assertion seems implicit in your statement, although your statement doesn't entail it logically.) If so, why?

I'll be very surprised by believable answers.
posted by kengraham at 7:57 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is massacring people by one method worse than massacring people by another method?

It's a lot easier to kill 1000 people with chemical weapons than with bullets, and chemical weapons are completely indiscriminate. If we want to minimize the ability of the Syrian government, and other governments in the future, to massacre their people, then we have to deter the use of chemical weapons. If this massacre goes unpunished, then Assad will use more chemical weapons, and any suggestion that the use of chemical weapons is contrary to international law will ring hollow. It will be known that there are no consequences for such use against any regime looking to win a civil war.
posted by Dasein at 8:16 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Missiles by Friday.
posted by planetesimal at 8:29 PM on September 2, 2013


Dasein, you didn't answer my question: is it worse to blow up 1000 people, or to douse the same 1000 people in organophosphates or whatever? Assume all 1000 die in either case, and show your work.

If we want to minimize the ability of the Syrian government, and other governments in the future, to massacre their people, then we have to deter the use of chemical weapons.

Who is "we" here? The U.S. government by and large does not murder U.S. citizens, but routinely kills civilians in other countries. Is this less criminal than a government killing its own citizens? Why? If so, is it because any given government should assign extra special value to the lives of its own citizens? If so, what is the objective measure of human life? Or is it that nobody's life is actually worth more than anyone else's, but the correct position is to value one's own countryfolk more, anyway?

If this massacre goes unpunished, then Assad will use more chemical weapons, and any suggestion that the use of chemical weapons is contrary to international law will ring hollow.

What is the appropriate "punishment" for, say, killing civilians at a wedding party, or creating bizarre legal definitions of an enemy combatant ("all men of 'military age' in the area") to justify murdering people? What gives a political entity the moral authority to punish people for their atrocities?

It may be a good idea for a large power to intervene to end specific atrocities and forestall more, but the pretense that it's anything other than a serious-business mob boss putting the concrete shoes on a weaker competitor is disgusting.
posted by kengraham at 8:40 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Dasein, you didn't answer my question: is it worse to blow up 1000 people, or to douse the same 1000 people in organophosphates or whatever? Assume all 1000 die in either case, and show your work."

Is it worse to torture someone to death or to kill them in the heat of an argument?

Oh, sorry, you were just jerking off with a bunch of rhetorical questions. Carry on.
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is worse to torture them, and generally the law reflects that.

It doesn't seem particularly rhetorical to me to ask these questions. We do have to examine our own actions in the course of wars to see if they should incline us not to get involved in another conflict. It's also fair to look at other situations around the world to determine why we may feel an imperative to act to intervene on the use of chemical weapons but not in other cases of humanitarian tragedy. It could be that we are wasting resources that could be spent on more impactful projects if we made different choices.

Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year

posted by Drinky Die at 11:08 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fora.TV held an informative and collegial debate on Syria, titled The US Has No Dog In The Fight In Syria. It's an hour and 30 minutes long, has four speakers (two for each side), and a moderator. It's calm, balanced, provides background information, and goes into a fair amount of detail behind the rationale for various arguments.

It's a good primer for those who may be interested.
posted by Davenhill at 11:18 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Dasein, you didn't answer my question: is it worse to blow up 1000 people, or to douse the same 1000 people in organophosphates or whatever? Assume all 1000 die in either case, and show your work."

You're clearly assuming that everything other than death is irrelevant and so you won't accept any answer to your question.

As klangklangston point out, your implicit reasoning equates torturing someone to death with an execution by lethal injection, or to shooting them in the head, or to accidentally hitting them with a car, or to withholding artificial respiration for a comatose patient. Dead is dead. If you disallow both intent and suffering prior to death, then everything that results in death is equivalent, which is self-evidently absurd and disingenuous. If you accept that both intent and suffering prior to death matters, then there are several strong arguments for differentiating between chemical weapons and conventional weapons.

It seems to me that these arguments to the effect of "chemical weapons are no different than any other" are facile and sophistical. No one would assert this unless it's an assumption felicitous to a desired conclusion because chemical weapons self-evidently cause extraordinary and indiscriminate suffering and this was clearly demonstrated historically during WWI.

"But the idea that it is clear cut is just so bizarre -- again, just like with Iraq, we have the US government insisting that we the public have to believe the evidence that they won't show to us."

As yoink points out, this is not even remotely comparable to Iraq. Everyone who wasn't highly motivated by a self-deluding desire for a rationalization for an Iraq invasion knew that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program. The claim that they did was an example of Sagan's "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", which the US didn't have and didn't provide.

In contrast, everyone has known that Syria has chemical weapons and it's entirely believable that Bashar al-Assad would use them against populations in rebel areas because he's already been seen to be extremely brutal and indiscriminate in this civil war.

There's been at least three uses of chemical weapons, this was the third and it occurred in a rebel-friendly area outside Damascus near where the government was at that time launching an operation against the rebels. Is it possible that the rebels did this as a false-flag? Yes, that's possible. But all such allegations are inherently dubious because of the conspiratorial, 12-dimensional chess nature of them and require more evidence to support them than the more conventional possibility. Just as in the case of the Iraq rationale, the assertion of the more unlikely and minority claim (that Iraq has a nuclear weapons program in the case of Iraq; that the rebels used sarin in a false-flag operation in the case of Syria) is associated with a motivation to reach a particular conclusion that aligns with one's worldview.

The other possibility is that it was an accident. But we're not talking about some accidental release of sarin, but rather several missiles which residents witnessed and heard.

Anyway, both these lines of discussion — that maybe the government wasn't responsible for the sarin, and that it's not a big deal that sarin was used — are clearly in the service of arguing against any sort of US response. Which I find disappointing because the true arguments which are motivating this position are themselves perfectly respectable and defensible. Specifically, that it won't accomplish anything positive and will likely make things worse; that the US doesn't have the moral authority or right to unilaterally intervene in such a fashion; that the majority of the public in the US and elsewhere is opposed to it. Those are all fine reasons against an intervention, it's not necessary to make disingenuous and facile arguments to support a position of non-intervention.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:19 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


As klangklangston point out, your implicit reasoning equates torturing someone to death with an execution by lethal injection, or to shooting them in the head, or to accidentally hitting them with a car, or to withholding artificial respiration for a comatose patient. Dead is dead. If you disallow both intent and suffering prior to death, then everything that results in death is equivalent, which is self-evidently absurd and disingenuous. If you accept that both intent and suffering prior to death matters, then there are several strong arguments for differentiating between chemical weapons and conventional weapons.

I think there is clearly a difference in the weapons, but the thing is we are already in "This is unimaginably bad either way territory" when we are debating the which is worse between indiscriminately bombing an area and gassing it. You can defend the bombs and artillery as weapons because they have other less illegitimate uses but if you are talking about the actual action of intentionally deploying high explosives to attack civilian targets the moral difference between that and using gas to do the same thing is extremely tiny.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:40 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


For near-real-time updates as to the disposition of forces in and around Syria, including detailed maps, the Institute for the Study of War Syria Update Blog is an astounding resource.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:06 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


European Council on Foreign Relations (via)
Eight things to consider before intervening in Syria.
posted by adamvasco at 5:05 AM on September 3, 2013


I in no way think that is not a big deal that sarin was used. Definitely not walking that line. But the rush to definite conclusions, in the face of such devastating possible outcomes, is ringing my bullshit bell pretty loudly. Ever since the "red line" comment, we should be expecting the rebels to be bringing proof of chemical weapons use to the US. And we should be skeptical of what they bring as proof. I'm not saying dismiss it out of hand, but we should indeed be skeptical, and we should look for independent, third-party verification. The rebels have had almost a year now to make this case and push the US into conflict. Skepticism about CW allegations would be prudent.

In the meantime, I have not seen a White House that has been looking for a reason to get involved - quite the opposite. I have seen a White House that feels pressured to make a statement, but has been looking for reasons not to get involved, to avoid getting entangled. The red-line comments seemed to be a way of making a promise that Obama thought he would not have to deliver on. A way of making a statement without committing to action. Since then, it seems like there is an attempt to force the US into direct engagment. Who benefits from that? If this US secures a non-Assad regional winner, then Qatar and Turkey get to build a pipeline to supply to Europe, Israel knocks out a friend of Iran and Hizbollah. Maybe those are both good things - Russia loses the power to turn off the taps on Europe, and Hizbollah loses strength. Hizbollah is crazy and sucks. But if you want to reduce the amount of suffering, reduce the death toll, then missile strikes will not acheive that goal. How do you know that all stockpiles will be eliminated? How do you know that you won't help some of the crazy factions of rebels obtain, and then use chemical weapons themselves (if they haven't already)? How do you know that the US won't be further dragged into the conflict when it turns out Assad is still winning even without the CW stockpiles? It makes no sense. And again - the moral police? Where is regime change in Bahrain then? Remember Bahrain, where hospital patients were tortured, and doctors who assisted injured protesters were imprisoned?
posted by molecicco at 5:28 AM on September 3, 2013


Also from Juan Cole
Former Iranian President Slams Syria for Gassing own People: Sign of deep Divisions in Tehran.
posted by adamvasco at 5:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


This "chemical weapons are analogous to torture but 'collateral damage' is akin to second-degree murder" is a bullshit premise. Nobody is required to drop bombs, bombs are not dropped in the "heat of the moment", and people who drop bombs when there is a possibility of killing or injuring civilians have made a positive decision that their goals in dropping bombs are more important than the well-being of certain people.

It is worse to torture them, and generally the law reflects that.

The law is irrelevant, but I agree it is worse to torture people than to kill them "in the heat of the moment". The problem is that that dichotomy is not a good analogy to what is being discussed.


As klangklangston point out, your implicit reasoning equates torturing someone to death with an execution by lethal injection, or to shooting them in the head, or to accidentally hitting them with a car, or to withholding artificial respiration for a comatose patient. Dead is dead.


Since I am not making such assertions, how about not dreaming up "implicit reasoning"?
posted by kengraham at 5:44 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


But roughly:

Torture and execution by any means are morally equivalent; there are some circumstances in which both are morally equivalent to shooting someone in the head (e.g. execution by shooting or premeditated murder), but other situations in which shooting someone in the head is less bad. Accidentally hitting someone with a car is always less bad, by virtue of being accidental, but deliberately and premeditatedly hitting someone with a car is as bad as murdering them with sarin.

What's wrong with chemical attacks on civilians is not the weapons used, it's the matter of deliberately causing fatal injury to other people in the absence of a few circumstances that mitigate the badness of doing so. Since aggressive bombing is highly calculated and the risk of killing civilians extremely high, any deaths that occur don't, in my view, have any of the properties that characterize "less bad" killing. (I'm sure one can invent scenarios in which "second-degree" murder is committed with aerial bombs, but it's ridiculous to call the death of some civilian (or conscript) victim of any aerial bombardment I've ever heard of something other than out-and-out murder, even if that person wasn't specifically targeted. People who conduct war in civilian areas are either extremely lucky, and nobody out of uniform gets hurt, or they're murderers. This is regardless of what international law, which is the creation of power structures invested in making war, has to say on the subject.)
posted by kengraham at 5:59 AM on September 3, 2013


[Comment deleted. Please assume good faith and focus on the topic, not other users. Thank you.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:11 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Torture and execution by any means are morally equivalent..."

Good luck getting anyone else to agree with that. And this seems more like "something absurd that agitated-guy on the Internet would argue to make a point" than anything a sane person would believe.

The rest of us consider suffering, and intent to cause suffering, to be factors that are very important, in addition to death.

"Since I am not making such assertions..."

Yes, you are. You just did.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Assume all 1000 die in either case, and show your work.

I'll try this again: if you want people to have a discussion with you, don't be a dick.
posted by Dasein at 6:46 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"How do you know that you won't help some of the crazy factions of rebels obtain, and then use chemical weapons themselves (if they haven't already)? How do you know that the US won't be further dragged into the conflict when it turns out Assad is still winning even without the CW stockpiles? It makes no sense. And again - the moral police? Where is regime change in Bahrain then?"

Many people discussing this implicitly accept this neocon / liberal humanitarian rationale for intervention and therefore argue that any intervention should be sufficient to achieve such goals, or argue against intervention because such goals aren't achievable or problematic.

But my view is that the only defensible rationale for any intervention is to deter further use of chemical weapons and should be limited to that alone. Not that I'm convinced that it's possible to effectively deter Bashar from using them again. But, assuming that it's possible, and you accept the argument that the US (and everyone else) has an interest in deterring the use of chemical weapons but otherwise has no particular interest in either side winning this civil war and that, in any case, the US's ability to influence such an outcome is limited, then all those other considerations are moot. Then it's just: is there anything that the US can do that will actually deter Bashar or the rebels from using chemical weapons?

I'm pretty uncomfortable with the framing of the issue in terms of an intervention to affect the outcome of the civil war. I'm opposed to any such intervention, but I'm not, in principle, opposed to an action that's a deterrent against further use of chemical weapons and I'm extremely resistant to the pursuit of the latter that becomes the former.

Which is a problem because right now the Obama administration, in wanting to respond to the sarin attack, is forced to make common cause with the neocon and other conservative hawks like McCain who are adamant about a much larger action.

At this point, I don't think that Congress will vote for an attack; and the wise thing for Obama to then do would be to say that he's respecting the democratic process. Everyone will say it's an embarrassment to the President, but what the admin should do is have sources tell reporters off-the-record that Obama is "comfortable with this outcome", which would imply that it's the outcome he wanted in the first place.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:11 AM on September 3, 2013


Jeffrey D. Sachs - Calling Off America's Bombs
The US should reverse course. A direct US attack on Syria without UN backing is far more likely to inflame the region than it is to resolve the crisis there – a point well appreciated in the United Kingdom, where Parliament bucked the government by rejecting British participation in a military strike.

Instead, the US should provide evidence of the chemical attacks to the UN; call on the Security Council to condemn the perpetrators; and refer such violations to the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the Obama administration should try to work with Russia and China to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. If the US fails in this, while acting diplomatically and transparently (without a unilateral attack), Russia and China would find themselves globally isolated on this important issue.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


"If the US fails in this, while acting diplomatically and transparently (without a unilateral attack), Russia and China would find themselves globally isolated on this important issue."

Not that they will care. At least, Russia won't. This is too important to Russia for numerous reasons for them to do anything but continue to support the regime. Whatever evidence is presented to the UN and whether or not the entire rest of the world is convinced, Russia will say that it's skeptical and will block any action in the Security Council. China could possibly be persuaded, but not Russia.

So there is absolutely no hope for any resolution to act coming out of the Security Council.

Obama could have gone to NATO and that's probably what he should have done. It's too late now; Cameron bears some responsibility for this.

Anyway, if there's no chance of anything actually coming out of working through the UN, what would that mean? Would it at least be an important nod toward international institutions with regard to enforcing the ban against use of chemical weapons? Yes, but that would be overshadowed by the fact that it's ineffectual and having a powerful ally on the Security Council means that you can get away with using them. Would it embarrass Russia and at least give them an incentive to use their leverage with Syria to prevent this happening again? I doubt it.

My point is that going to the UN won't accomplish anything and will only, in the end, sort of doubly reinforce the practical message that Bashar al-Assad is going to get away with this.

I'm coming around to the viewpoint that the Obama administration has very badly botched this. Obama shouldn't have boxed himself in. But it's not just that. Long before the two previous uses of chemical weapons occurred the administration should have known exactly what it was going to do in response and, more importantly, it should have known exactly what its allies would do because it was all discussed and prepared beforehand.

It should have been prepared for the possibility that a response was not politically viable in one or more key countries (like, say, here in the US, but notably the UK). Being prepared for that possibility would have meant not floating or committing to anything unless one is sure of the political outcome.

And it should have known whether or not there was anything that could actually be done to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons again. If not, then it should have decided if being seen to do something was important enough to be seen to do something even though it's ineffectual, and then to have already prepared something ineffectual but sufficiently theatrical to meet that goal. And, if not that, either, how to spin the political and practical reality in such a way that it doesn't seem like Syria has made a laughingstock of everyone else and is able to use chemical weapons with complete impunity (even if this is true).

None of these outcomes were particularly hard to foresee and plan for. Nothing that's happened should be a surprise.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll try this again: if you want people to have a discussion with you, don't be a dick.

That seems to be an issue on both sides of this conversation.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Phyllis Bennis - Striking Syria: Illegal, immoral, and dangerous
A US military strike on Syria will increase levels of violence and instability inside the country, in the region, and around the world. Inside Syria, aside from immediate casualties and damage to the already shattered country, reports are already coming in of thousands of Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to "stand with their government" when the country is under attack. It could lead to greater support to the brutal regime in Damascus....

A US strike will do nothing to strengthen the secular armed opposition, still largely based in Turkey and Jordan, let alone the heroic but weakened original non-violent democratic opposition forces who have consistently opposed militarization of their struggle and outside military intervention.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Greg Sargent is reporting that Rep. Chris van Hollen said the Democratic leadership will not be whipping democratic reps to support Obama. At Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore said he doesn't think the house republican leadership will be whipping its members either. I have to think that doesn't bode well for the President getting approval. Or maybe I'm just being optimistic (I'm personally opposed to an attack.)
posted by Area Man at 1:50 PM on September 3, 2013




That uncertainty is part of the weird mixed message that the Obama administration has been sending, but it's not the whole story, I think. The White House has been trying to think of a way to get involved in Syria in a very limited way for months - not out of any sort of proxy war/empire building exercise, but simply because Assad was being such a fucking douchebag

That is simply incorrect.

Regime change in Damascus has been US policy for at least eight years, and we've been performing coups in Syria since 1949. The latest was delayed because we used them to illegally torture rendition suspects with the help of the Assad regime at various black sites throughout Syria.
The Bush administration is brokering a series of steps designed to unravel the regime in Syria but not oust the government of President Bashar Assad -- at least not yet, U.S. policymakers say.

Washington is intent on squeezing its most consistent nemesis in the Arab world to cooperate -- not only on Lebanon -- through the kind of pressure that eventually turned Moammar Gaddafi after Libyan agents were linked to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, according to U.S. officials.
...
The long-term U.S. goal is to break the 35-year hold of the Assad family and allow Syrians to freely pick a new government. But in the short term, the administration is somewhat reluctantly opting to let the U.N. investigation and the subsequent judicial process, combined with punitive U.N. sanctions, erode Assad's power -- and see if he then changes Syrian practices in the region, U.S. officials said.
...
Although Syria has never been more isolated, U.S. officials caution that their ambitions are curbed by realities on the ground. After an intense hunt for alternatives, the Bush administration has concluded that there is no political party strong enough and sufficiently friendly to endorse as a replacement for Assad, U.S. officials said.
...
A more aggressive policy of "regime change" could backfire, U.S. officials said. An abrupt upheaval could invite a return to the kind of rampant instability and coups that typified Syria until Hafez Assad came to power in 1971.

"It's very difficult to identify someone viable within the power structure that the U.S. could work with other than Bashar. And if you look beyond the regime, the most likely alternative to the present political order would be heavily Islamist and anti-American," said Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer in the Bush administration and author of "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire."

"And if this regime implodes, you would probably get chaos and violence along ethnic and sectarian lines . . . with spillover into Iraq and other parts of the region."
...
"The big question is: Is there anything to indicate that Assad would show any deviation from past behavior," said the senior U.S. official. "We're certainly not trying to save the regime."

And, unlike in Libya, Washington is unwilling to let the process of change take a decade, U.S. officials said. "Syria's situation is much more urgent," the senior official said.
That was written in 2005. They're almost running behind.

Anyway, I agree with most of the rest of your post, but to pretend like we found ourselves in Syria by accident is very misleading. It is unfortunately another country where we regularly invade or perform coups, and we've been funding the opposition for at least 8 years and shipping weapons covertly for about 3. Assad isn't being ousted because he was suddenly "a douchebag." It's because it's a part of our foreign policy that we've been working on for years, and it takes a while to arrange the loans, arm the rebels, oversee arms distribution, form coalitions, bargain with Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.
posted by deanklear at 2:09 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


When has the U.S. regularly invaded Syria?
posted by Area Man at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2013


Area Man-- the USA makes regular drone attacks on Syrian soil. I think if Syria flew a similar mission on US soil, most people would consider that an invasion.
posted by Static Vagabond at 3:01 PM on September 3, 2013


It should be noted that Syria itself played a pretty major role in destabilizing Lebanon and has interfered in various unpleasant ways in that country, and Iran has played a pretty major role in propping up and stabilizing the Assad(s) regime.
posted by rosswald at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2013


Area Man-- the USA makes regular drone attacks on Syrian soil.

You may be getting Syria confused with Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Syrian control of its airspace makes drones pretty useless.
posted by yoink at 3:12 PM on September 3, 2013


Regime change in Damascus has been US policy for at least eight years

The US would like to see "regime change" in lots of places; that doesn't mean it's actively engaged in military or other efforts to bring that about. The US would like to see "regime change" in China, for example, and I'm sure it's funding all kinds of journalistic, legal-reform, political-opposition groups (and so forth) that are broadly "anti-government" in China. That is not the same thing as saying, however, that if widespread anti-government rioting broke out in China and it devolved into some kind of civil war that this would be something the US "did" to China or that any civilian deaths inflicted by either side were then the US government's responsibility and that any expressions of concern on their behalf would then be crocodile tears.

The US has long been opposed to Assad, has long been willing, at a low level, to provide a measure of support to anti-Assad forces in Syria, but it has also, for a long time, said that they cannot see a viable path--military or otherwise--to an alternative government. None of these are contradictory or incoherent positions. It is clear that the US does not see a military path towards a stable solution in Syria and does not intend the raid for which they're seeking Congress's approval to be the first step in any such campaign.
posted by yoink at 3:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


America stopped the overt Syria-coup-game quite some time ago, but as usual, oil and 'merica rule the day:

US and UK Government International Actions Since 1945 [in Syria]
posted by lordaych at 4:05 PM on September 3, 2013


A History of Syria (BBC)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:17 PM on September 3, 2013




America stopped the overt Syria-coup-game quite some time ago, but as usual, oil and 'merica rule the day:

God knows that the US hardly has clean hands when it comes to any country in the middle east, let alone Syria, but there is a bizarre kind of "America is everything" blinkeredness here that is shared by both the "America can do no right" brigade AND the "America can do no wrong" brigade. Syria was not some happy, stable paradise into which America blundered and then fucked everything up for the fun of it. Yes, America has played lots of big-power politics in Syria, but it's extremely debatable whether or not Zaim's coup in 49 wouldn't have gone ahead with or without American support and it's highly likely that if Zaim hadn't lead a coup any one of a dozen other military leaders would have (including those whose own coups followed hard upon Zaim's). It's certainly false to portray Zaim as some kind of puppet of American power, which was never so strong in Syria as to be able to dictate the course the country's history took.

Syria would have been a complex, ethnically unstable and politically charged nation with a difficult and disrupted history regardless of American interventions in the region. And whatever sins the US has committed in the past towards Syria the argument "your country once did something bad, therefore you're not allowed to have any opinions about anything bad any other country does" isn't terribly persuasive.
posted by yoink at 4:24 PM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Iraq War Vet Arrested While Playing a Banjo at Protest Against Syria Attack

WTF.


That's like a "how not to" video on responding to being arrested. There's a reason every ACLU flier about how to handle being arrested in existence stresses not struggling and not arguing with the cops doing the arresting. The only interesting legal question in that video is whether the rangers had legal grounds to ask her to move out of that part of the park. Assuming that they did I'm reasonably confident that they are under no legal obligation to explain their reasons for closing a public park or parts thereof and they gave her every possible opportunity to leave quietly; she was intent upon getting herself arrested and, in the end, they obliged. If you struggle with officers while they're making an arrest, that's pretty much what it's going to look like; there was no evidence there of excessive force or brutality, they were simply trying to physically force an unwilling and resisting person into handcuffs.

The description of the event on her legal-fund website is pretty hilariously at variance with what the video itself actually shows. They make it sound like she was just standing around playing the banjo when a bunch of cops jumped her out of the blue.
posted by yoink at 4:58 PM on September 3, 2013


Last time I saw a "park police arrest protestor" video it was in DC and the onlooker commentary was not nearly as...colorful. Good ol' Philly. No problem a few homophobic slurs can't cure!
posted by Drinky Die at 6:22 PM on September 3, 2013


Obama is arguing in favor of a unilateral "war of choice" without UN approval, to deal with a non-imminent threat.

But he isn't Bush, so it's OK.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:32 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]






Senate Foreign Relations Committee agrees on draft of joint resolution authorizing force. The Republican and Democratic leaders in the house are all on board. AIPAC has strongly endorsed it. Republicans and Democrats are also saying this means congress will quietly pass a clean debt ceiling and continuing resolution funding the government, because they don't want to appear to be cutting off funds for the troops in the field. Just in case you were not feeling depressed enough by this. We have reached the point in our political gridlock where we have to go to war to pass a budget.
posted by humanfont at 9:17 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obama is arguing in favor of a unilateral "war of choice"

This is exactly as true as saying that Bush argued for an extremely limited, one-time raid against purely military targets in Iraq, with no intention of toppling Hussein's government. In other words, it is completely untrue.
posted by yoink at 9:39 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Republican and Democratic leaders in the house are all on board. AIPAC has strongly endorsed it.

Heh. According to Politico, the Monday (online) / Tuesday (print) NYT had an article claiming that AIPAC was lobbying for the resolution, and quoted an anonymous administration official calling AIPAC the "800-pound gorilla in the room. This was surprising, because AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups have been quiet or conflicted on the whole Syria issue. Politico even ran a not-antisemitic article commenting on this, saying that the silence could be a problem for Obama, since the Jewish groups are connected across the political spectrum [...]

The NYT article disappeared down the memory hole for some reason, but according to the Daily Beast the White House told AIPAC that AIPAC’s participation in the lobbying effort to pass the authorization would be helpful.

So the White House is basically using AIPAC as its own lobbyist, with what must in context be seen as a thinly veiled threat. It is then manipulating public opinion by implying that AIPAC's support is genuine, not imposed from outside. I'm not at all happy about its reference to "the 800-pound gorilla": not only is it self-evidently false in this context, as AIPAC is the one being pushed around, but I don't think the meme of the "all-powerful Jewish lobby" should be encouraged.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:35 AM on September 4, 2013


On whose authority does the Obama administration get to "punish" people far away, no matter how horrific the things are that they've done?

I'm glad to learn that I have no moral obligation to stop people doing even the most horrific things to other people so long as they're the other side of an imaginary, arbitrary line on a globe.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:57 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


From CNN :
"[Eric Cantor:]The United States' broader policy goal, as articulated by the president, is that Assad should go, and President Obama's red line is consistent with that goal and with the goal of deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction," Cantor said in a statement. "It is the type of red line virtually any American president would draw."
Again. What if the CW are knocked out and Assad continues to win the war? The goal of this action is pretty obviously more about ensuring that Assad loses, than it is about protecting people in the region. The moral aspect is a charade (unless you agree to the broader moral argument that Assad must go, of course).
Kerry stumbled a few times in answering multiple questions about this, initially rejecting language in a resolution that ruled out any chance for U.S. ground troops.

He provided fodder to critics by acknowledging the possibility of ground forces to secure chemical weapons if the regime of Bashar al-Assad collapsed and to prevent stockpiles from falling into the hands of extremists. Kerry later insisted there was no chance for "boots on the ground" under the authorization Obama sought.
What a mess.
posted by molecicco at 2:23 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I missed it upthread, apologies, but would all of you non-intervenors intervened in Rwanda?

It's not a loaded question for me; it seems to me there are some historical situations where we look at it and say, 'should have done something there.' Rwanda was one for me (and for Clinton, apparently).

But I'm a weird leftist hawkish person: Opposed intervention in Iraq, opposed invasion of Afghanistan but then felt conflicted by it when the Taliban started throwing acid in the faces of kids.

Essentially I guess I subscribe to the idea of the U.S. as Superman. Which, stupid, but when you have people suffering, well, we are kind of as close to a Superman in terms of might that the world's got.

I applaud Obama for slowing down and consulting Congress. It might be a political decision at heart, to consult Congress, but I am still naive or not cynical enough to believe that Obama cares about stretching the limits of executive power.
posted by angrycat at 3:40 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually thought Afghanistan made sense. They harboured the perpetrators of an attack on America, America fought back. I thought Iraq was a huge mistake and massive manipulation -- both times. My gut feeling on Rwanda is that there should have been some kind of intervention, but truthfully I don't know nearly enough to have an informed opinion on what form that should have, or even could have taken. In general, I find the "either military aggresion or stand by and watch" dichotomy to be bullshit. Once the debate gets framed like that, I start to become suspicious of the true motivations of those pushing hardest for intervention. One gets the impression that diplomacy, through Russia, to put pressure on Assad to not use chemical weapons has not even really been pursued (although correct me if I am wrong, I would love to read more, and know more, about what diplomatic solutions to the chemical weapons issue America has pursued).

But again, I think the commonly held motivation amongst the people at the top is to ensure Assad's defeat. Stopping chemical weapons use is the justification which can rally some others at the top, along with some of the public, into supporting military intervention. But the true control of the situation is most likely to lie with those who want to ensure Assad is defeated. Ensuring defeat is a whole other thing though, with a whole other set of commitments in play, and I bet most of the pro-interventionists here would not support those other commitments. And if the defeat of Assad truly is the motivation, then clearly you cannot convince Russia to stop supporting Assad. You could, theoretically, get them to do something about chemical weapons usage (if you know, with third-party certainty, that they are in fact being used by Assad). But you can't get them to stop supporting Assad, so why bother?
posted by molecicco at 4:01 AM on September 4, 2013


But again, I think the commonly held motivation amongst the people at the top is to ensure Assad's defeat.

If that were true the US would be arming the opposition and trying to tip the scales in their favor... neither of which is true.
In June, the White House authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to help arm moderate fighters battling the Assad regime, a signal to Syrian rebels that the cavalry was coming. Three months later, they are still waiting.

The delay, in part, reflects a broader U.S. approach rarely discussed publicly but that underpins its decision-making, according to former and current U.S. officials: The Obama administration doesn't want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:37 AM on September 4, 2013


I think a lot of what is being argued about in this thread is based on some underlying assumption that everyone in congress, the white house, the CIA, and the NSA all have the same opinions and motivations, which of course they do not. And my wording ("commonly held") reflects that same assumption, which was not my intention.

My take: hardliners, like McCain, want Assad out and they don't care who gets armed in the process. Others may want Assad out and do care who gets armed in the process. Both those groups are probably okay with, and expect, that American troops will eventually be sent it. Others may not want to tip the balance in any direction, but are being drawn into the conflict by the moral argument regarding chemical weapons. And of course, there are a million opinions in between and outside of those three. I think that any intervention will ultimately be co-opted by those first two groups and will continue to escalate. And I don't believe that the stated goals are even acheivable.

I haven't read the entire thread, but did someone address Punkey's comment about how to ensure that blowing up a chemical weapons stockpile won't end up just releasing massive amounts of chemical weapons on everyone in the vicinity of the site? Or is that considered ok?

Since it looks like congress will approve a strike, I very much hope I am woefully wrong about everything.
posted by molecicco at 6:04 AM on September 4, 2013


Syria would have been a complex, ethnically unstable and politically charged nation with a difficult and disrupted history regardless of American interventions in the region. And whatever sins the US has committed in the past towards Syria the argument "your country once did something bad, therefore you're not allowed to have any opinions about anything bad any other country does" isn't terribly persuasive.

Really? Have you ever been to Syria? Do you have any idea what it was like there before the U.S. and its allies started to train, arm, and fund the rebellion? Do you have any friends or family in Syria? Do you honestly think that things would be where they are now without U.S. intervention? Oh wait I forgot the official narrative is that we haven't intervened yet. Also I haven't really seen any arguments that claim we're "not allowed to have any opinions about anything bad any other country does." What I have seen is that people are arguing that more war won't solve any problems and probably just exacerbate the situation which we had a direct hand in creating in the first place.

Maybe the U.S. should keep its nose out of other peoples business and reserve the use of its military for situations where self defense is necessary. But of course the modern American mind is so depraved that it can't imagine a senario where it is not dictating terms to the rest of the world through the use of military force.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:09 AM on September 4, 2013


Do you have any idea what it was like there before the U.S. and its allies started to train, arm, and fund the rebellion?

You seem to have very... purposefully neglected to mention the Arab Spring, the protests, the crushing of those protests, and the support provided to the Assad regime from Iran and then Hezbollah to crush the protests->rebellion.
posted by rosswald at 6:45 AM on September 4, 2013


Exclusive: Former Syria defense minister breaks with Assad-Labwani
Former Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

[...]

If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking Alawite figure to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011.

[...]

Some opposition sources say that Habib disagreed with the use of force against protesters at the start of the revolt in 2011. Those sources say he was dismissed as minister for his opinion about the use of force. He later said he had left the post for health reasons.
posted by rosswald at 7:10 AM on September 4, 2013


You seem to have very... purposefully neglected to mention the Arab Spring, the protests, the crushing of those protests, and the support provided to the Assad regime from Iran and then Hezbollah to crush the protests->rebellion.

Actually I have this very much in mind. The exact same shit went down in Bahrain. In fact Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help put down the protests, but of course Bahrain didn't turn out like Syria because there was no one to pump weapons into the country. For the U.S. government to politically and militarily support the regime of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa while disparaging the regime of Bashar al-Assad seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy. In fact Bahrain and Syria are nice counterpoints as both house naval bases of "great powers." Saudi Arabia actually sent troops into Bahrain to put down the peaceful protests with nary a whimper from the U.S. government, but Assad does the same thing and we begin to arm, train, and fund a rebellion against the regime. Now as a direct result of our actions we are claiming the moral authority, and in fact imperative, to bomb Syria. It seems that "progressives"/democrats are just as susceptible to propaganda as conservatives/republicans.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:19 AM on September 4, 2013


support provided to the Assad regime from Iran and then Hezbollah to crush the protests

As far as I am aware Hezbollah hasn't been used against peaceful protestors, unlike in Bahrain where the ruling regime received military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to put down peaceful protests. Think about that for a second and then ask yourself why we are supporting Bahrain while destabilizing and now threatening to bomb Syria.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2013


You tried to paint the situation in Syria as the sole result of American intervention, got called on it, and started talking about Bahrain. There is truth in what you are saying about hypocrisy, but you are too busy moral-preening to have a conversation with.
posted by rosswald at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You tried to paint the situation in Syria as the sole result of American intervention

Could you please point out to me where I claimed that "the situation in Syria as the sole result of American intervention."

got called on it, and started talking about Bahrain.

There's nothing (except the strawman you constructed) to get called on, and the fact that not one supporter of intervention in Syria wants to take the Bahrain example into account illustrates the sophomoric level of moralizing going on in these threads. I am not "moral-preening" unless by this you mean pointing out inconsistencies in the moralizing of the "humanitarian intervention" crowd. I am not making any absolute moral claims. It is in fact the interventionists who are doing this by continuing the mainstream narrative that it is not only the responsibility, but absolute moral duty, of America to intervene anywhere in the world innocent people are being killed in ways we don't approve of. My moral claims are much more limited in scope, i.e. to the specific situation of Syria and the regional conflagration that it threatens to instigate. But of course the die hard supporters of president Obama will continue to push the chemical weapons/moral responsibility angle while the real reasons for our wish to intervene are, once again, not openly discussed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:54 AM on September 4, 2013


Essentially I guess I subscribe to the idea of the U.S. as Superman. Which, stupid, but when you have people suffering, well, we are kind of as close to a Superman in terms of might that the world's got.

Post WWII, the US and the USSR were the two "superpowers"; a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests.

But post Iraq, post Afghanistan, post econopocalypse, what if the US-as-Superpower age is over and we've stepped down to "great power"? THe USSR is not the dominant superpower it once was. Was a time that the Sun never set on the British Empire.

Nothing lasts forever, and maybe the "American Century" didn't even get a full 100 years. America has tried and failed in Iraq, and is failing in Afghanistan. Why should anyone expect success in Syria?

America-as-Superman is a holdover mentality from a previous century. The Man of Steel in 2013 leaves a wake of death and destruction behind him in pursuit of his vision of "good" (spoilers). Which seems to me to be one of the most apt metaphors for America-as-post-Superpower I can think of.

Except with an imploded economy and a military blunted like a sharp sword beaten against the rocks of Iraq & Afghanistan, maybe all we can achieve is the death & destruction part, and not so much on the "happy, smiley outcomes" front.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:54: Could you please point out to me where I claimed that "the situation in Syria as the sole result of American intervention.

posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:09 AM: Really? Have you ever been to Syria? Do you have any idea what it was like there before the U.S. and its allies started to train, arm, and fund the rebellion? Do you have any friends or family in Syria?


I don't know how else to interpret what you said at 9:09 other than 'Syria was one way before the US intervened, and now it is another because of the US and its allies'. You mention no other reasons for the current situation.

And despite you bringing up Bahrain at least a half-dozen times in the various Syria threads, people aren't biting because it isn't as directly relevant as you seem to think.

If the USA nuked Bahrain tomorrow, killed everyone, Syria would still be a problem and we would still be facing a choice of whether to intervene or not.
posted by rosswald at 8:16 AM on September 4, 2013


I don't know how else to interpret what you said at 9:09 other than 'Syria was one way before the US intervened, and now it is another because of the US and its allies'.

That would seem to be an accurate interpretation. The fact that you then take the extra leap to assume that I would admit no other causative actors is confusing, though.

You mention no other reasons for the current situation.

That's because I didn't think I had to mention Bashar al-Assad's butchery, as anyone who has been following the situation in the MSM would be aware of this fact....not so much the U.S. intervention.

And despite you bringing up Bahrain at least a half-dozen times in the various Syria threads, people aren't biting because it isn't as directly relevant as you seem to think.

How is it not relevant? It would seem to be pretty god damned relevant given that almost exactly the same repression of the Arab Spring happened in both Syria and Bahrain, but the U.S. decided to foment rebellion in one and not the other. The U.S. government seems to be in the game of dictating to the Arab world which totalitarian regimes are "legitimate" and which ones are not.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:37 AM on September 4, 2013


Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Gaddafi

Well I guess Libya was a success for Team America World Police. Love to see what you can do in Syria with a little humanitarian bombing!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:38 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Well I guess Libya was a success for Team America World Police

Eh, the effort against Libya was an actual multinational coalition. I'm not sold on any bombing actions, but let's not be overly facile about this.
posted by planetesimal at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please contact your representatives with your opinions on how we should proceed. My newly blue district's representative is requesting input via FB and email, and the FB posts are overwhelmingly of one opinion. If you don't let them know your opinion then your voice is even more silenced than it already is.

Probably naive, but take a few minutes out of your arguing to let them know.
posted by Big_B at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Essentially I guess I subscribe to the idea of the U.S. as Superman.

I think Don Quixote may be closer to reality.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:50 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh, the effort against Libya was an actual multinational coalition. I'm not sold on any bombing actions, but let's not be overly facile about this.

That's true, but the Libya campaign could never have been accomplished without American support, and besides, it's aim was decapitation and regime change, something your President Obama has been talking about over the past few days as a war aim for Syria.

So, yeah, Libya was a coalition effort, but everything stopped after the air campaign ended. The same thing will happen in Syria. The result? Chaos and mayhem like we see in Libya. Chaos and mayhem like we see in Iraq.

Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2013




Stephen Zunes - Eight Arguments Against Going to War With Syria
Despite the horrific repression by the Syrian regime, the government still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given the growing influence of Salafi extremists among the rebels. Whatever strategic losses the Syrian regime may suffer from a US attack could be more than made up by political gains. President Bashar Assad and his father have for decades successfully manipulated the Syrian people's strong sense of nationalism into support for their rule. US support for the 46 years of Israeli occupation of the southwestern part of their country and the US role in pressuring the Israelis to reject a 2007 Syrian peace offer has led to enormous resentment, even by opponents of the regime. The repeated attacks by US Navy jets of Syrian positions in Lebanon during 1983-84 and the raid by US army commandoes on a border village in eastern Syria in 2008, which killed a number of civilians, also resulted in a nationalist reaction of closing ranks around the regime, which would be even stronger in the event of the much larger attack being considered. Any time a country is attacked from the outside, there is a rallying-around-the-flag effect. This would be particularly true in Syria, where the regime has convinced millions of Syrians and others that - despite its horrific repression - it is the last noble bastion of secular Arab nationalism resisting both Islamist extremism and Western imperialism. A US attack would play right into that narrative.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:09 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's true, but the Libya campaign could never have been accomplished without American support, and besides, it's aim was decapitation and regime change, something your President Obama has been talking about over the past few days as a war aim for Syria.

This is a typo, right? President Obama has certainly not been talking about "decapitation and regime change" "as a war aim" in Syria.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:42 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a typo, right? President Obama has certainly not been talking about "decapitation and regime change" "as a war aim" in Syria.

Yeah that's exactly why they are funding, arming, and training the rebels trying to overthrow Assad...because the overthrow of Assad is not an "aim" of the U.S. government. Makes perfect sense.

Seriously do people's heads ever hurt from all the cognitive dissonance?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:54 AM on September 4, 2013


'I didn't set a red line. The world did'.
Can anyone pull up the Red Line quote please.
posted by adamvasco at 11:56 AM on September 4, 2013


Sure.

I will not sacrifice the Syrian people. We've made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade rebel neighborhoods and the rebels fall back. They bomb entire towns and the opposition fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And *I* will make them pay for what they've done!
posted by Drinky Die at 12:14 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


So Mr Obama is being slightly economical with the truth then.
posted by adamvasco at 12:19 PM on September 4, 2013


Yeah that's exactly why they are funding, arming, and training the rebels trying to overthrow Assad...because the overthrow of Assad is not an "aim" of the U.S. government. Makes perfect sense.

U.S. Still Hasn't Armed Syrian Rebels
posted by BobbyVan at 12:53 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The language just out of the Senate committee seems to be interested in more than holding a line against chemical weapons usage:
The McCain-Coons language noted “absent decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria, sufficient incentives do not yet exist” to force a political settlement of the Syrian civil war. It also reiterated that “it is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria,” urging “a comprehensive U.S. strategy” to not only degrade the regime’s weapons of mass destruction but also to upgrade the military capabilities of “elements of the Syrian opposition.”
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:58 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best case scenario: the McCain addition secures a "no" vote.
posted by molecicco at 1:00 PM on September 4, 2013


Better check that out again BobbyVan
Mr Obama said that a 50-man cell, believed to have been trained by US special forces in Jordan, was making its way across the border into Syria.
posted by adamvasco at 1:01 PM on September 4, 2013


Mr Obama said that a 50-man cell, believed to have been trained by US special forces in Jordan, was making its way across the border into Syria.

From the article you link to:
The deployment of the rebel unit seems to be the first tangible measure of support since Mr Obama announced in June that the US would begin providing the opposition with small arms.
Yeah, those 50 people--the first rebels the US has trained since June really prove how this whole rebellion is entirely a US created affair. It's like how the few million bucks the US is putting into supporting a tiny fraction of the rebels also dwarves the (literal) billions of dollars being provided to the rebels by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

For Christ's sake: just because the US is trying half-heartedly to bolster the "non-Islamist" forces in an ongoing rebellion does not mean that the rebellion is somehow a wholly-owned US operation. There is no secret at all about the extent of US involvement in the rebellion: everyone knows that it is extremely minor and the rebels are mostly highly pissed off with the US for their failure to commit.

The language just out of the Senate committee seems to be interested in more than holding a line against chemical weapons usage:


Yes, because McCain is on that committee. McCain has been railing against the administration for months because he wants the US to get seriously involved in supporting the Syrian rebels. Why is he railing against the administration? Because he is not getting what he wants.
posted by yoink at 1:14 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]




Yes, because McCain is on that committee. McCain has been railing against the administration for months because he wants the US to get seriously involved in supporting the Syrian rebels. Why is he railing against the administration? Because he is not getting what he wants.

McCain can rail against whatever he wants. The actual language used in whatever law eventually passed, if any, has consequences beyond politics. Obama says a limited use of military force is necessary to respond to chemical weapons use. If Congress considers approving a broader scope of military action, such proposals deserve just as much critical scrutiny as the president's initial proposal.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2013


I don't take the amount of aid provided to the Syrian rebels as a clear indication that the U.S. government wants Assad out of power. I think that the U.S. has been providing half-hearted support because it wants the war to continue and hopes to provide just enough aid to keep the rebels fighting. This war weakens Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran, but an actual win by the rebels could bring islamist forces to power, so a prolonged civil war could be seen by short-sighted national security policymakers in Washington as a positive. So, the CIA trains a limited number of rebels and we do some cooperating with Turkey and some Arab allies in connection with their efforts to arm the rebels.

I mean, sure, the U.S. would want Assad out of power if they could be guaranteed that he'd be replaced by someone who is credible to Syrians and friendly to the U.S., but what are the chances that would happen?

(I'm not endorsing this course of action. I think trying to keep a brutal civil war going is wrong both morally and stragetically. Morally for obvious reasons and strategically because prolonged brutal wars create tremendous instability and radicalize people. Trying to promote one is playing with fire. I think the U.S. should just keep out of the conflict altogether. I'm just saying that I think that's what is actually happening.)
posted by Area Man at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


God knows that the US hardly has clean hands when it comes to any country in the middle east

Funding, directing, and directly participating in wars that kill hundreds of thousands and displace millions is a bit more than dirty hands, isn't it?

but there is a bizarre kind of "America is everything" blinkeredness here that is shared by both the "America can do no right" brigade AND the "America can do no wrong" brigade. Syria was not some happy, stable paradise into which America blundered and then fucked everything up for the fun of it.

You know, there's a reason we don't have these discussions about Denmark. It's because Denmark did not spend a great majority of the post war period performing coups in sovereign nations, selling weapons to madmen (and then trying to disarm them), or fighting proxy wars against the Russians (or the Iranians.) America has been making the choice to stay active in Middle Eastern geopolitics, often by shipping and supplying millions of tons and billions of dollars worth of military hardware to whatever regime is pleasing us that week. (For example: Gaddafi in 2008 and Gaddafi in 2012; Saddam in 1990 and Saddam in 1992; Iran in 1977 and Iran in 1980.)

Yes, America has played lots of big-power politics in Syria

America has invaded and occupied neighboring states, overthrown the Syrian government twice, and the CIA was so dumb that they also got caught multiple times before each particular coup could be attempted. I would say a few decades of instability might have had something to do with the radicalization of their government. It mirrors what happened in Iran after our coup and the revolution that ejected our puppet government there.

but it's extremely debatable whether or not Zaim's coup in 49 wouldn't have gone ahead with or without American support and it's highly likely that if Zaim hadn't lead a coup any one of a dozen other military leaders would have (including those whose own coups followed hard upon Zaim's). It's certainly false to portray Zaim as some kind of puppet of American power, which was never so strong in Syria as to be able to dictate the course the country's history took.
Deane Hinton, who was working in the US legation at the time of Quwatli's overthrow, insisted his dissenting view be put on record and presciently remarked that the coup was "the stupidest, most irresponsible action a diplomatic mission like ours could get itself involved in, and that we've started a series of these things that will never end." As a result Hinton was ejected from the plotter's group and ostracised.
From Za'im's WikiPedia entry:
On April 11, 1949, al-Za'im seized power in a bloodless coup d'état. The coup, according to declassified records and statements by former CIA agents, was sponsored by the United States CIA. Syria's President, Shukri al-Kuwatli, was briefly imprisoned, but then released into exile in Egypt. Al-Za'im also imprisoned many political leaders, such as Munir al-Ajlani, whom he accused of conspiring to overthrow the republic. The coup was carried out with discreet backing of the American embassy, and possibly assisted by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, although al-Za'im himself is not known to have been a member. Among the officers that assisted al-Za'ims takeover was Adib al-Shishakli and Sami al-Hinnawi, both of whom would later become military leaders of the country.

Al-Za'im's takeover, the first military coup in the history of Syria, would have lasting effects, as it shattered the country's fragile and flawed democratic rule, and set off a series of increasingly violent military revolts. Two more would follow in 1949.
Syria would have been a complex, ethnically unstable and politically charged nation with a difficult and disrupted history regardless of American interventions in the region. And whatever sins the US has committed in the past towards Syria the argument "your country once did something bad, therefore you're not allowed to have any opinions about anything bad any other country does" isn't terribly persuasive.

Syria has received millions of refugees from Iraq. It's not that America can't have opinions on things, but when those opinions are backed by the performance of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Syrian revolution itself, it means that no one is going to care about your opinion because it is meaningless. Doubly so for anyone aware of all of the chemical attacks performed by Saddam Hussein while he was on our payroll. We didn't invade after Saddam used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War. We blocked the UN from discussing it.

If Assad was on team USA, it wouldn't be news. I know this because when Saddam killed thousands with chemical weapons while he was on team USA, it wasn't news.

Unfortunately for us, everyone in the Middle East is painfully aware of these events. The problem is that the State Department and the Pentagon haven't recognized that after our spectacular catastrophes in the area, any hardline government with a decent economic situation embraced security (just as the USA did) and is now stronger than ever.

What is most bizarre about this is that two things are never mentioned: one, the United States has no right under any law to interfere with the internal affairs of any other nation. Second, as late as 2012, 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay in power.

But what am I thinking, talking about law and the opinion of Syrians on the subject of Syrian Democracy. I think Kerry is about to give us another stirring speech about our solemn moral duty to oppose Assad.

I don't want to miss it.
posted by deanklear at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


As late as almost two years ago, a poll showed... That was pretty shoddy. Sorry.
posted by raysmj at 2:04 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in 1983 (when apparently govt. sources apparently first knew about Iraq gas attacks, according to Foreign Policy; by 1988, the public WAS hearing about gas attacks, particularly the Kurdish attack of '88), Reagan was president. What bearing does that have on things now? No one from the Reagan administration is office now, no one from that admin. works for Obama in international relations, I don't think. And there's probably no one to hardly anyone left in the intelligence and military sectors from the same era.

Yes, the past is forever with us, but bringing this up now does not count as insight, in and of itself.
posted by raysmj at 2:15 PM on September 4, 2013


We blocked the UN from discussing it.

Did you read your own link? The cable you post there isn't about "blocking the UN from discussing" anything. It includes, in fact, an explicit condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq:
The United States has concluded that the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons. The United States strongly condemns the prohibited use of chemical weapons wherever it occurs. There can be no justification for their use by any country.
That's the State Department's official public statement. All the cable you've linked to does is instruct the US delegation to work against an Iranian resolution condemning Iraq and instead to push for a motion that the UN takes no position on the Iranian resolution. There's no attempt at a "cover up" there or a refusal to accept or allow discussion of the fact that Iraq used chemical weapons. You seem to think they should have done more than that, and I definitely agree with that; but I'm not quite sure why "the US was bad in not being more active in responding to the use of chemical weapons in the 1980s" (before the Convention on Chemical Weapons had even been signed, mind you) is somehow meant to be an argument that "the US should do nothing at all about chemical weapons now"?

If Assad was on team USA, it wouldn't be news. I know this because when Saddam killed thousands with chemical weapons while he was on team USA, it wasn't news.

Except that it was. Go have a look at the multiple news reports in the NYT database if you doubt me. Not only that, while Reagan was still President and still buddying up to Saddam Hussein, the administration explicitly condemned the use of chemical weapons (yeah, they were culpably slow to do so, but again, if that pisses you off I can't quite see how that's an argument in favor of inaction now). Here's some excerpts from a BIG article in the NYT from Sept. 9, 1988:
The United States said today that it was convinced Iraq had used poison gas against Kurdish guerrillas and condemned the action as ''abhorrent and unjustifiable.''

...

Since 1984 in its war against Iran, Iraq has been accused of using mustard gas, which burns, blisters and blackens the skin and can be lethal if inhaled. Iraq also has used, to a lesser extent, a lethal nerve gas called Tabun, which prompts convulsions and foaming and bleeding at the mouth before death. Cyanide gas also has been used by both sides in the war.

The State Department spokesman, Charles E. Redman, said the United States was certain of Iraq's use of such weapons within its own borders.

''As a result of our evaluation of the situation, the United States Government is convinced that Iraq has used chemical weapons in its military campaign against Kurdish guerrillas,'' Mr. Redman said. ''Any use in this context is abhorrent and unjustifiable.''

...

Secretary of State George P. Shultz met privatley today with Saadun Hammadi, Iraq's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and raised American concerns about Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

Mr. Redman said after the hourlong session: ''The Secretary stressed to Dr. Hammadi that we attach great importance to the further development of our relationship with Iraq, but that we do not intend to pursue this course if illegal Iraqi use of chemical weapons and other human rights abuses continue.''

...

In Congress, Senator Claiborne Pell characterized the Iraqi attacks as ''genocide.'' Tonight, he introduced legislation calling for punitive sanctions against Iraq, such as a halt to Federally backed commodity credits and other loan guarantees, and a ban on oil imports from that country.

It is unclear whether Congress, which faces a crowded legislative calendar, will take up the measure before it adjourns in early October. Such action almost certainly would prompt opposition from the Administration, which has stopped short of calling Iraq's offensive against the Kurds genocide, a Senate aide said. No similar measure was proposed in the House.

A State Department official said the Administration had not seen the proposal by Senator Pell, a Rhode Island Democrat, and declined to comment on it.

Use of any chemical weapon is considered a clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, but officials at the State Department and the White House, speaking privately, said there were technical ambiguities in international law regarding the use of such weapons by a sovereign nation within its own borders.

''There's nothing in international law that prohibits that,'' said an Administration official. But he added that the United States could, had and would condemn the action on human rights and moral grounds alone.

Although the Administration believes the protocol's other provisions allow for a strong case that internal use of such weapons violate the Geneva accords, he said, ''There's not much we can do.''
So even when we were buddying up to Iraq we recognized that the use of chemical weapons was morally abhorrent and that the US would be rightly condemned in world opinion if we simply turned a blind eye to it. And, again, note that in the evolving norms of International Law, all of this was prior to the codification and signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1994. There is every reason for responses to the use of chemical weapons to be more pronounced and vigorous now than they were then.

As for Zaim: Wikipedia, really? Look, as I said, the US undoubtedly played some role in Zaim's coup--at the very least they told him that he'd have US political support if he went for it. But it's a long, long, long way from that to proving that but for US involvement there would have been no coup. The US saw an opportunity in a time of immense upheaval and political instability; they didn't give Zaim any significant resources, they simply said "we'll be best friends if you go through with it." I think it's an extraordinary leap of faith to assume that but for that Syria's elected government would have remained tranquilly in power for the foreseeable future.
posted by yoink at 2:16 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


America has tried and failed in Iraq, and is failing in Afghanistan. Why should anyone expect success in Syria?

America didn't fail in Kosovo, nor in Libya. The difference? The U.S. didn't attempt to nation-build.

So, yeah, Libya was a coalition effort, but everything stopped after the air campaign ended. The same thing will happen in Syria. The result? Chaos and mayhem like we see in Libya. Chaos and mayhem like we see in Iraq.

How is that any different from status quo in Syria, though?
posted by Apocryphon at 2:16 PM on September 4, 2013


I think that the U.S. has been providing half-hearted support because it wants the war to continue and hopes to provide just enough aid to keep the rebels fighting.

The US has not been providing enough support to make a material difference to the outcome of the war one way or the other. The only reason the US is providing any support at all is to try to provide a sop to the chorus of outrage that arose when it was doing nothing. Syria is one of those world events where whatever the administration does public opinion is agin it. When they failed to respond to the first use of gas in Syria there was nothing but howls of outrage about how they were failing to live up to their "red line" claims. When they want to respond to this latest use of gas there's nothing but howls of outrage about getting us entangled in the civil war. It was positively hilarious to read the tone of media coverage prior to Obama's decision to consult Congress switching from "how DARE he take this step without consulting congress" to "what a WEAKLING he is for bothering to consult congress!" overnight. When the US failed to jump into the Syrian civil war initially there was nothing but "OMG, they don't care about the Arab Spring, they don't care about Syrians!" as soon as they grudgingly said, "o.k. we'll see if we can find some half-way trustworthy people to help" it's "OMG, they're getting us entangled in another war in the Middle East!!!"

What the State Department wants is some kind of negotiated settlement that will reign in the violence. They don't want the war prolonged and it's false to suggest that anyone thinks that it is in the US interest for the war to be prolonged (important US allies in the region are being badly destabilized by the refugee crisis, for one thing). The problem is that there's no credible representative among the rebels for Assad to negotiate with. So we're left, once again, with a whole bunch of bad options.
posted by yoink at 2:25 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]




The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn't want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week. The administration doesn't want U.S. airstrikes, for example, tipping the balance of the conflict because it fears Islamists will fill the void if the Assad regime falls, according to briefing participants, which included lawmakers and their aides.

....

Some congressional officials said they were concerned the administration was edging closer to an approach privately advocated by Israel. Israeli officials have told their American counterparts they would be happy to see its enemies Iran, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and al Qaeda militants fight until they are weakened, giving moderate rebel forces a chance to play a bigger role in Syria's future.


Source.
(That's a WSJ link. I don't know how their paywall works.)

I'm not in the Whitehouse, so I don't know what people there are privately thinking and saying, but I think my theory fits with the evidence as well as anything else.
posted by Area Man at 2:43 PM on September 4, 2013


U.S. Still Hasn't Armed Syrian Rebels

NATO vs. Syria

Obama Secret Syria Order Authorizes Support For Rebels

C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition


AE, it would help if you would actually read the things you link, rather than just desperately scanning articles for anything that says "US" and "Syria" and assuming that so long as the US does anything at all this is somehow PROOF! that the whole rebellion is a US plot against that sweet, lovely man Assad.

Your first link (from a source I would imagine that in all other contexts you'd despise) maintains: "the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause." I.e., not arms.

Your second link maintains: "The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that." You know: not arms.

Your third link--the most promising one from the headline, which was clearly all you read--says this: "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...The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so." In other words, the CIA is helping non-US nations determine which parties those non-US nations should give arms to--the US, itself, was not giving arms to anyone at that point.

So, yeah, that's three articles all of which support BobbyVan's point.
posted by yoink at 2:51 PM on September 4, 2013


I'm not in the Whitehouse, so I don't know what people there are privately thinking and saying

The article you link to announces fears by some congressional officials that the US may be "edging closer" to the approach you described. That means that it is the considered opinion of those congressional officials that that is not the current position of the White House and the considered opinion of the majority that it is not where they're headed either. It's not a piece that supports your theory.
posted by yoink at 2:53 PM on September 4, 2013




As late as almost two years ago, a poll showed... That was pretty shoddy. Sorry.

That's the ridiculous state of the world. There are no polls because regime change in Syria has nothing to do with Syrian opinion. It's also probably too unstable to conduct a meaningful poll anymore, as the situation has deteriorated since 2012. But it seems as if support for Assad has gone up:
The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent
of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.
Did you read your own link? The cable you post there isn't about "blocking the UN from discussing" anything.

It is... read the part between the words CONFIDENTIAL.

It includes, in fact, an explicit condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq:

The United States has concluded that the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons. The United States strongly condemns the prohibited use of chemical weapons wherever it occurs. There can be no justification for their use by any country.


Okay then. So we're issuing an explicit condemnation on Assad, and then we're going to continue selling him weapons, providing him with money, weapons, training, and US intelligence? Right?

No, we're condemning him and preparing to invade or at least destroy half of Syria to teach Assad a lesson. Why did Saddam get loan approvals instead of regime change in 1989?

So even when we were buddying up to Iraq we recognized that the use of chemical weapons was morally abhorrent and that the US would be rightly condemned in world opinion if we simply turned a blind eye to it. And, again, note that in the evolving norms of International Law, all of this was prior to the codification and signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1994. There is every reason for responses to the use of chemical weapons to be more pronounced and vigorous now than they were then.

Yes, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the US policy for Syria is "Regime Change" and for most of the rest of the world -- regardless of the violence there, as millions dead in the Congo can attest -- "Who Gives A Shit."

As for Zaim: Wikipedia, really? Look, as I said, the US undoubtedly played some role in Zaim's coup--at the very least they told him that he'd have US political support if he went for it. But it's a long, long, long way from that to proving that but for US involvement there would have been no coup. The US saw an opportunity in a time of immense upheaval and political instability; they didn't give Zaim any significant resources, they simply said "we'll be best friends if you go through with it." I think it's an extraordinary leap of faith to assume that but for that Syria's elected government would have remained tranquilly in power for the foreseeable future.

No, that is what happened:
Violent anti-U.S., anti-Israeli demonstrations in November 1948, forced Prime Minister Mardam to resign. He was succeeded by Khalid al- Azm. During this crisis, CIA operative Stephen Meade, made contact with right-wing Syrian army officers.

Declassified records confirm that beginning in November 1948, Meade met secretly with Syrian Army Chief of Staff Col. Husni Zaim at least six times to discuss the “possibility [of an] army supported dictatorship.” U.S. officials realized that Zaim was a “‘Banana Republic’ dictator type” with a “strong anti-Soviet attitude.”

Meade and Zaim completed plans for the coup in early 1949. On 14 March, Zaim “requested U.S. agents [to] provoke and abet internal disturbances ‘essential for coup d’etat’ or that U.S. funds be given him [for] this purpose.” Nine days later, Zaim “promised a ‘surprise’ within several days” if Meade could secure U.S. help. As rumors of a military coup grew stronger, Assistant Secretary of State George McGhee arrived in Damascus, ostensibly to discuss resettling Palestinian refugees but possibly to authorize U.S. support for Zaim. Shortly thereafter, students protesting government corruption and mishandling of the war with Israel took to the streets. On 30 March, Zaim staged his coup, arrested Quwatly and suspended the constitution. Meade reported on 15 April that “over 400 Commies [in] all parts of Syria have been arrested.”

Zaim’s performance far exceeded Washington’s expectations. On 28 April, he told the U.S. ambassador that Syria was resuming peace talks with Israel and would consider resettling 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. On 16 May, Zaim approved ARAMCO’s TAPLINE. Two weeks later he banned the Communist Party and jailed dozens of left-wing dissidents. In July, he signed a Syro-Israeli armistice. Zaim anticipated swift U.S. approval for $100 million in military and economic aid. However, on 14 August, Zaim was overthrown and executed by Col. Sami Hinnawi.
Those records are mostly declassified. That's the story according to our records.
posted by deanklear at 2:56 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, we're condemning him and preparing to invade or at least destroy half of Syria to teach Assad a lesson. Why did Saddam get loan approvals instead of regime change in 1989?

So you think Reagan's response to Saddam was a good thing and we should emulate him? Is that your point?

Meade and Zaim completed plans for the coup in early 1949. On 14 March, Zaim “requested U.S. agents [to] provoke and abet internal disturbances ‘essential for coup d’etat’ or that U.S. funds be given him [for] this purpose.” Nine days later, Zaim “promised a ‘surprise’ within several days” if Meade could secure U.S. help. As rumors of a military coup grew stronger, Assistant Secretary of State George McGhee arrived in Damascus, ostensibly to discuss resettling Palestinian refugees but possibly to authorize U.S. support for Zaim.


What part of that do you think conflicts with my statement? Zaim "requested" stuff but he acted long before any meaningful response could be made to his "requests." And McGhee "possibly" authorizing US support is a pretty weak claim, and it seems to be the strongest claim the available evidence allows. But hey, why not grant the "possibility." All it amounts to is the US saying to Zaim "sure, go ahead, we'll be your best buds!" Zaim was already a military hero in Syria who was able to successfully bring off a bloodless coup by doing little more than saying "I'm the new president!" We're not talking about a situation where absent US action the coup is obviously off the table. Heck, it's not even clear that absent US action it would have happened a day later than it did. This is not parallel to, say, the overthrow of Mossadegh.
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


America has tried and failed in Iraq, and is failing in Afghanistan. Why should anyone expect success in Syria?

America didn't fail in Kosovo, nor in Libya. The difference? The U.S. didn't attempt to nation-build.


Larry Wilkerson, fmr Chief of Staff to Sec of State Colin Powell:
I do not see any way, as General Dempsey pointed out, any way that you get anything other than what, for example--and we just walked right over this--what we have in Libya today, which is a haven for al-Qaeda, which has transferred al-Qaeda into the northern part of Mali and caused that state to become unstable, caused us to have to place a drone outfit in that region, for example, widening the so-called war on terror, not narrowing it, not eliminating it, keeping us in a constant state of warfare. So Libya is no example to use.

For that matter, people are throwing Kosovo out. Kosovo is no example to use. Kosovo's GDP right now is 90 percent criminality--trafficking in humans, in drugs, in arms, much the same way Albania, its sister state over there, is. So these great examples of humanitarian intervention over the last few years are not very positive examples.

And Syria, I think, would trump them tenfold. It'd be much worse. We don't know who's going to control Syria. And we're not about to put boots on the ground and occupy that place for ten or 12 years to ensure that whoever controls it, to ensure that their interests are compatible with Israel's and others'.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:32 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm interested to see so much support from Metafilter's most chest-thumping lefties for the "keep a strong man in power at all costs; stability is all" theory of foreign policy. I guess it's no wonder that Reagan is being held up as the beaux ideal of American foreign policy practice.
posted by yoink at 3:56 PM on September 4, 2013


Kosovo's GDP right now is 90 percent criminality--trafficking in humans, in drugs, in arms, much the same way Albania, its sister state over there, is.

Yeah, pity we didn't just let the Serbians slaughter them all; that would have really solved that criminality problem nicely.
posted by yoink at 4:03 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess the US should give up on its time-machine-to-kill-Hitler plan, because, you know, Bahrain. /godwin
posted by rosswald at 4:20 PM on September 4, 2013


Watching this whole thing is like something out of the theater of the absurd. People are seriously discussing how we're interfering "only a little", and how our past depredations were exaggerated, and besides which it's all ancient history and we're really the good guys because we only propose to lob a few missiles and will refrain - at least for now - from invading, and oh what are you complaining about, because "U.S." and "interference" go together like cold and ice. What kind of a worldview is it, where it is somehow a law of gravity that we must, just must interfere and foment and overthrow - OK, OK, we won't invade! Promise (kinda)! But, but, but can't we do a little fucking at least? How about just a tiny bit, how about just a few missiles? It's like a drug addict pleading for the scrapings at the bottom of a crack pipe.

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...The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.

Gosh, what's to complain about? I mean, it's hallmark-card adorable, by the standards of what we can do when we really go to town! Whew, you guys are soooo lucky! We've become so habituated to U.S. fuckery all over the world, that it's as noteworthy as remarking on the fact that the great white is not a vegetarian. What if we substituted "Danish Secret Service" for C.I.A?

"A small number of Danish Secret Service 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...The Helle Thorning-Schmidt administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so."

We'd all be on the floor picking up our jaws as best we can. And dog forbid if we turned the tables:

"A small number of KGB officers are operating secretly in northern Mexico, helping North Korea and Cuba decide which American opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the U.S. government...The Putin administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that their allies would do so."

I don't think we'd be waiting for "just a few missiles" to hit U.S. military targets, before there would be WWIII around the corner.

So what double standard? The only way this can go on at all, and people can talk as if it's the most normal thing in the world to do this to a sovereign country is if we completely internalized that the U.S. is expected to act like a villain, because, well, that's what a capo di tutti capi does by his very nature, and all we are talking about now is just the details: exactly how many kneecaps he'll break, and who has to die and who has to pay to stay alive - he's not doing charity, you know (except when he distributes Thanksgiving turkeys in the neighborhood).

And I do love the furious "it's all in the past" assurances when the wretched history of our crimes across decades is brought up. "It's all irrelevant, promise! There's a new, gentler kinder capo in town!". One of my favorite movies (What?) has a nice scene with Marcello Mastroianni that reminds me of this. Marcello's character is asked by a wide-eyed Sydne Rome if it's true that he's a pimp. Marcello responds, that it's true he used to be a pimp, but he only had 4 girls working for him ('but all hard workers, mind you!'), but eh... he scratches himself in on the back, a dreamy expression on his face "but no more, it's all done and over with, a long time ago... six, maybe seven months ago".

The disaster of Iraq next door, which we are wholly responsible for, is in full swing, and deteriorating sharply, a river of refugees escaping the chaos there has poured into Syria, completely overwhelming all humanitarian resources, we're stationing agents and spies right across the borders coordinating, advising, directing - but hey! There's a new capo in town! The past, ehh, it's a long time ago, we're no longer the pimp, at best, we're the pimp helpers, we hold the legs and direct our "allies" where to put what for the desired effect. C'mon, kinder and gentler, gang! Whatchya complaining about? And if we need a few missiles here and there, who is counting?

Non-interference - what a concept! For the U.S.?! Next you'll be telling us it's fried snowballs on the menu! Unpossible!

Cue talk by Serious People about the obvious demands of real-politik, and how of course, yes, that's the Nature Of Reality, and the U.S. is the designated power by a Law of Universal Interference, and it really can't be helped.
posted by VikingSword at 4:23 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


>Your first link (from a source I would imagine that in all other contexts you'd despise) maintains: "the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause." I.e., not arms.

Did you miss the first sentence of the paragraph you quoted? It says:

Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals

Last time I checked the U.S. was a part of NATO, so it seems that we have been arming the rebels since late 2011

Your second link maintains: "The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that." You know: not arms.

This link was provided to back up my claim that the aim of the U.S. government is to oust Assad, which it does when it says:

Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

Your third link--the most promising one

Was provided to illustrate that even the mouthpiece of the establishment, the NYT, is admitting that there are CIA agents operating in Syria. It's pretty cute that you take the government at it's word that it is diligently trying to make sure that the weapons don't fall into the wrong hands. Yep that's all the CIA officers are doing, nothing to see here. Oh wait that other article said the they are providing logistics and intelligence support. Oh well that's no big deal, right? The rebels could totally survive without logistical and intelligence support from the most advanced military and intelligence force in the world. No biggie.

AE, it would help if you would actually read the things you link, rather than just desperately scanning articles for anything that says "US" and "Syria" and assuming that so long as the US does anything at all this is somehow PROOF! that the whole rebellion is a US plot against that sweet, lovely man Assad.

yoink it would help if you would actually read the things I link to and the context of the comment I was responding to, rather than desperately attempting to paint every action of the U.S. government in the best possible light and assuming that so long as the U.S. has plausible deniability the majority of people will eat up the mainstream narrative.

Also, who has said that Assad is lovely or sweet? Are you trying to imply that I support the Assad regime? Just to be clear I would hope that every nation in the Middle east be freed from the oppressive authoritarian regimes which are for the most part creations and/or remnants of European colonial adventures. But I don't think that the U.S. bombing another Middle Eastern country is a good idea at this point in time, nor do I think that we should be trying to export democracy anymore as our recent adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya illustrate the futility of this approach.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:42 PM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm interested to see so much support from Metafilter's most chest-thumping lefties for the "keep a strong man in power at all costs; stability is all" theory of foreign policy. I guess it's no wonder that Reagan is being held up as the beaux ideal of American foreign policy practice.

Why do insist on constantly constructing the most elaborate strawmen possible. This is a really dishonest interpretation of what has been argued by the "chest-thumping lefties" (what ever the fuck this is supposed to mean) and really deserves an apology. I don't think that anyone here supports the Assad regime and to suggest that anyone does is pretty shitty.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


how our past depredations were exaggerated, and besides which it's all ancient history and we're really the good guys because we only propose to lob a few missiles and will refrain

Who was arguing that? I just don't think bringing up Reagan admin actions from 1983 AGAIN gave me any insight into the current situation, especially when brought out by people who were all of five or whatever at the time (I was 16, for the record, and I don't consider myself to be ancient).
posted by raysmj at 4:48 PM on September 4, 2013


Reagan's people wanted closer relations with Iraq for amoral Cold War purposes. Can you relate that to the current proposal for intervention in Syria? His people were anti-communist ideologues, who also went against Congressional law and sold arms to Iran (around the same time as trying to get cozy with Iraq) in exchange for money to support the Contra rebels. All they cared about were Commies, really. So ... How to relate that to the present situation? It makes for a bad context to present actions, casts a shadow over stuff, but the context isn't the same.

Now, is liberal interventionism (which Reagan's people weren't into--see, the refusal to support sanctions against South Africa over apartheid, reluctance to go against the Marcos regime) what's driving Obama, by contract? Or it's just all anti-terror strategy? Or is the exploration of gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean more important?

(I think Congressional relations are involved here too, a power politics, divide-and-conquer thing.)
posted by raysmj at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2013


"...and really deserves an apology. I don't think that anyone here supports the Assad regime and to suggest that anyone does is pretty shitty."

Really? From the person who's written, in this thread, the following sentences characterizing his interlocutors?
"It seems that 'progressives'/democrats are just as susceptible to propaganda as conservatives/republicans."

"...the sophomoric level of moralizing going on in these threads..."

"Seriously do people's heads ever hurt from all the cognitive dissonance?"
I suggest that if you wish to be shown respectful consideration and to not be targeted by pejorative hyperbole, you might try engaging with others accordingly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:09 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


(by contrast, I meant, above. I'd read nada about the gas exploration before reading that Foreign Affairs article, btw, but read here and elswhere about Reagan in the '80s about 800 times.)
posted by raysmj at 5:10 PM on September 4, 2013


In other news: Raytheon shares hit record highs on Syria war talk
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:30 PM on September 4, 2013


I just don't think bringing up Reagan admin actions from 1983 AGAIN gave me any insight into the current situation, especially when brought out by people who were all of five or whatever at the time (I was 16, for the record, and I don't consider myself to be ancient).

Yes, of course, because anything outside of the direct memory of today's 30 year olds has no relevance to the situation today. If only history worked that way.

What happened on Reagan's watch - and what happened under other presidents before him set up what happened later right up to today. That's basic history, as we never really stopped interfering in the region, ever since WWII until this very moment.

But actually this is not even my point at all in this instance. You cited a sentence from my post, but I personally wasn't referencing Reagan and other such "ancient" history. I was referencing the disaster next door - Iraq. I also referenced the refugees from Iraq, who poured into Syria. Just between 2003 and 2006 over a million Iraqi refugees fled to Syria.

Do you have any idea what a million Iraqi refugees meant for the infrastructure and economy of Syria? Even for basic things "like oil, heat, water and electricity were said to be becoming more scarce as demand had gone up.".

Syria is not a wealthy country. And we who are infinitely wealthier as a country, we who were actually responsible for this disaster, how many Iraqi refugees did we take in? "According to Washington-based Refugees International the U.S. has admitted fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees since the invasion, Sweden had accepted 18,000 and Australia had resettled almost 6,000."

800 is a rounding error compared to the million Syria had to deal with. Even tiny Sweden did better by factors than the U.S., and they somehow managed to avoid military action in Iraq. But all those numbers still pale in comparison to what Syria had to deal with.

The impact on the economy of Syria was destabilizing - and of course the U.S. were not interested in helping the Syrian economy, quite the opposite what with all the embargoes and so forth.

But I suppose it's all ancient history, after all, in 2006 many people in the U.S. "were all of five" years old, so who cares. Unfortunately, that ancient history still resonates with Syrians of all ages today.

We have a choice today, to stop this historic trend of interference, so that nobody need in the future refer to how this administration or that administration in ancient times screwed it up for the people of the present. Stop all interference immediately. All. You want to put the past in the past? Make it a past. Making plans for future military action in Syria is not the right choice from the point of view of non-interference.

It would be nice, if one day we would have a similar reaction to "C.I.A." here as we'd have in this paragraph toward the "Danish" - complete shock and disbelief and laughable implausibility:

"A small number of Danish Secret Service 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...The Helle Thorning-Schmidt administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so."

C'mon, we can do it. We don't even have to take in as many Iraqi refugees as that superpower, Sweden. If little Denmark can manage, maybe we can too... or is that too ambitious? Can we manage with all our willpower and energy to put away those missiles aimed at exploding things in Syria, and fix our bridges instead (Across U.S., bridges crumble as repair funds fall short)? That would be just grand.
posted by VikingSword at 5:30 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Qatar is a pretty small country too, and it's intervening in this conflict.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:45 PM on September 4, 2013


Think you can tone down the sarcasm just a smidgen? I brought up the age thing because people were talking about Reagan as if this all just happened yesterday. There are more than significant differences in context and approach with Reagan and Obama, as anyone who was alive and paying attention then could tell, as could any serious student of history. There's no good reason why Bush had to attack Iraq, meanwhile, and I said so here from the beginning, so I refuse to see that history as a straight, inevitable line.
posted by raysmj at 5:51 PM on September 4, 2013


I would be in favor of shrinking the defense budget. And I'd be all in favor of expanding education and infrastructure (which the current president--who has less power in domestic than foreign policy, by far, like all US presidents--has pushed for, and which we could afford long range if we taxed people and companies more), etc. A thousand times yes. But do you really think that would happen, even if the defense budget was cut? And sorry, we'll always have a need for intelligence services, even if the name of the CIA is changed, and we'll be brought into or greatly impacted by global affairs whether we like it or not. Just a tad bit more humility would be nice, though, of course. No sarcasm required.
posted by raysmj at 6:01 PM on September 4, 2013


Here's the best summary of the Syria situation (and a call to action) that I can find.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:10 PM on September 4, 2013


There are more than significant differences in context and approach with Reagan and Obama, as anyone who was alive and paying attention then could tell, as could any serious student of history

As there are differences between GWB and Obama and Obama and Reagan etc.. But I was getting at something different: whatever the differences in approaches, they all shared one thing - interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.

The guise doesn't matter. We could call them "yummy humanitarian missilekums and bomblets" and it wouldn't make a difference as to the illegal status of such an attack on Syria at the present time ("Syria attack illegal without Security Council approval, UN warns").

Complete and total cessation of all interference would be nice.

raysmj, I'm not picking on you at all - likely we are largely in agreement. I just feel that unless we change the fundamental assumptions about our role in the world, we will always find ourselves railroaded into the same few dismal choices with disastrous results. It's time for a radical re-thinking of what constitutes our national interests.

And sorry, we'll always have a need for intelligence services, even if the name of the CIA is changed

I guess I have a far more skeptical view of this. I forget who it was - I want to say Senator Frank Church, but that's probably wrong - but someone suggested that for all the machinations and plots and counterplots by the CIA (and it's equally true for the KGB and the Soviet Union), the agency has brought very little in the way of concrete benefits to the country even taking its mandate at face value. That you could have abolished the CIA, and the U.S. would not have been any worse off in its interaction with the world - indeed it would have been the opposite. It has sucked up tremendous resources with very little but blowback to show for it.

That little dance with the KGB took so much energy and resources, with the end result of a big fat nothing.

Whatever "intelligence" value the CIA has ever had, that value could have been obtained by any reasonably awake person who kept up on world affairs through the newspaper. Really. All those dossiers and presidential briefings - pointless and embarrassing, indeed childish games of cloaks and daggers - a giant waste of time... at best. At worst, it passed along fabrications, misunderstandings and all manner of idiocy that has gotten us into misadventures from Indochina through the Middle East to this very day.

Abolish the CIA, and let their employees find gainful work somewhere else - picking garbage along our highways would be more productive and a better net result for this country.

But admittedly, my view is a step too far even for most liberals here.
posted by VikingSword at 6:30 PM on September 4, 2013


Denmark still has an intelligence service, so yeah, and surely other agencies involved in intelligence gathering. So I see "let's get rid of the CIA" or similar agency as not what any nation would ever want or should want, as way over the top. But I mean that sincerely!
posted by raysmj at 6:40 PM on September 4, 2013


The U.S. will be attacked for never interfering, for the record, when the right event comes along and Iraq recedes. I still heard people yelling about us not getting involved in Rwanda in recent years (but that's not Syria either, of course), most of the yelling coming from the left. (I didn't think, at the time, that we needed to intervene, given the then still-fresh experiences in Somalia. But I hear good arguments now as to why we should have earlier, and Clinton of course calls his declining to engage the biggest mistake of his presidency. Even bigger than fooling around with Monica and being deceptive about it, leading to a whole year of insane BJ news and impeachment. So ... that big.)
posted by raysmj at 6:47 PM on September 4, 2013


[Make an effort folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, it's all a matter of orientation. I mean "abolish the CIA" more as an argument about an outward facing intelligence service, versus a domestic oriented service such as the FBI. Yes, you need some kind of security service, for internal purposes (such as the FBI counter-intelligence), but for external stuff... meh, I think you could do with an extremely limited mandate intelligence gathering with virtually zero operational capability. I still think that for whatever good such a service does, the harms probably outweigh it, but I'm open to an argument about a really well-designed and limited service.
posted by VikingSword at 6:49 PM on September 4, 2013


Pew - Public Opinion Runs Against Syrian Airstrikes
Three-quarters (74%) believe that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the United States and its allies in the region and 61% think it would be likely to lead to a long-term U.S. military commitment there. Meanwhile, just 33% believe airstrikes are likely to be effective in discouraging the use of chemical weapons; roughly half (51%) think they are not likely to achieve this goal.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:58 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you think Reagan's response to Saddam was a good thing and we should emulate him? Is that your point?

My point is that you have to pretend, just for a moment, that it's possible for the United States to be in the wrong, because the United States has been wrong in the past. And in this case, the United States is funding an army that -- according to John Kerry today -- contains up to 20,000 al Qaeda affiliates. That's who we have been arming for a couple of years, but they are still losing, so today the Senate decided to declare officially that the only goal they have is to topple Assad.

So, what is the plan? From what I have read, no feasible replacement for the Assad regime was found. And right next door, right now, our little experiment in Iraq is continuing to demonstrate our expertise in Middle Eastern politics.

What part of that do you think conflicts with my statement? Zaim "requested" stuff but he acted long before any meaningful response could be made to his "requests."

You have to read the words.
Meade and Zaim completed plans for the coup in early 1949
Meade is in the CIA. He's the guy who approached right wing Syrians and asked them if they wanted help with a coup or anything. Not exactly innocent.

And McGhee "possibly" authorizing US support is a pretty weak claim, and it seems to be the strongest claim the available evidence allows. But hey, why not grant the "possibility." All it amounts to is the US saying to Zaim "sure, go ahead, we'll be your best buds!" Zaim was already a military hero in Syria who was able to successfully bring off a bloodless coup by doing little more than saying "I'm the new president!"
Syria became an important part of this equation. Increasingly left-leaning, with major pipelines carrying oil to the Mediterranean supplying much-needed oil for Western Europe’s recovery, and the largest Communist Party in the Arab world, Syria was a strategic nightmare for Western interests. After the Suez Crisis, Syria and Egypt both edged toward closer ties with the Soviet Union, not out of an ideological proclivity toward communism, but because of a pragmatic approach toward preserving and expanding Arab nationalism, which the West was actively opposed to while the USSR had endorsed, naturally, as a means to gaining strategic inroads into the Middle East, not out of any benevolent conception of justice for colonized peoples. In 1956, President Eisenhower stated:
Syria was far more vulnerable to Communist penetration than was Egypt. In Egypt, where one strong man prevailed, Colonel Nasser was able to deal with Communists and accept their aid with some degree of safety simply because he demanded that all Soviet operations be conducted through himself. In Syria, where a weak man was in charge of the government [Quwatli], the Soviet penetration bypassed the government and dealt directly with the various agencies, the army, the foreign ministry, and the political parties. Syria was considered ripe to be plucked at any time.
From that statement, we can deduce two things: one, the President of the United States views Syria as something that can be "plucked," and that attitude was around back when Quwatli was president, which was before Za'im. The CIA met with Za'im at least six times.

Heck, it's not even clear that absent US action it would have happened a day later than it did.
On 14 March, Zaim “requested U.S. agents [to] provoke and abet internal disturbances ‘essential for coup d’etat’ or that U.S. funds be given him [for] this purpose.” Nine days later, Zaim “promised a ‘surprise’ within several days” if Meade could secure U.S. help. As rumors of a military coup grew stronger, Assistant Secretary of State George McGhee arrived in Damascus, ostensibly to discuss resettling Palestinian refugees but possibly to authorize U.S. support for Zaim. Shortly thereafter, students protesting government corruption and mishandling of the war with Israel took to the streets. On 30 March, Zaim staged his coup, arrested Quwatly and suspended the constitution. Meade reported on 15 April that “over 400 Commies [in] all parts of Syria have been arrested.”
Zaim promised to deliver "if Meade could secure U.S. help." Which means that according to Za'im, he couldn't do it without the United States.
Zaim’s performance far exceeded Washington’s expectations. On 28 April, he told the U.S. ambassador that Syria was resuming peace talks with Israel and would consider resettling 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. On 16 May, Zaim approved ARAMCO’s TAPLINE. Two weeks later he banned the Communist Party and jailed dozens of left-wing dissidents. In July, he signed a Syro-Israeli armistice. Zaim anticipated swift U.S. approval for $100 million in military and economic aid. However, on 14 August, Zaim was overthrown and executed by Col. Sami Hinnawi.
The only thing separating Za'ims new status as a US puppet was that he didn't survive long enough to get the reward. But yeah, maybe Za'im just decided to toe the US positions for the hell of it, even though they were positions that were so deeply unpopular that they are partially responsible for his own eventual sacking. However, my money is on the price he tried to pay for American sponsorship.

But crucially, none of the motivations for completing the coup had reasoning beyond furthering American interests. And that remains the case today. We have been stoking and funding a rebellion in Syria to achieve some foreign policy goal, and that policy of regime change was announced years ago, and now it is happening. Is it too much to establish some basic context? I think it's fair to point out that the current violence in Syria -- just like the current violence in Iraq and Afghanistan -- could have been avoided if America would just quit pretending it knows how to run other nations, or pick their governments for them.
posted by deanklear at 7:09 PM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


To my mind, the only legitimate strategic interest of the United States is the security of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. The ideal outcome is their surrender and subsequent destruction.

I do not believe this can be accomplished diplomatically. Nor can it be accomplished with a strike package of missiles. Even with perfect intelligence on the location of the stockpile, I don't think a commando raid could accomplish it. I'm not sure it could even be accomplished by force of arms without significantly destabilizing the situation.

In 2003, the U.S. and U.K. attacked with 19 brigades against some 400,000 Iraqis. Even with the defections and the losses from the civil war, Syria still has at least 100,000 men under arms. I don't think there's any realistic scenario by which a U.S. or NATO punitive expedition of any size could get in and out with the weapons without causing more harm than good.

Therefore, I think the only thing to do — other than continuing the current sanctions — is to indict Assad for war crimes in the ICC. I don't agree with the argument that an indictment should wait. Assad already knows his back is up against the wall. The only thing that could make any difference is if he could be assured that surrender doesn't mean the hangman's noose or life in a prison cell. Even then, I'm not sure that would bring around the rest of the military high command or business elite in Syria who believe they face annihilation at the hands of the rebels.

Either way, bringing down the Assad regime and indicting him for war crimes won't solve the underlying problems in Syria or elsewhere in the region. Long story short, when a quarter of young adults can't find meaningful work in your country, you have a serious problem, all politics and religious squabbles aside.


P.S. As an armchair general, I've spent far more time and thought on this than I really should have. The Syrian Order of Battle was relatively easy to obtain. It was surprisingly more difficult than I expected to find the deployment status of U.S. units. In the process, I ran across these articles by Michael Peck wherein he war-games a confrontation between U.S. and Syrian forces:

I Led a NATO Invasion of Syria, Michael Peck, Slate, 29 August 2013
Combat Mission Shock Force, from publisher Battlefront.com, is a video game that examines how a U.S.-led invasion of Syria might be fought. (A free demo is available here.) Designed in 2007, the premise is that Syrian state-sponsored terrorism has prompted a U.S. and NATO-led invasion, with the goal of ousting Assad. While Syria is not in the middle of a civil war in the game, it still proves how life imitates art. When CMSF was published, many gamers—including me—snorted at the idea that the United States would ever attack Syria.
cf. The Syrian Invasion, Michael Peck, Foreign Policy, 10 January 2012
[B]ecause the game is tactical, it does not address the strategic truth, which is that the minute the first NATO tank crossed the border, the Assad regime would be doomed. The Syrians simply lack the advanced military capabilities needed to halt a NATO advance. But an invasion would still face military realities at the tactical level, where the resultant body count would have strategic resonance for Western and world public opinion. Germany opposed sending troops to aid the Libyan rebels last year; a bloody ground war in Syria could easily result in regime-change in Berlin as well as Damascus.

The question is what price can the doomed dictator extract, and it is there that a game like Shock Force is illuminating. If the Syrian military disintegrates, or if it is only effective when shooting unarmed civilians, then a NATO intervention would be relatively -- though not totally -- bloodless. But if an Alawite-dominated Syrian army, with its back to the wall and fearing retribution by the Sunni majority, fights to the last, then they have enough advanced weapons and defensible terrain to inflict politically damaging losses. Maybe the Assad regime would prove to be a paper tiger. But don't count on a blitzkrieg on the road to Damascus.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Nicholas Kristof: The Right Questions on Syria
To me, the central question isn’t, “What are the risks of cruise missile strikes on Syria?” I grant that those risks are considerable, from errant missiles to Hezbollah retaliation. It’s this: “Are the risks greater if we launch missiles, or if we continue to sit on our hands?”

Let’s be humble enough to acknowledge that we can’t be sure of the answer and that Syria will be bloody whatever we do. We Americans are often so self-absorbed as to think that what happens in Syria depends on us; in fact, it overwhelmingly depends on Syrians.

Yet on balance, while I applaud the general reluctance to reach for the military toolbox, it seems to me that, in this case, the humanitarian and strategic risks of inaction are greater. We’re on a trajectory that leads to accelerating casualties, increasing regional instability, growing strength of Al Qaeda forces, and more chemical weapons usage.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:24 AM on September 5, 2013


hey, does anybody know levels of U.S. support for U.S. intervention in WWII before Pearl Harbor? I guess polling was done after PH but not before, at least per my googling. Note: not saying Assad is Hitler. Nope.
posted by angrycat at 7:01 AM on September 5, 2013


Mother Jones has a running guide to the Syria debate.

The first article noted is Steven Cook's op-ed from last week "In trying to help Syria, an intervention would destroy it."

And by way of Der Speigel today:
The German account goes further than others that have been released recently in providing details of Assad’s state of mind that might have played a role in the motivation for launching a chemical attack, noting that Assad sees himself embroiled “in a crucial battle for Damascus.”

It also said Assad’s forces had used a highly diluted chemical agent in previous attacks on rebels and that the high death count Aug. 21 might have been the result of “errors made in the mixing of the gas” that made it “much more potent than anticipated.” That would be consistent with a suggestion from an Israeli official, cited by The New York Times, that the attack was “an operational mistake.”
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2013


Why Climate Change May Be Responsible for the Horrors in Syria
Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011. Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well. But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.

In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others crop failures reached 75%. And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”

The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population. Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.
Grim Meathook Future, ahoy!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:04 AM on September 5, 2013


"Long story short, when a quarter of young adults can't find meaningful work in your country, you have a serious problem, all politics and religious squabbles aside."

Funny you should mention that. One-quarter? That's nothing: Spain and Greece.

"Therefore, I think the only thing to do — other than continuing the current sanctions — is to indict Assad for war crimes in the ICC."

I can get behind that. In fact, I'm persuaded that this is the optimal response. Unless someone has an argument against it?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It also said Assad’s forces had used a highly diluted chemical agent in previous attacks on rebels and that the high death count Aug. 21 might have been the result of “errors made in the mixing of the gas” that made it “much more potent than anticipated.”

I can see why China and Russia would be interested in blocking an intervention into these types of "internal matters" - a little bit of sarin probably goes a long way in Tibet/Chechnya.
posted by rosswald at 10:59 AM on September 5, 2013


"Therefore, I think the only thing to do — other than continuing the current sanctions — is to indict Assad for war crimes in the ICC."

If it's shown that Assad was responsible, I'm down with having him indicted for war crimes. Although I would be happier if GWB was similarly indicted for his war crimes that resulted from his illegal war against Iraq.

Let us remember however, that every action has consequences. It is my preference that there be fewer WMD and the proliferation of those, and therefore we should align incentives that way.

Launching wars against countries that don't have nuclear weapons, while conspicuously sparing countries that have committed much greater crimes against their own populations (see N. Korea vs Libya, f.ex.) merely encourages the very logical pursuit of nuclear weapons to guard against another Iraq, another Syria(?) and so on.

Ghaddaffi must have felt very foolish to have given up nuclear weapons as rebels aided by Western powers circled in to murder him. He had a real chance to get WMDs, but foolishly calculated that following Western advice would result in a net good for him, not counting on the cynical nature of the Western powers who talked him sweetly out of the stick he was reaching for, and the second there was an opportunity, they assaulted him, now, that he was defenseless.

If we indict people like Assad, but don't indict people like GWB, we are sending a message: the real crime is not war crimes, the real crime is not having nuclear weapons.

So by all means, indict Assad (if he's guilty), but it would be much better if we also indicted GWB. Of course, the latter is not going to happen, which leaves us with a bit of cynical posturing vs Assad; oh well, who ever said morality had anything to do with it? I'm sad for the consequences wrt. nuclear proliferation. I'm sure Iran is furiously taking notes.
posted by VikingSword at 11:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Finally, some balanced satire from The Onion. Maybe now that intervention looks to be certain, they're going against the narrative.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:59 PM on September 5, 2013


I think people are jumping the gun saying intervention looks to be certain. It isn't clear whether they have the votes in the House to authorize action. And while the administration may claim they still have the authority to strike even if Congress votes down the authorization it would be extremely politically hazardous to the point of untenability.
posted by Justinian at 2:11 PM on September 5, 2013


In fact CNN just had a GOP congressman being interviewed; he expressed strong support for authorizing strikes not 72 hours ago and has completely reversed himself. Because reasons.

It appears that the GOP has found something they like more than killing brown people; hating Obama.
posted by Justinian at 2:28 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I finally finished watching Kerry testify before the Senate and House. 6 hours plus of testimony and what it all boils down to is ... inaction would be worse than action. That is it. There was no clear because or why, it is all presumption. Apparently the criminal evidence is beyond all reasonable doubt but no names were named beyond Assad and I doubt he was triggering rounds himself so it is all wishy washy bullshit with no footnotes. It was pure Condoleezza Rice playbook ... well, perhaps a smidgen less indignation. But there are also entertaining aspects.

"No boots on the ground ... unless something happens and troops are needed to rescue a pilot or something and the President deems it necessary ... I repeat no boots on the ground." This got Kerry pilloried.

Timeline, would 60 days of bombing suffice? Kerry said there were unknowns, then he pointed to Kosovo taking 87 days and suggested 2 months would be tying the Presidents hands. Asked if he couldn't just come back for reauthorization after 60 days. He said that would be a bad idea without explanation and began caressing 9/11.

Cost ... supplemental appropriations ... Kerry has not a fucking clue, not even a rough estimate, says it will be required but will depend on which strategy the President chooses. Then he told a story about a childhood bulling incident to burn time and move to the next members' statement/questions.

Chuck Hagel did not seem to want to be there, he basically just ceded to Kerry but when asked directly would agreed but if pushed would then de-emphasized Kerry's claims. It was really funny.

The Senate seems eager to draft a resolution they can vote yes on. They don't really want a war, too many reservations and little belief anything productive will be accomplished, but by god they will write a well worded resolution and whatever happens to their resolution once passed isn't really a concern.

The House is a different beast, they do not know which way to lean, they would like to help, normally they like war and would like another but the public has been contacting their offices and there is zero support for an assault, none, not a single message coming to encourage belligerence and that has caused tremendous pause.

I really have no idea how the House will actually vote but even if Congressional approval isn't granted Kerry seemed to say the President already had the authority to ... could and would act.
posted by phoque at 3:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


He said that. I don't believe it. If Obama launched strikes after Congress voted to deny him the authority it would be a severe Constitutional crisis.
posted by Justinian at 3:11 PM on September 5, 2013


Kerry didn't have a good reason when asked why Obama had suddenly chosen to come to congress, so bumbled around with a ... "the President has the authority to act but now feels we should come at this problem with a strong united front and is asking Congress to join in this endeavor" ... there was some blowback with members quoting the Constitution but Kerry assured them this wasn't a war just a narrow bombing without cost or timeline or precise target or goal beyond a nebulous degradation and national security jumble.
posted by phoque at 3:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I think people are jumping the gun saying intervention looks to be certain."

Not only that, but they're obviously not paying attention. Or I suppose maybe they're paying attention to someone else who's not paying attention and is wrong. Because it's never looked like this was most likely to pass. I think it's slightly less likely than more likely, actually.

Public opinion across the spectrum is against it. The GOP is inclined to be against it because of Obama and public opinion and it's only the hardcore hawks and neocons, a minority, who support it. And those people are only willing to support something that goes much farther than what the Obama administration wants to do. As for the Democrats, the majority is disinclined right now to support intervention, both by long-standing tendency but especially given the public opinion and fatigue of a decade of war, and only the staunchest allies of the President and those who feel especially strongly about chemical weapons are solidly in favor.

So on both sides of the aisle the prevailing wind is against it, with only small minorities on both sides feeling strongly in favor. The prevailing wind against it is relatively weak — the Dems have the countervailing desire to support Obama and the GOP has have the countervailing desire to be hawkish — and so it's far from certainty that it will fail. It's closer to being balanced, I think, but tilting away.

But it never looked to be "certain" and it doesn't look "certain" now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It never looked certain but it sure looked a lot more likely 10 days ago than it does today!
posted by Justinian at 4:11 PM on September 5, 2013


I credit the House of Commons. Good on you you rude, heckling bastards.
posted by Justinian at 4:12 PM on September 5, 2013


It occurred to me after some further thought today that there is a diplomatic and political way to achieve surrender of the weapon stockpile, although it is perhaps unsavory: Since Assad is backed into a corner and fighting for his life, build a golden bridge for him to retreat across. Offer him immunity and life-in-exile in the United States or another suitable country in exchange for surrender of the weapons.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, the Iraq War began with an ultimatum, after all: Saddam and his sons were to leave the country within 48 hours.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2013


Pope Francis: Military Intervention in Syria 'Futile', Alessandro Speciale, Sojourners, 5 September 2013
Francis took the unusual step of penning a letter to world leaders ahead of a global day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria that Catholics will observe on Saturday, Sept. 7.

Francis will preside a marathon five-hour vigil in St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican has invited believers of all faiths and even nonbelievers to join in in whichever way they see fit.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:51 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


here was some blowback with members quoting the Constitution but Kerry assured them this wasn't a war just a narrow bombing

I know you're mocking this, but it is, in fact, the central problem with the argument that an action like this requires Congressional approval. I know people like to say "if someone bombed us, we'd sure as hell call it an act of war!" but that's not, in fact a very persuasive point. We almost certainly would, in fact, call it an "act of war"--but that wouldn't mean we were "at war" from that point onwards. The United States Congress certainly viewed Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor as an "act of war"--but it did not skip the formality of actually declaring war as a result; the "declaration of war" was a formal action that took place a day after the attack.

There are, moreover, lots of actions which we might or might not regard as "acts of war" at any given time but which, again, might or might not lead to an actual "state of war" existing between us and the country engaged in that action. Take something like the Gulf of Tonkin incident (pretending for the sake of argument that it had actually happened as originally described). It is easy to imagine such an act being described as an "act of war" but not, ultimately, persuading Congress to authorize US military action in response. It is, therefore, simply not the case that all "acts of war" are also and simultaneously the opening of a "state of war" between two nations. The US (and other countries) have deployed military forces against foreign nations on countless occasions without that action leading to either side "declaring war" or "waging war" as a consequence. People are certainly afraid that US bombing action against Syria might drag us into war, but if, in fact, the US were to conduct a strictly limited military raid and if, in fact, the Syrians chose not to attempt any significant retaliation no one would talk about a "Syrian war" or think that we were forced to regard ourselves or the nation as being "at war" with Syria.

I say all this simply as something of an aside about the inherent ambiguity of the US constitution on the matter of war powers. As a political reality, now that Obama has sought Congressional approval it is pretty much unthinkable that he would order this raid unless he gets that approval.
posted by yoink at 6:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Apocryphon: “Well, the Iraq War began with an ultimatum, after all: Saddam and his sons were to leave the country within 48 hours.”
Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting an ultimatum. I don't think that would have the desired effect, just as it didn't in Iraq. You have to give him the golden parachute, including immunity from prosecution and releasing at least some of his money in order to provide for himself and his family. In return we or the Russians or the U.N. get the weapons to destroy.

It's an odious solution for many reasons but mainly because it likely wouldn't end the civil war or the death and mayhem that come with it. It does prevent the one outcome that must not be permitted: Large stockpiles of chemical weapons being seized by one or another of the paramilitary groups in Syria and distributed or sold for profit to our enemies.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:24 PM on September 5, 2013


My former Senator continues to fulfill my expectations of him - at least the expectations I've had since he voted for the Bush invasion of Iraq. Before that, I expected him to be a reliably risk-averse Liberal, going with the party line but not pushing any actual progressive initiatives. Since he decided to try for the Presidency, Kerry's been a predictable Washington insider, going along with whatever the MilCorp powers wanted. It's tougher for him now, since he's expected to stand up and say something meaningful all the time. I think the Peter Principle is in evidence.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:29 AM on September 6, 2013


Oh Magog! Why End-Times Buffs Are Freaking Out About Syria, Tim Murphy, Mother Jones, 4 September 2013
posted by ob1quixote at 5:25 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know you're mocking this, but it is, in fact, the central problem with the argument that an action like this requires Congressional approval.

It would be nice if you could provide documentation of your assertions, rather than just throwing them out there and expecting people to take them at face value.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:28 AM on September 6, 2013


This thing really feels like somebody screwed the pooch, in terms of getting Congressional approval. Or maybe it is the inevitable outcome of the collision of Iraq plus Obama hate.
posted by angrycat at 6:22 AM on September 6, 2013


Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent: "Victory Out of Reach for US in Syria "
Something else has also gone wrong, which is the rebels were initially painted as white hats and the government as black hats in the media. But it's become apparent, particularly over the last year or six months, that the most effective fighting units of the rebels are jihadi holy warriors, that is, of al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

And so, yes, Washington, London, and other countries would like to get rid of Assad. But when they look at the alternative, they're pretty well appalled. And, actually, when I'm in Damascus, that's what Syrians often tell me. You know, they don't much like the Assad government, but then they go home in the evening, they go online, and they go to YouTube, and they see, you know, rebels holding--cutting off heads of army officers, of massacres and so forth, so they think, well, the Assad government, pretty bad, but maybe the alternative is even worse.
(emph added)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:15 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West
The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse.

“For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.”

The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet.

This scene, documented in a video smuggled out of Syria a few days ago by a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings, offers a dark insight into how many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal and ruthless tactics as the regime they are trying to overthrow.
posted by deanklear at 9:42 AM on September 6, 2013


"Some say incinerating Buckingham Palace would send a message and next time Britain will think twice before selling nerve gas. I don't know."

Revealed: UK Government let British company export nerve gas chemicals to Syria
posted by deanklear at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2013




They are showing Senator Jeff Sessions' Q&A with his constituents on TV right now. I can feel my brain cells committing suicide just from watching some of these people. It's disturbing and sad.
posted by Justinian at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2013


Striking Syria Is Completely Illegal - The fundamental rule of international law is that states cannot attack other states, even for humanitarian reasons

Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado:

"In all the debates swirling around whether the U.S. should launch a unilateral military attack on Syria, as the Obama Administration is now seeking to do, one key point is getting very little attention: it would violate international law."

A decent writeup about the legal aspect of this proposed intervention. The fact that such an action would be illegal has been pointed out by the secretary of the U.N. (see link in my other post). We are fully aware of this. Vigilantism is always highly prone to being as mistaken about its target as about its methods. There will be massive unintended consequences.

You'd hope that Obama of all people would pay attention to the law, but I guess power corrupts. Do we really always want to be an outlaw nation? Are we really proposing to break international laws to punish Syria for breaking international laws? Maybe Russia should launch a strike to punish us for breaking the law and then somebody can strike them and we can merrily start WWIII?

It really is pathetic when our position devolves to 'might makes right' and 'the means justify the ends' with 'just because' next, I suppose.

Whether Democrats or Republicans it doesn't matter. Unless we break our addiction to this mentality, we will never be truly free. Laws that are broken abroad are soon broken at home. See the monster security state we've erected, that tramples on our rights and breaks our laws every single day. The huge military-industrial complex and security industry has hijacked our democracy.

These missiles may strike Syria, but they're striking us too, and causing damage far beyond their explosive payload.
posted by VikingSword at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charles Pierce: Today In The March To Semi-War
posted by homunculus at 1:39 PM on September 6, 2013




You'd hope that Obama of all people would pay attention to the law, but I guess power corrupts.

There was quite a good piece in the NY Times on the question of the status of the proposed action in Syria in international law. I think the pearl clutching, "but it's illegal!!" response is something of an overreach. You, personally, VS, may feel that there can be no possible humanitarian justification for the use of arms in the absence of a UN mandate but I doubt the vast majority even of scholars on international law would agree to that. You believe the Syria intervention is wrong on other grounds (which is fair enough), and then you happily wave the "and it's illegal too!" club. But if you approved of the intervention on humanitarian grounds (you have agreed above that intervention to prevent genocide is acceptable, for example) you probably wouldn't care too much if one country happened to veto action by the UN Security Council.
posted by yoink at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, international law is more or less whatever we say it is since we're the only country who can actually enforce it. I'm more concerned with American law. It looks to me like Congress isn't going to approve strikes against Syria. What happens if Obama goes ahead with them anyway?

That isn't unprecedented. Bill Clinton proceeded with the action in the former Yugoslavia despite Congress voting against it. But that doesn't make it okay.
posted by Justinian at 3:14 PM on September 6, 2013


As that article yoink linked to discussed, the only thing which applies is the UN Charter Article 2(4), which even disallows the threat of force. I don't think anyone takes that seriously. The world would definitely be a better place if everyone did take it seriously and there was always global adjudication of all possible conflicts which everyone agreed to and utilized, but it's just not that way.

What's taken more seriously are treaties which are ratified by participating countries that prevent aggressive actions. But the US and Syria are not party to such a treaty. As the NYT article points out, Syria isn't even party to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. It is a party to the Geneva Protocol, but that arguably only applies to international wars, not civil conflicts.

There's no "illegality" in international relation, really; not in the sense that I think most people are thinking of when they use the expression "it's illegal". Which is to say, it's not like legality within the context of a state. Within a state, the state has the use of force to enforce its laws. There is no such mechanism internationally, basically it's the honor system. And these laws are honored as much in the breech as in the observance.

To my ears, harping on "illegality" in the prosecution of war (that is, international illegality as opposed to illegality according a state's own laws) sounds so naive, it's almost childish.

That's not to say that the underlying reasoning and sentiment is wrong — an aggressive military action can both be morally wrong and insufficiently formally multilateral, such as lacking UN endorsement. I'm okay with the claim that a UN endorsement is a good thing, to the point of arguably being a requirement. But for every large militarized state, it's an option and not a requirement.

I'm extremely critical of the US's history of international interventions, particularly in Latin America. And I certainly agree that the US is extraordinarily hypocritical about this stuff. What I don't agree with, though, is the claim that there's anything extraordinary about its willingness and ability to utilize its military power. All the top three or so world powers have been quick to use military force for self-serving and morally dubious reasons for hundreds of years. When currently weak powers, such as Portugal or Turkey, were world powers, they were imperialistic, too. That doesn't make this stuff right, but it's silly to claim that the US is extraordinarily morally corrupt in its use of force. It's just doing what all great powers do.

I'm totally supportive of working toward a world of international law and where powerful states don't act like the US does. Maybe as the European Project continues, assuming that the current crisis doesn't derail it, we'll finally find an example of a true global power that isn't imperialistic and militarized. The EU GDP is the largest in the world.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You, personally, VS, may feel that there can be no possible humanitarian justification for the use of arms in the absence of a UN mandate but I doubt the vast majority even of scholars on international law would agree to that.

I don't have the statistics on whether "the vast majority even of scholars of international law" would agree on humanitarian use of arms in absence of a UN mandate... and neither do you.

Be that as it may, even if that were the case, they would also have to acknowledge that such an action would be illegal. See the opinion of the legal scholar in my link, see Ban ki-Moon's declaration, and even from your very link from someone who supports and intervention ("Bomb Syria, Even if It Is Illegal"):

"There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law."

So much for your claim that: "I think the pearl clutching, "but it's illegal!!" response is something of an overreach." It is not an overreach that it is illegal.

Again, are we an outlaw nation, or do we follow the laws? Because if we are allowed to pick and choose which laws we will follow and which not, then what's the beef with Assad or anyone else doing exactly the same? Even a criminal who breaks the law deserves to be treated lawfully.

But if you approved of the intervention on humanitarian grounds (you have agreed above that intervention to prevent genocide is acceptable, for example) you probably wouldn't care too much if one country happened to veto action by the UN Security Council.

No, I did no such thing. I agreed that there are circumstances where an intervention happens on humanitarian grounds, but they would have to be very extreme (Holocaust level) - and I didn't say a thing about doing it illegally (btw. wrt. Hitler, we'd be legally justified in intervening by international law, as defense is one such condition - and today you don't need to ask the UNSC for permission to respond).

But even assuming cases where one would break the law - say if Hitler confined himself to the Final Solution in Germany - that does not therefore render the weight of the law useless.

There are circumstances, where breaking a law is a compelling necessity, and that is widely recognized by all legal systems - the adjustment is not to deny that a law has been broken, nor a conclusion that laws no longer bind us, but at the end of consequences for breaking the law under those circumstances.

That's the situation in Syria. Breaking the law continues to be an extremely serious matter, and it most definitely continues to be an additional argument. "This action is illegal; we are a nation of laws; therefore we should not undertake illegal actions unless there is a compelling necessity - is this case a compelling necessity?"

Therefore, to point out that something is illegal continues to be a weighty consideration. It becomes an additional burden the advocates of intervention need to overcome.

I therefore wholly and completely disagree with this statement: "I think the pearl clutching, "but it's illegal!!" response is something of an overreach." It is not an overreach by any means - to claim otherwise is to adopt a position that apparently Ivan Fyodorivich holds - laws don't matter if they are international laws. Only trouble is, the disregard for those quickly translates to a disregard of all laws, in which case welcome to the jungle. Or as I said above: "might makes right". It's funny to see people on the left follow totalitarian ideas of the "power from the barrel of a gun" (Mao), because we abdicate the ideals of civilization itself, that is at the very foundation of attempting to move beyond the quintessential jungle law of might makes right. I don't think it's silly and naive, but I guess we disagree - in which case let's all shut up and shoot and may the biggest brute win.
posted by VikingSword at 3:37 PM on September 6, 2013


"... laws don't matter if they are international laws."

I didn't say that, precisely. But they're not laws in the sense you're asserting. The simple truth is that the international context is much, much closer to a lawless anarchy where might is the only thing that, in practice, makes "right" than it is to polity. It is naive to believe that it's a lawful, civil, superstate because it's not even remotely anything like that.

But it's not naive and not wrong to wish to promote within the international context a lawful ethos that moves in the direction of a lawful superstate. I'm totally okay with you or anyone arguing that it's important to urge the US and every other state acting internationally to do so within the context of structures that are the beginnings of a rule of law. I would dearly love to live in the end result of such a world. I'm supportive of all efforts to move to that world.

And so whenever and wherever international treaties and conventions apply it's quite right to press leaders on this point, and it's arguably especially important to do with regard to war.

But you've got to be realistic about this because we're really a long way from a place where any state will accept, when its vital interests are at stake, that there's any limitations on how it protects/furthers those interests militarily. In practice, in the past and still today, having the militaristic capability to further its interests internationally is the de facto justification for doing so.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:15 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, international law is more or less whatever we say it is since we're the only country who can actually enforce it."

The UN's effectiveness is an argument against anarchy.
posted by klangklangston at 6:33 PM on September 6, 2013


International law is not as clear as you would like VikingSword. Susan Rice and Samantha Powers are two highly educated experts on this subject as well as close advisors to the President who would disagree with your assessment.
posted by humanfont at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Susan Rice is not a lawyer so I have zero interest in her opinions about the legality of any possible intervention in Syria.

Assuming Samantha Power is a lawyer who is actively practicing international law - and even if not - her opinions about the legal status of an intervention in Syria are only relevant if they specifically addressed the Syrian intervention from a legal point of view. Has she laid out a legal case for intervention, apart from any other justification? Because that's what's at issue in our discussion - the legality of the intervention in the context of international law. If so, a link would be helpful.

Otherwise, there seems to be overwhelming consensus wrt. the legality of such an intervention: it's not. Contrary views from legal scholars of competence in that area are always welcome, of course.

According to United Nations News And Commentary, Samantha Power has made her strongest and most comprehensive case for intervention in Syria at the Center for American Progress.

Her entire presentation, plus a brief commentary by Mark Leon Goldberg is in the link above. Her presentation is many things, and one may find it persuasive or not, but what it definitely does not do is present a legal case. What she has to say about that can be found in this paragraph:

"People are asking, shouldn’t the United States work through the Security Council on an issue that so clearly implicates international peace and security? The answer is, of course, yes. We would if we could, but we can’t. Every day for the two and a half years of the Syrian conflict, we have shown how seriously we take the UN Security Council and our obligations to enforce international peace and security. Since 2011, Russia and China have vetoed three separate Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime’s violence or promoting a political solution to the conflict. This year alone, Russia has blocked at least three statements expressing humanitarian concern and calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities in Syria. And in the past two months, Russia has blocked two resolutions condemning the generic use of chemical weapons and two press statements expressing concern about their use. We believe that more than 1,400 people were killed in Damascus on August 21, and the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval. The international system that was founded in 1945 —a system we designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II—has not lived up to its promise or its responsibilities in the case of Syria. And it is naive to think that Russia is on the verge of changing its position and allowing the UN Security Council to assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security. In short, the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have."

Again - as can be seen plainly - and you can read the whole presentation - she gives ZERO, as in NADA, as in ZIP legal arguments for breaking international law. TLDR, her entire answer to people asking that we obey international law rather than break it by an intervention that has not been authorized by the UNSC (as UN secretary suggested), is to say: well we don't like the fact that other countries (Russia and China) won't vote the way we want them to so we'll ignore this venue and go outside of the law, The End. Oh well, if you put it that way - don't like the legal outcome, so we take the law into our own hands vigilante-style completely outside the law - ta da!

In other words, this: "International law is not as clear" and "Susan Rice and Samantha Power [...] would disagree" is bullshit. The international law is plenty clear in this case, as multiple experts and the secretary general of the UN have asserted repeatedly. Meanwhile, the names you brought forth have so far as I can see, brought forth NOTHING WHATSOEVER, in the way of a legal case for intervention.

So there. Unless you have a link to where Power has made a legal argument, your statement is null and void.
posted by VikingSword at 10:10 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"So there. Unless you have a link to where Power has made a legal argument, your statement is null and void."

Well, you're not a lawyer so I have zero interest in your opinions about the legality of any possible intervention in Syria.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:01 PM on September 6, 2013


Well, you're not a lawyer so I have zero interest in your opinions about the legality of any possible intervention in Syria.

Which is why rather than proffer my own legal opinion, I offered links to lawyers who are qualified, and based any of my remarks on that. What do you offer? A lot of rubbish, I see:

There's no "illegality" in international relation, really;

There really is.

If you need the exact paragraph, perhaps U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon can help you out:

UN chief warns ‘punitive’ strike on Syria would be illegal without Security Council approval:

"“The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations Charter and or when the Security Council approves such action."[emph. VS]

That lays out the legality perfectly clearly, without this ludicrous attempt on your part

"not in the sense that I think most people are thinking of when they use the expression "it's illegal".

What the fuck does this even mean? What most people are thinking - how do you know what "most" people are thinking? On and on goes the nonsense:

"Which is to say, it's not like legality within the context of a state. Within a state, the state has the use of force to enforce its laws. There is no such mechanism internationally, basically it's the honor system. And these laws are honored as much in the breech as in the observance."

What an embarrassing jumble. I don't know whom this babble is meant to convince and of what, but this is, as the saying goes, not even wrong, it's incoherent. What state, who says there is no mechanism, and how is whether there are lawbreakers relevant to laws being binding - where to even begin. But then again, you're not a lawyer, and you've provided no relevant links to any legal opinions. You sure do have opinions though:

"To my ears, harping on "illegality" in the prosecution of war (that is, international illegality as opposed to illegality according a state's own laws) sounds so naive, it's almost childish."

Well thank you for that. So according to you it's childish to expect a state to obey international laws when the state in question is freely a member of the very body where these laws have been issued and the state is bound by continuing participation. I guess the adult view is:

"The simple truth is that the international context is much, much closer to a lawless anarchy where might is the only thing that, in practice, makes "right" than it is to polity. It is naive to believe that it's a lawful, civil, superstate because it's not even remotely anything like that."

I don't know which dingbat it is that you propose thinks that international laws represent a "superstate", since it's not a term any lawyer has used that I'm aware of, and mostly exists as an irrelevancy you've invented and wrenched into that context. Nope, nobody believes it's a "superstate", whatever that nonsense means - what people believe - rightly - is that international laws are, you know, laws - as the secretary of the UN has stated. All that's being asked, is that states particularly members of the UNSC obey laws they had a free hand in creating in the first place. When they break them - they're, yes, you guessed it, in breach of them. Pretty simple really.

This is such appalling rubbish, I wasn't even going to bother addressing it, until you popped back in with that "clever" takeoff on the first sentence of my post. So now you're welcome.

If this is what passes for legal thought from you, I think you yourself should have:

"zero interest in your [own] opinions about the legality of any possible intervention in Syria."
posted by VikingSword at 12:00 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What state, who says there is no mechanism, and how is whether there are lawbreakers relevant to laws being binding - where to even begin."

Any state. Laws exist in the context of a polity that defines them and where there is a viable enforcement mechanism. When there is no enforcement and lawbreaking is the norm, there is de facto no law.

With regard to international law, which is a mish-mash of international agreements operating at various levels and between various states, this means that the de facto existence of international law greatly varies — in some contexts and with regard to less powerful states, there is consistent and strong enforcement and thus for them and within those contexts, the law actually matters. In other contexts, and with regard to the more powerful states, there is inconsistent or nonexistent enforcement and thus for them and within those contexts, the law is very close to being irrelevant.

The UN is the relevant body in this case, but violation of the charter does not result in expulsion. It can result in censure and subsequent promulgation of sanctions against the violator by member states; this is an indirect enforcement mechanism that is effective in inverse proportion to the violating state's influence.

By most non-US authorities, the 2003 Iraq invasion violated the UN charter. So, too, was the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, as well as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. The US's (and Britain's) and USSR's seats on the Security Council meant that UNSC could not pass resolutions against these actions; the General Assembly did so in the case of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, but that does not have the legal force of the Security Council.

In all cases there were various sanctions against the violating states on the part of various other states and coalitions of states; but in all cases these sanctions had negligible effect on these leading powers. The US wasn't much concerned about the international response to its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is not concerned now about possible international response to an action against Syria. The illegality of an aggressive war undertaken by a member of the Security Council without the UNSC's sanction is a relatively minor consideration for these states, as they can block all UNSC resolutions against it and can weather any diplomatic or economic sanctions against them by other states.

As was proven by the US's 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US is effectively not bound by international law with regard to war of aggression.

This is just as true today, indeed it is much more true in the case of Syria, where the international community is generally in agreement that Syria's use of chemical weapons is both a humanitarian provocation and an inherent regional provocation in a way that very few agreed was the case of Iraq in 2003. Illegal an attack on Syria may be, but the international response will be far less critical of the US than it was in 2003, and the criticism in 2003 before, during, and now after was entirely ineffectual and of practically no concern to American leaders. This will be doubly true if the US attacks Syria.

Yours and others' concerns about the legality of an attack on Syria are probably the least important, least productive use of your energy possible in opposition to a US attack on Syria. That you would be consistently blustery and obtuse in this thread as you pound this tiny drum is appropriate for this particular obsession.

As for my snark in response to your awesomely supercilious comment about Susan Rice, I trust your judgment with regard to citation of legal scholars just about exactly as much as you trust Susan Rice's judgment with regard to citation of legal scholars. Well, that's not actually true. I think that an interested and motivated layperson is perfectly capable of being a reliable guide for providing a precis of such issues in conjunction with citations to actual authorities, and so I don't disqualify your opinion on this matter for the very same reason I don't disqualify Susan Rice's. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that you'll continue to utterly dismiss a UN Ambassador's opinion on the matter of international law while you demand, loudly and at length, that everyone listen to and accept your views on it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:20 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


VikingSword you've cited Paul Campos of the University of Colorado. A law professor/ journalist who is not a specialist in international law. He is best known for his book, The Diet Myth, which purports to debunk the link between obesity and health. He is not admitted to the Colorado, Illinios or Michigan bar and does not appear to be a practicing lawyer. His CV does not include any significant publications on international law.
posted by humanfont at 6:15 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kenan Malik - Syria: Morality and Reality
What becomes clear in all this is the gap that has now opened up between morality and reality, between the moral case for intervention and the reality of the civil war. In part this is because the moral arguments for intervention seem, all too often, shaped less by the consequences that such intervention may have for the people of Syria than by the desire ‘to do something’. That desire is understandable. ‘For those of us who are not religious’, observes Phillip Collins, former speechwriter to Tony Blair, ‘the suffering of other human beings is the deepest mark of our common human heritage. So it is important to add weight to our moral impulse rather than to dismiss it as naive and foolish.’ That is true. It would be shocking indeed if we did not feel revulsion at the brutality of the Assad regime. The desire to do something is certainly better than a shrug of the shoulders, the insistence that nothing can be done. Ideals are essential in politics. Yet that desire is also one of which we should be wary. Our moral compass should be set by the needs not of our own moral consciences but of the people of Syria.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:59 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law."

So much for your claim that: "I think the pearl clutching, "but it's illegal!!" response is something of an overreach." It is not an overreach that it is illegal.


But the "overreach" I was talking of is not the claim that the invasion is "illegal" according to certain conventions of international law, it is the idea that this argument is dispositive. Yes, offensive military action against another nation that hasn't attacked you without a UN mandate is "illegal" under the framework established by the UN and the Geneva Conventions, but as several people have tried to explain to you, International Law is a much fuzzier area than domestic laws. It is much more an area of norms and conventions than it is an area of statutory interpretation. NATO's action in Kosovo had no UN sanction. By your standards it was "illegal." Just as now, with Syria, the only reason the UN wouldn't act was because the Russians were using their veto power. I don't know if you regard the intervention Kosovo as just or not (I certainly do) but you would have to agree that it's "illegality" simply was not a meaningful factor in public discusson of the action or in international response to it outside of Russia and Serbia. Many of the people who are "pearl clutching" now over the "illegality" of the Syria action were entirely on board with the Kosovo action as a morally necessary response to impending genocide. That makes the "but it's illegal" argument hypocritical.
posted by yoink at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2013


Our moral compass should be set by the needs not of our own moral consciences but of the people of Syria

But it is impossible to poll Syrians on what they want here. We know that Syrians who support Assad don't want the US to get involved and we know that by and large those who are opposed to Assad do want the US to get involved. So I don't really see how this helps us.
posted by yoink at 7:38 AM on September 7, 2013


One of Malik's points is that the moral question is contested. What is the best thing to do pragmatically, what is the right thing to do ethically--these are questions that should be debated in depth. However, most of what we're getting from the Obama administration is a repetition of their perceived moral imperative and not an extended discussion of the practicalities of how the proposed response with achieve its purpose, what the alternatives are, what might go wrong and how we would address those eventualities. Malik writes:
What has been striking in the debate so far is the lack of strategic thought from those pushing for war. What are the specific aims? What would constitute success? Is there a vision of the endgame? There are few answers to such questions. There is, observes Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute, a ‘strategic wooliness’ at the heart of Western plans. ‘You can’t sort out a military plan unless you know what the political objectives are’, observes General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the British army. And those objectives were patently missing in current plans. Similarly, General Jonathan Shaw, a former director of UK special forces who served in Kosovo and Iraq, asks, ‘What is the political objective that military action is meant to be enabling?’ and points to ‘A lack of clarity about the political objectives’.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:48 AM on September 7, 2013


The strategy is a simple tit-for-tat. Punish Assad by destroying some of his expensive war fighting equipment and palaces. Show our willingness to counter his escalations with escalations of our own. In the absence if this response Assad's optimal strategy is to escalate further.
posted by humanfont at 8:23 AM on September 7, 2013


Watching Republican House members who were demanding strikes in Syria flip-flop and come out against Obama now that he's for strikes is simultaneously appalling and unsurprising. I've obviously been against getting involved but the rank hypocrisy is stunning.
posted by Justinian at 11:05 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the legality issue,
TREATIES AS LAW OF THE LAND:
THE SUPREMACY CLAUSE AND THE
JUDICIAL ENFORCEMENT OF TREATIES


The Founders understood that treaties depended on interest and honor on the international plane, but they made treaties enforceable in our courts anyway in order to avoid the international friction that could be expected to result from treaty violations and to capture the benefits of a reputation for treaty compliance. The Supremacy Clause gives treaties a domestic judicial sanction that they would otherwise lack. It makes treaties enforceable in the courts in the same circumstances as the other two categories of norms specified in the clause — federal statutes and the Constitution itself.
Since the Bush Administration decided they were uninterested in having a reputation for treaty compliance, especially with regard to the Geneva Conventions, our government's position is that it's only other countries that have to comply with treaties. This is based on the well-established principle of "You can't make me, nyah nyah nyah."

And so we prepare to once again aid a foreign people in expressing their self-determination, with the tried-and-true method of telling them who they cannot have as a leader, and assisting them in that by applying military force. They'll thank us for this, of course, as such countries always do.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Show our willingness to counter his escalations with escalations of our own. In the absence if this response Assad's optimal strategy is to escalate further.

It still isn't clear that the Assad regime ordered the attacks, msm propaganda notwithstanding.

Attended another classified briefing on #Syria & reviewed add'l materials. Now more skeptical than ever. Can't believe Pres is pushing war.

If Americans could read classified docs, they'd be even more against #Syria action. Obama admn's public statements are misleading at best.

Harkin on Classified Syria Briefing: 'Frankly Raised More Questions Than It Answered'

Texas Republican: Evidence that Assad used chemical weapons is 'thin'

We have reached the point where the classified information system prevents even trusted members of Congress, who have security clearances, from learning essential facts, and then inhibits them from discussing and debating what they do know. And this extends to matters of war and peace, money and blood. The “security state” is drowning in its own phlegm.

Top Chemical Weapons Expert Highly Skeptical of U.S. Case Against Syrian Government


But don't let that stop anyone from relentlessly trying to justify yet another military action in the middle east.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:25 AM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


President Obama's Brilliant Strategy No One Seems To Recognize, Wayne Bomgaars, FreakoutNation, 8 September 2013
So why then does our president appear to be beating the drums of war? The simple answer is he is now regarded as a hawkish leader before the US and the world. And he does so without having to fire a shot. He appears wholeheartedly in favor of a strike and is playing the part well. The hawk stands upon his perch without lifting a talon as Congress now takes any and all responsibility for lack of action on the part of the US. And during this entire debacle, he even manages to make republicans come out as anti-war; something even no one thought possible only a month ago.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


The simple answer is he is now regarded as a hawkish leader before the US and the world.

OR, he looks simultaneously reckless (for pushing for yet another war with thin justification), and weak (for not getting anyone -- not foreign leaders, not the populace, not even his own party) to go along.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Andrew Bacevich interviewed by Phil Donahue on the Bill Moyers Show, mostly on Syria, and bracing.
posted by spitbull at 7:07 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


From spitbull's link:

“If you think back to 1980,” Bacevich tells Donahue, “and just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — and on and on, and ask yourself, ‘What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more Democratic? Are we enhancing America’s standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?’ ‘The answers are, ‘No, no, and no.’ So why, Mr. President, do you think that initiating yet another war in this protracted enterprise is going to produce a different outcome?”

Also, Bacevich rips Kerry a new one....ouch.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:22 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


As this Syria crisis drags out, with inconclusive proof of who did what, and incontrovertible proof that someone did something…

…perhaps the practical way out is to punish everyone who is playing an active leading part in the Syrian civil war. This would remove a lot of bad actors. A fair few of whom also terrorize the big nations.

Of course, this takes a bit of risk, what with the potential for committing to a world war. Once one gets Russia and China on-board, why stop with Syria? The terrorists plaguing all nations are sponsored in only a few countries.

Unfortunately, some of them have WMDs.

Maybe do a display of united arms in Syria, then use more police-like actions in the multinational scourging. Secure the big weapons, then remove the terrorists, then exploit the conquered territories.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 PM on September 8, 2013


Dennis Kucinich: Top 10 Unproven Claims for War Against Syria
In the lead-up to the Iraq War, I researched, wrote and circulated a document to members of Congress which explored unanswered questions and refuted President Bush's claim for a cause for war. The document detailed how there was no proof Iraq was connected to 9/11 or tied to al Qaeda's role in 9/11, that Iraq neither had WMDs nor was it a threat to the U.S., lacking intention and capability to attack. Unfortunately, not enough members of Congress performed due diligence before they approved the war.

Here are some key questions which President Obama has yet to answer in the call for congressional approval for war against Syria...

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:47 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


…perhaps the practical way out is to punish everyone who is playing an active leading part in the Syrian civil war.

Does this include Russia and the United States? Because they seem to be "playing" pretty "active" parts in the conflict? What with them arming the respective sides, providing intelligence, and logistics.

Maybe do a display of united arms in Syria, then use more police-like actions in the multinational scourging. Secure the big weapons, then remove the terrorists, then exploit the conquered territories.

I can't tell if you're being serious. If you are then I suggest you watch the interview with Andrew Bacevich that spitbull linked and get back to us.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:57 PM on September 8, 2013


When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful).
posted by adamvasco at 7:45 AM on September 9, 2013


When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful).

There's never been a job that the American elites couldn't outsource. I'm sure American torturers demand much too high salaries and good god can you imagine the pensions. Yep it's all around more cost effective to outsource our torturing to third parties...preferably ones we will be bombing within the next 10 years...you know so as to get rid of all the evidence...
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:52 AM on September 9, 2013


Cross-posted from the other thread:

Give up weapons, Russia urges Syria, BBC, 9 September 2013

Syria 'Welcomes' Russian Call to Give Up Chemical Weapons, James Marson and Nicholas Winning, The Wall Street Journal, 9 September 2013
Mr. Moallem didn't provide any specifics, other than to say that Syria welcomed the Russian proposal.

"The Syrian Arab republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the concerns of the Russian leadership for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Moscow, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

He said Syria agreed to the proposal "out of our faith in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is striving to prevent American aggression against our people."
posted by ob1quixote at 10:05 AM on September 9, 2013


Shit, turning over all the chemical weapons stores to the international community would be one of the best possible outcomes of all this sabre-rattling. Let's hope that we can carpet bomb Syria with humanitarian aid rather than actual bombs.

I'm moderately skeptical about it actually happening, but if it did, I would see that as significant progress and a move back toward global norms.
posted by klangklangston at 12:30 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm moderately optimistic that this will be resolved with Syria signing the CWC and agreeing to some kind of monitoring and ultimate destruction of its chemical weapons programs.
posted by humanfont at 5:25 PM on September 9, 2013


VikingSword you've cited Paul Campos of the University of Colorado. A law professor/ journalist who is not a specialist in international law. He is best known for his book, The Diet Myth, which purports to debunk the link between obesity and health. He is not admitted to the Colorado, Illinios or Michigan bar and does not appear to be a practicing lawyer. His CV does not include any significant publications on international law.

At least he's a lawyer, unlike Rice. But I also provided a link to the statements by secretary general of the U.N. in which he cites the legal grounds for why any military action against Syrian without the UNSC agreement, to be flat out illegal. He of all people carries weight on this issue - is there anybody with more authority as to the U.N. position? I notice you somehow didn't address the secretary general link.

I also noticed that despite making a claim about Rice and Power showing how a strike against Syria would be legal, you provided no link to any such claim by either of them. Nor did you provide any such backing to your claim despite my subsequent request that you provide one. And finally you did nothing in your present response to back up that claim. Therefore I ask for the final time - provide a link to either of them making a claim for the strike being legal. Rice is welcome to cite any legal opinion by any lawyer in her department. The only link to Power, is one I provided, which was billed as the strongest and most comprehensive advocacy by her for a strike against Syria - and where she made not one legal argument.

So I ask again: where is the backing for your claim?

You have so far provided none despite direct requests. You merely took issue with one of the lawyers in a link I provided as not being according to you competent in international law - ignoring the stated position of secretary general of the U.N.. I don't know what you imagine you accomplish with that, since there is no shortage of prominent international lawyers who have clearly stated that any current military strike against Syria would be illegal.

As just one example, there is David Kaye of UCI Law. His qualifications:

"Expertise:
Public international law, international humanitarian law, human rights, international criminal justice, the law governing use of force

Background:
Prof. Kaye's scholarship and teaching focus on public international law, especially international humanitarian law, accountability for massive violations of human rights, and the law governing the use of force. He is just as interested in efforts to translate international law – especially human rights law – in a domestic American context, whether in courts, legislatures, or the executive branches of government, at federal and state levels.

He began his legal career with the U.S. State Department, handling such subjects as international claims, nuclear nonproliferation, international humanitarian law (the laws of armed conflict), and accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Prior to joining UCI, he was the founding executive director of UCLA’s International Human Rights Program and its International Justice Clinic, working on projects dealing with accountability for international crimes around the world."

These are directly relevant qualifications of the highest order, including in the laws governing the use of force in international contexts, international humanitarian law, violations of human rights and so forth.

Here is a recent article he wrote about the illegality of any strike against Syria for Foreign Affairs magazine (you may have to register to access) - The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars
What Will Follow Obama's Foray Into Syria


The entire article is worth reading, because not only does it demolish any case for the legality of an intervention in Syria, but points out how there will be consequences to breaking the law in this case, and the inadvisability of doing so. Regarding the legal position, his concluding paragraph is:

"In short, the United States is heading toward an intervention in Syria that administration officials clearly believe to be right, necessary, and humane. Their cause may be just. But it won’t be legal, and no creative amount of lawyering can make it so."

Of course, there are tons of other sources confirming this from lawyers in other countries, as cited f.ex. here Washington Post:

"“I think that international law is clear on this,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria. “International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says. What will happen, then again, I don’t know.”

Speaking late Tuesday at the Peace Palace in The Hague, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the use of chemical weapons “would be an atrocious violation of international law.” Without singling out the United States directly, he counseled states to address the crisis in Syria through diplomatic means. “Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance,” Ban said. “In this hall dedicated to the rule of law, I say: Let us adhere to the United Nations Charter.”
"

Meanwhile, you have one last chance to provide any link to any legal case for a Syrian strike out of Rice's office (by a lawyer), or Power (or a lawyer working for Power or one she references). I think that will be a tall order, as it is my understanding that such a case has not been articulated, because it doesn't exist - as yet; there are no doubt efforts being expended on trying to build a case, however shabby, but there is no guarantee of success, as in the past we have given up on such (Kosovo).

So, yet again, we see your claim to have been empty. I'm afraid that finishes off your credibility in this instance, unless you can provide such links.
posted by VikingSword at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nevertheless, I have no doubt that you'll continue to utterly dismiss a UN Ambassador's opinion on the matter of international law while you demand, loudly and at length, that everyone listen to and accept your views on it.

How very odd, to make such a perfectly baseless claim. Where have I "demanded" at all, never mind "loudly and at length" that anyone accept my views on the legality of any strike on Syria? I have provided direct links to verbatim statements from people like the secretary general of the U.N., and allowed them to make the claims for the legal status of such strikes, and then, rather uncontroversially stated the plain fact that this or that lawyer regards the status of such a strike as illegal at the present time (absent permission from the UNSC), that fact being borne out by the very link I provided. Where is there anything that can be misconstrued as my views?

Furthermore, I stated very clearly that I welcome all links to opposing views from lawyers:

Contrary views from legal scholars of competence in that area are always welcome, of course.

So, providing direct links making the legal case, and inviting contrary views with links to legal cases, is now demanding that my views be accepted?

The other thing that's being glossed over here is my quite reasonable requests, that if a contrary claim is made to the links I provided, and that a legal case is presented showing the legality of a proposed strike on Syria, and actually specific names are given - Rice and Power - that one then present such links showing the legal case from those individuals. None are were given to begin with - which is already disappointing - but then none were forthcoming upon request either.

"Nevertheless, I have no doubt that you'll continue to utterly dismiss a UN Ambassador's opinion on the matter of international law[...]"

Wow. I guess if you're gonna be factually wrong, go out in style! First of all, neither Rice, nor Power gave a legal "opinion on the matter of international law", so there was no opinion I could have "utterly dismissed". So that right there, is an invention. Furthermore, I did no dismissing of any legal opinion by Rice or Power - I just asked that a link be provided to a legal case being made by Power - or the lawyers making the case in Rice's office (Rice herself not being a lawyer).

Of course it's really quite funny this outrage against the alleged 'dismissal' of the "legal case for war" supposedly made by either of those two, since Power famously not only declined to actually make that case (and much fun was had in certain quarters about this: "New U.S. ambassador to the UN won’t say Syria strike is legal") but actually comes right out and makes the opposite case of blatantly breaking the law altogether: U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power Presses For Strikes On Syria

"INSKEEP: So let me just make sure that I'm clear on this. You're saying that something needs to be done and it is time to go outside the legal system, outside the legal framework. You believe it is right to do something that is just simply not legal.

POWER: In the cases of - we've seen in the past, there are times when there is a patron like Syria backed by Russia. We saw this in Kosovo as well, where it was just structurally impossible to get meaningful international action through the Security Council. And yet, in this case, you have the grave breach of such a critical international norm in terms of the ban on chemical weapons use, it is very important that the international community act so as to prevent further use."


Oh, the humanity! What an embarrassment for your claim about the U.N. ambassador making a legal case for the strike - she actually comes out and says "yep, it's not legal"! The Kosovo quote in the context of not going through the UNSC, of course is the giveaway - because we officially acknowledged that it was illegal. When a direct request was made that she make a legal case, she couldn't:

"INSKEEP: Let me ask a central question for you, because you're representing the U.S. to the United Nations, which has not authorized a strike. Would an American strike on Syria be legal?

POWER: If we take military action in this context, it will be a legitimate, necessary and proportionate response to this large-scale and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by the regime. Nobody has tried harder than this administration to work through the Security Council over two and a half years. As you're well aware of, of course, even modest humanitarian and political measures have been rejected by Russia.

In New York we've had three resolutions put forward, all of which have been vetoed by Russia. And on chemical weapons, specifically and perhaps most heartbreakingly, even on the day of August 21, when those ghastly images were broadcast all around the world, we couldn't even get a press release out of the Security Council condemning generically use of chemical weapons. So...
"

So here we are. A claim was made that Rice and Power made a case for the legality of a strike on Syria. That claim was unsubstantiated, despite repeated requests. Of course, as can be seen above, the opposite was in fact the case - Power as much as flipped her middle finger at the law in this case. Sad trombone.

As an aside, the administration didn't fail for lack of trying. They're practiced warmongers who have been trying to sell us a war in Syria for a long time, so taking notes from GWB, they're busily scouring the lowest depths to dragoon some kind of lawyer who could put his name on a bunch of statements ending with the desired conclusion "war, fuck yeah, thumbs up!" - worked for GWB and Yoo on the torture memos. But then again, listening to Power, maybe they've given up on finding a lawyer who wants his name to live in infamy a la Yoo:

The OPR report concluded that Yoo had "committed 'intentional professional misconduct' when he advised the CIA it could proceed with waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques against Al Qaeda suspects", although the recommendation that he be referred to his state bar association for possible disciplinary proceedings was overruled by David Margolis, another senior Justice department lawyer.[25]

After all, they can start an illegal war for the very good legal reason of "just because" - not like it hasn't been done in the past.

Any state. Laws exist in the context of a polity that defines them and where there is a viable enforcement mechanism. When there is no enforcement and lawbreaking is the norm, there is de facto no law.

Any state? Yeah, it's pretty stupid. So, like for example Somalia? Or any number of states where there are areas, larger or smaller where the enforcement of laws is lacking to various degrees? Or maybe the U.S., which has a metric ton of laws that are unenforced, or rarely enforced, and where the whole point of controversy exists because by rarely enforcing them, it creates a situation where harassment is possible through selective enforcement of such laws. Quite analogous.

With regard to international law, which is a mish-mash of international agreements[blah, etc.]

Whatever follows collapses for the most basic reason - the distinction between de facto and de jure. Any de facto lack of enforcement of laws - whether in the international or national context - has zero bearing on the fact that the laws exist, de jure. We will be in breach of the laws, full stop. What the consequences are, is a completely separate question. This is where this silliness follows:

"Yours and others' concerns about the legality of an attack on Syria are probably the least important, least productive use of your energy possible in opposition to a US attack on Syria. That you would be consistently blustery and obtuse in this thread as you pound this tiny drum is appropriate for this particular obsession."

I love this particular passage for the rich mother-load of "wrong" contained in such a short blurb. The legality of the war apparently is an insignificant fact not worth anyone's energy. I propose that you write to the U.N. Secretary General, and inform him that his energy is misspent, because it sounds like he should not bother mentioning that laws are broken, since it means nothing - or mention it maybe once, so that all can have a big belly-laugh about the insignificant - and non-existent, really - law and 'boys will be boys'. Instead, not only does he sound serious in using very strong language, but he must be ignoring your memo, because he mentions this repeatedly:

"As I have repeatedly said, the Security Council has primary responsibility for international peace and security," Ban said at a news conference. "The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations Charter and or when the Security Council approves such action."

What a waste of energy! And so unimportant! Why mention it at all? Mysteries abound. But it gets better. You should also inform the countless lawyers and diplomats and bureaucrats who have spent titanic amounts of energy on this "unimportant" task of trying to make this operation legal. In the words of your hero Power:

"Every day for the two and a half years of the Syrian conflict, we have shown how seriously we take the UN Security Council and our obligations to enforce international peace and security. Since 2011, Russia and China have vetoed three separate Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime’s violence or promoting a political solution to the conflict. This year alone, Russia has blocked at least three statements expressing humanitarian concern and calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities in Syria."

Why spend all that energy and man hours and resources on something so unimportant? What an "unproductive use of energy"! It sounds positively like an "obsession"!

But then again, of course, it just might be, that those of us with the "childishly naive" views that we ought to obey the most fundamental international laws we ourselves helped create, realize what the "adult" point of view of "lawless anarchy where might is the only thing that, in practice, makes "right" really does miss something.

That something being not merely unintended consequences, but a most basic fact that any power that is seen as only operating by the law when it is convenient loses all moral legitimacy, thus setting itself up for a continuous and very costly necessity for enforcement. When you lose the power of moral suasion, you lose the capacity for acting outside of military power. You will find out eventually, that all that military power has a fraction of the long term effectiveness of soft power. But that is something outside the scope of understanding of those who don't actually even acknowledge the existence of "international laws, really".
posted by VikingSword at 6:00 PM on September 9, 2013


"I love this particular passage for the rich mother-load of "wrong" contained in such a short blurb."

You've really got this combination of superciliousness and self-righteousness down. I haven't seen the like since the heyday of USENET newsgroups where cranks hang out.

But, anyway, the US long, long, long ago lost the power of moral suasion. If you're hanging your argument on that utilitarian rationale, then you're in a lot of trouble. If you're hanging your argument on what is clearly your visceral outrage at lawlessness by the US, then where have you been the last hundred and twenty years? You seem to think I'm endorsing it. I'm not. You seem to think that it matters that you protest it and the UN Secretary General protests it, but it doesn't. Were you in a coma from 2003-2010? When the US bombed Cambodia?

You have an idiot savant's laser-like focus on the issue of illegality, which no one here has seriously questioned, least of all me, as if you think that it matters just because you say that it does. Or because the UN Secretary General does. Did he mention any UN sanction against the US that he intended to propose were it to bomb Syria? The US that sits on the Security Council, who has the single largest influence of any member for who is chosen for his position? Who provides a huge chunk of its funding and hosts its headquarters? Who has ignored and violated international law in the past with impunity, including in the very recent present?

I just now realized precisely how you are reminding me of USENET cranks. It's that you lean heavily on very narrow appeals to specific authority with which you clearly have limited familiarity and you adopt a hectoring and combatively ridiculing tone with those who disagree, as if it's clear that we're all idiots and you're the expert. But that really only works in environments where having read a magazine article or two and a Wikipedia entry provides more knowledge than 99% of those present, who are lucky to correctly guess "and" in a Wheel of Fortune puzzle. That's not MetaFilter.

I've been reading wonkish foreign policy publications and books since the mid-eighties when I took my first poli-sci class in international politics. I have long familiarity with the debate between the realist and other schools, and I actually tend toward the internationalist schools and the advocacy for the uses of "soft power". I've a history right here on MeFi of arguing precisely what Kaye argues in his article, which you quoted to refute me. The difference between us is that my argument begins from the premise that the US already lost that legitimacy long ago, like all the great powers always have, but that it would be a better world if this weren't the case. But that's not the world we live in presently and this world certainly isn't one where the question of legality is one that has any influence whatsoever on the US's decision to bomb Syria.

It's comical how outraged you are, both that the US would consider doing something illegal within the context of international law and that anyone and everyone would not find this so utterly horrifying that the awareness of this instantly stops the Obama administration in its tracks. The US uses its military at will, a military which is funded by a budget larger than the entire rest of the word's military spending combined? As it's used its military might so frequently in the past and which, in fact, it has done so in violation of various laws and agreements? Even by its own internal legal standards? The US set up a system of prisons in other countries, with CIA coordination, where it is able imprison "captured" foreign nationals at will, including citizens of friendly nations, and then torture them in violation of both international and its own laws. But, oh no, the US is going to bomb Syria and it's illegal!! Yes, when people learn of this, they're sure to rise up in outrage at such lawlessness because, after all, it's so much worse than a system of a dozen secret torture prison and all of its previously illegal wars and CIA coups. Yeah, none of that stuff is nearly as eye-opening as that the US is considering violating the UN charter by being the aggressor against a country that is widely believed to have used chemical weapons. Sure, if you keep banging this drum about this proposed illegal action, I'm sure that sooner or later, everyone will realize that this is, indeed, the moment to force the US to behave better. Because, of course, the UN general assembly might pass a resolution condemning it. Clearly, the US couldn't face that terrifying prospect.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:00 PM on September 9, 2013


I am of the opinion that the legal question is unsettled; mostly because international law on these matters lacks a real controlling authority. The White House Counsel and the Government of the UK have stated their belief that a strike would be legal. Some international lawyers (though not a majority) have stated that they believe that the so called, "Responsibility to Protect" and other humanitarian reasons would provide the legal basis for a limited military action, even absent a UN security resolution. The people holding the "its legal" opinion have the ear of the President of the United States and ultimately he gets to judge, assuming congress grants him the authority. The Supreme Court is unlikely to grant an injunction stopping him.
posted by humanfont at 8:08 PM on September 9, 2013


Looks to me like Obama and Putin have played the Bad Cop/Good Cop scenario to get the UN to go in and dismantle the Syrian chemical stockpile.
We'll see how this plays out, but good for them if it works.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:12 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's comical how outraged you are, both that the US would consider doing something illegal within the context of international law and that anyone and everyone would not find this so utterly horrifying that the awareness of this instantly stops the Obama administration in its tracks.

So why are we so outraged that the Syrian regime is breaking international law? And why would you support indicting Bashar al-Assad in the Hauge for war crimes if you think international law is a sham?

You have an idiot savant's laser-like focus on the issue of illegality, which no one here has seriously questioned, least of all me

Weren't you berating me like a schoolmarm up thread about being rude? Also, you sure seemed to be questioning the illegality of a military action up thread when you said:

There's no "illegality" in international relation, really; not in the sense that I think most people are thinking of when they use the expression "it's illegal".

That's a pretty shifty qualifying clause. You seem to be dancing around a lot without really saying much other than: international law doesn't really exist except in the context of the great powers enforcing their own will. Which does seems to be a fairly accurate description of the way the world currently works. But that is only from the perspective of the great powers. I think you might find some of our brothers and sisters who live in less militarized societies might take exception to your cavalier dismissal of international laws and norms....oh but for some reason you think we should enforce the norm of not using chemical weapons, but not of violating the sovereignty of other countries.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:06 PM on September 9, 2013


You've really got this combination of superciliousness and self-righteousness down.

I'm really sorry to have provided links which describe a different reality than the one you appear to inhabit, and pointing out that you aren't able to back up your gaseous claims - very supercilious and self-righteous of me.

I haven't seen the like since the heyday of USENET newsgroups where cranks hang out.

You have an idiot savant's laser-like focus on the issue of illegality[...]

I'm sorry to concentrate on actual links with arguments from lawyers, it's wrong of me and marks me as an idiot savant with laser focus. Instead I should have been matching your gaseous inventions and baroque assertions about How Things Are, backed up by absolutely nothing.

[...]which no one here has seriously questioned, least of all me,[...]

except for several assertions about positions by U.S. officials about the legality of the strikes against Syria which they have not expressed, and when I requested links to such, you had, of course, as usual nothing. Another "no one here" is the guy on whose behalf you dropped those turdlets masquerading as 'snark', humanfont, who right below your post again makes assertions, and again provides no links to Rice and Power which would bear it out, despite my repeated requests that he provide them, so, just like you, he's got nothing.

I just now realized precisely how you are reminding me of USENET cranks.[blah, etc.]

And just because you got nothing, doesn't mean that in the absence of substantive arguments you can't spin elaborate explanations about just what a crank I must be, what with those useless links and that is pretty much the rest of your post with a side serving of more gaseous assertions as usual backed by nothing. That's what you bring to your posts here, and since this is apparently the best you can mobility scooter into this discussion, I am going to pass on further "discussions" with you.

I've been reading wonkish foreign policy publications and books since the mid-eighties when I took my first poli-sci class in international politics.[blah, etc.]

Oh, OK. One can really tell you're quite the expert.

Have a nice day.
posted by VikingSword at 10:07 PM on September 9, 2013


"So why are we so outraged that the Syrian regime is breaking international law?"

Because they gassed their own fucking people, man. That heinous act precedes any reckoning of international law. That's a fine thing to feel moral outrage over.

And why would you support indicting Bashar al-Assad in the Hauge for war crimes if you think international law is a sham?

Because the way you build institutions is through use?
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because they gassed their own fucking people, man. That heinous act precedes any reckoning of international law. That's a fine thing to feel moral outrage over.

I agree. Just as VikingSwords outrage over the reckless disregard of international law by the U.S. government is a fine thing to feel moral outrage over... Ivan Fyodorovich's "realist" position notwithstanding.

Because the way you build institutions is through use?

Again, I wholeheartedly agree. So let's use them instead of bombing yet another Arab nation. Which is again in contradiction to Ivan Fyodorovich's ranting about how international law and institutions are irrelevant.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:22 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been reading wonkish foreign policy publications and books since the mid-eighties

Well at least you're honest about being neck deep in American propaganda since the mid-eighties.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:24 PM on September 9, 2013


I really wonder what this crisis will mean for Obama's presidency. I think a case can be made that should he launch an attack on Syria, he'll pretty much destroy the effectiveness of his second term. The Republicans are opposing him tooth and nail, that goes without saying. But I'm worried that many liberals might be abandoning him as well, in which case he's toast. It is not a good sign when MoveOn which has been always in his corner is coming up with ads to oppose his Syria policy:

During a recent 24-hour vote, more than 70 percent of MoveOn's members came out against military strikes

This opposition is not going to translate into MoveOn not standing with Obama on other issues - according to the leadership. I wonder about the rank and file though.

The rest of Obama's agenda has really stalled - the immigration issue and other priorities have fallen off the radar with so much political capital being spent on something as unpopular with the public as the Syrian strikes. This looks to have been a tremendous blunder and all for what?

Meanwhile, it's hard to say what his support will look like longer term. I don't have a crystal ball, and can only relate what I've personally observed, but here is one example of something that I've heard from many people in this industry - purely anecdotal of course, I don't have any statistics, but from the Hollywood Reporter:

"The good news for President Barack Obama as he considers a military response against Syria for using chemical weapons against rebels is that he probably won't have to deal with a similar anti-war movement from Hollywood. But that's not because there isn't opposition. It's just not organized, and, as Asner and Farrell – two of the industry's most vocal progressive activists -- told The Hollywood Reporter Friday, perhaps it never will be."

"Asner, 83, and Farrell, 74, both expressed extreme disappointment in Obama for advocating military action.
"What he is talking about in Syria is a potential war crime," Farrell said. "It will be illegal, and if citizens are killed it certainly could be considered a war crime."
Even if Obama presents irrefutable evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas against civilians, military action is still unwarranted, the two activists say.
"This administration ought to insist that the international community charge [Assad] with a war crime and prosecute him, and in so doing Obama would be following the law instead of flaunting the law," Farrell said.
"

It's interesting that the legality of the war is a big issue that's mentioned spontaneously and stressed strongly - it very much reflects the conversations I've heard. Of course, maybe I'm only hearing from cranks, so who knows how many cranks there are. There is no doubt there's disappointment among the liberals:

""I'm frankly deeply disappointed in the president's foreign policy, war-making, his reliance on military rather then diplomatic responses, his use of drones, continued allowance of the Guantanamo prison. He's a disappointment to me and other people I know.""

Again, maybe Farrell is also speaking only to cranks, but this issue resonates.

There was a fundraiser that Obama was supposed to attend here, and which has been cancelled, officially due to him needing to tend to the Syrian situation votes, and supposedly will be re-scheduled. I heard that it was cancelled for low attendence to avoid embarrasement. I have absolutely no proof of that, and it may be completely wrong. I only heard from two people directly, plus a third person's assistant, that they cancelled their participation because they are furious with BO about the war mongering, so I don't have the overall numbers. FWIW, refunds are being offered to attendees for their donation to the Democratic National Committee. Who knows. I can only speak for myself and the people I do know, and there is a ton of unhappiness here, the like of which I have not seen before wrt. Obama. This seems to have struck a nerve. But, as I don't claim to know "what most people think", I'm filing that under - personal experience, for what it's worth.

What worries me more, is that regardless of what he does from here on, he's been damaged pretty badly. I know I'm not the only one who will never trust this guy again, because I've seen him walk back stuff repeatedly, as he did with the MJ prosecutions, where he appeared to signal a relaxation, and then slammed enforcement in high gear. I used to defend him, but no more. He prevented a Romney presidency, and that's great, but it's over now. No more money, and no more support of any kind. Some of course have grown cynical:

"A lot of people have lost hope -- with the betrayals, the NSA spying ... People aren't getting active because 'Who gives a shit?' is essentially the bottom line."(same link, above).

Again, this may be atypical - I don't know. Perhaps it only represents the people I talk to, plus these blokes quoted above and their pals, and really it's a tempest in a teacup - useless Hollywood liberal cranks of no importance, good only for some fundraisers and fuck 'em otherwise. That's possible. It is also possible that these are the canaries in the coal mine, as Hollywood can have an outsize political influence when they get their ducks in order. We'll see how the rest of the cookie crumbles.
posted by VikingSword at 11:12 PM on September 9, 2013


Why so grumpy, still? This is working out for the best, looks like. I honestly don't get it. I get being mad over the NSA stuff, but this looks like it's all worked out. Why the continued acidic comments? Let it rest for a day or two, maybe a week, then see what people are saying.
posted by raysmj at 11:18 PM on September 9, 2013




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 6:21 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oops, I meant to post that in the other Syria thread, but I guess it sense here too.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:27 AM on September 10, 2013


"So why are we so outraged that the Syrian regime is breaking international law?"
Because they gassed their own fucking people, man. That heinous act precedes any reckoning of international law. That's a fine thing to feel moral outrage over.
And why would you support indicting Bashar al-Assad in the Hauge for war crimes if you think international law is a sham?
Because the way you build institutions is through use?


I think the point he is alluding to is that the United States has knowingly participated in breaking international law on a regular basis, and as you say yourself, the way you build institutions is through use.

So when we armed Saddam with chemical weapons, and then blocked UN statements against him through backdoor diplomatic channels after he used them against Kurds and Iranians both before and after the Iran-Iraq War, why didn't we invade and topple him then? Tens of thousands of people were killed by his chemical attacks -- remember all of the propaganda leading up to "Iraqi Freedom" -- and according to many, parts of those attacks were part of Saddam's campaign of genocide against the Kurds.

The simple and obvious answer is because forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with international law on the question of chemical weapons at that time was against the interests of the United States. So if the United States is establishing the idea that a country can ignore international law when it doesn't fit the national interest, and it has done so in the past on the very issue of chemical weapons, perhaps you will more clearly understand why the opinion of the United States is carried only by our stockpile of money and military equipment.

Any claims of "moral outrage" from the United States are ignored for good reasons: we are currently force feeding stateless prisoners (against international law), operating drone strikes without any due process (against international law), presiding over the worst humanitarian disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan since the last time we destroyed both countries (called wars of aggression for any other nation), and because we have a long history of supporting dictators and the use of chemical weapons (against international law).

So, when people bring up events from 25 years ago -- like Saddam's chemical weapons attacks -- and then point to more obscene and illegal behavior from the US government as evidence that they haven't changed their ways -- like rendition, torture, support for Mubarak and other dictators -- I think they have a reasonably strong argument. Because that's the kind of arguments we make against individuals like Assad. The only problem is that the United States is helping suppress democratic will in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, and in Kurdish regions of Turkey. We have also participated in suppressing democratic will in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon when it has suited our national interest. Our reputation in the region is so bad right now that the mere fact that we publicly oppose Assad strengthens his regime.

And this all doesn't even touch the central issue that if the United States and our allies had not knowingly participated and escalated the Syrian opposition and miscalculated the strength of the Assad regime, fewer people in Syria would be dead right now, and fewer al Qaeda affiliates would have advanced weaponry and more training.
posted by deanklear at 9:26 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


So when we armed Saddam with chemical weapons

Cite?
posted by BobbyVan at 9:28 AM on September 10, 2013


Cite?

Well actually we didn't sell Saddam the final product, but rather the capability and precursors to make all the chemical weapons he needed.

the Reagan administration knew full well it was selling materials to Iraq that was being used for the manufacture of chemical weapons, and that Iraq was using such weapons, but U.S. officials were more concerned about whether Iran would win rather than how Iraq might eke out a victory. Dobbs noted that Iraq’s chemical weapons’ use was “hardly a secret, with the Iraqi military issuing this warning in February 1984: ”The invaders should know that for every harmful insect, there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it . . . and Iraq possesses this annihilation insecticide.” (source)

What's even worse is that we provided him with targeting information knowing full well that chemical weapons would be used.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. (source)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:39 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Throughout the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq was the sworn enemy of Iran, then still in the throes of an Islamic revolution. U.S. officials saw Baghdad as a bulwark against militant Shiite extremism and the fall of pro-American states such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and even Jordan -- a Middle East version of the "domino theory" in Southeast Asia. That was enough to turn Hussein into a strategic partner and for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad to routinely refer to Iraqi forces as "the good guys," in contrast to the Iranians, who were depicted as "the bad guys."

A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former policymakers shows that U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in shoring up Iraqi defenses against the "human wave" attacks by suicidal Iranian troops. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.
...
"Fundamentally, the policy was justified," argues David Newton, a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, who runs an anti-Hussein radio station in Prague. "We were concerned that Iraq should not lose the war with Iran, because that would have threatened Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Our long-term hope was that Hussein's government would become less repressive and more responsible."
...
Thus, on Nov. 1, 1983, a senior State Department official, Jonathan T. Howe, told Secretary of State George P. Shultz that intelligence reports showed that Iraqi troops were resorting to "almost daily use of CW" against the Iranians. But the Reagan administration had already committed itself to a large-scale diplomatic and political overture to Baghdad, culminating in several visits by the president's recently appointed special envoy to the Middle East, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Secret talking points prepared for the first Rumsfeld visit to Baghdad enshrined some of the language from NSDD 114, including the statement that the United States would regard "any major reversal of Iraq's fortunes as a strategic defeat for the West." When Rumsfeld finally met with Hussein on Dec. 20, he told the Iraqi leader that Washington was ready for a resumption of full diplomatic relations, according to a State Department report of the conversation. Iraqi leaders later described themselves as "extremely pleased" with the Rumsfeld visit, which had "elevated U.S.-Iraqi relations to a new level."

12/30/2002, Washington Post
"U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup" by Michael Dobbs
posted by deanklear at 9:41 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Over the course of 1983, our current president worked on his undergraduate degree at Columbia and then went through graduation.

Now, unless someone wants to make the "there's a straight line from this to Syria" again, and hadn't noticed the dramatic change in events overnight regardless, I don't get the point in bringing this up again, regardless of how long ago (but not ancient) it was. You want the U.S. to go back to 1983 and be cool with chemical weapons, or for Obama to apologize on behalf of the U.S. Govt. and public before working with Russia and France, etc., in bringing a chemical weapons turnover before the U.N. Security Council? Or can you not get out of self-righteous pundit mode?
posted by raysmj at 9:56 AM on September 10, 2013


"there's a straight line from this to Syria"

Having lived and worked in the Middle East I can guarantee you that there is absofuckinglutely a straight line from Iraq to Syria in the minds of the "Arab street."

Also no one is asking Obama to apologize. We are asking Obama to quit meddling in the Middle East. We bring up the past because the past is relevant to the present and future, despite your protestations to the contrary.

In a thread about gender would you argue that the history of women's oppression by the patriarchy has no bearing or relevance to the present and/or future? I don't think that would really fly. The same for fpps on slavery or African Americans. Would you invalidate the experiences of millions of African Americans because jim crow was decades ago. I highly doubt it.

If you "get the point" of bringing up the past in these other situations (if you don't please correct me) why do you make special exceptions to cases where American foreign policy is concerned?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point, raysmj, is that the moral posturing is bogus. It is also so obviously bogus, that it is embarrassingly easy to demonstrate. Obama might have been elected relatively recently, but vast swathes of the CIA, the military, the NSA, and civil servants in all aspects of government are, in fact, life-long careerists - and those careerists are controlling and influencing him as much as the other way around. So, what happened 25 years ago is still extremely relevant, and a simple "but that was a different administration" doesn't give us permission to exclude past actions when analysing present ones. It is not simply in the past. Also, a not insignificant portion of people in the middle east were adults 30 years ago, and it's pretty worthwhile to take their experiences into account here.
posted by molecicco at 10:19 AM on September 10, 2013


So you're cool with chemical weapons in Syria, then? You'll just let that slide? And then send me another article from such a stellar source as the Global "Research" site, filled mostly with punditry and reprints of RT articles? No one could possibly argue that the U.S. hasn't done all sorts of wrong in recent years (although I refuse to have seen the Iraq war as inevitable, sorry, not going for that), but I'm hard pressed to see a downside if this situation works itself out with a chemical weapons turnover.
posted by raysmj at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2013


But why does it make you so angry, the posturing, if it results in a good thing AND international cooperation? Why the hell do you care so much?

Hardly any career civil servants are left from 1983, which was 30 years ago. With govt. retirement ages, they'd have been out long, long before, most of them. And there surely aren't higher-ups at the time or policy team people around from the Reagan years anyway (especially not with a Dem. administration in the White House now for nearly six years, with dozens of appointments at the upper echelons of all major and minor defense and intelligence agencies allowed under 1978 civil service reform rules).
posted by raysmj at 10:26 AM on September 10, 2013


So you're cool with chemical weapons in Syria, then?

Oh, shut up. 3 million kids will die this year because of malnutrition while we spend our money on bombs to legitimize our military threats. Not wanting to intervene in either situation doesn't mean you are "cool" with it.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, change the subject, then, and try to shout me down. The money was being spent on bombs long before this started, approved and even urged by some of the same people now wanting to keep us out, at the expense of social welfare programs AND foreign aid.
posted by raysmj at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2013


So you're cool with chemical weapons in Syria, then?

No.

You'll just let that slide?

Yes. I would also suggest that NATO and its allies quit funding the rebellion in Syria. We can't pretend to be good faith partners in peace and/or negotiations while we are pumping guns, money, and American trained rebels into the Syrian hinterlands...and it's crazy that anyone thinks that this is the case. We are not good faith partners in diplomacy and there can be no settlement in Syria until we stop the killing. More killing in the form of limited U.S. intervention will do nothing more than to inflame the situation and lead to more death and destruction.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:32 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That being said I hope the Russian proposal pans out as less chemical weapons in the world is always a good thing. It's funny that Russia is showing the U.S. how soft power is supposed to work. Something we haven't tried since 911 it seems.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:33 AM on September 10, 2013


You're not cool with it, but you'll let it slide? Goodbye.
posted by raysmj at 10:33 AM on September 10, 2013


So you're cool with chemical weapons in Syria, then?

Oh, shut up.


No.
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2013


Yes, change the subject, then, and try to shout me down.

You just accused someone of being "cool" with a regime slaughtering children with chemical weapons so you can get off your conversational high horse.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2013


I said, more or less, So you're cool with them keeping chemical weapons? I didn't talk about children directly as an emotional appeal, nor did I tell anyone to be quiet.
posted by raysmj at 10:37 AM on September 10, 2013


Maybe we are talking past each other. AElfwine Evenstar is not cool with chemical weapons being dropped on Syrians. Agreed?
posted by Drinky Die at 10:39 AM on September 10, 2013


No.
posted by raysmj at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2013


Maybe we are talking past each other. AElfwine Evenstar is not cool with chemical weapons being dropped on Syrians. Agreed?

Agreed.

You're not cool with it, but you'll let it slide?

Are you cool with the state of education in this country? Are you cool with the deaths from malnutrition mentioned above? If not then why are you letting it slide? Do you like children to die from easily preventable causes? hurf durf derk derka. I hope this illustrates the futility and wrongheadedness of your tack here.

Goodbye.

Indeed. I would only suggest that you or I aren't really in any position to "let" anything "slide". The fact that you are making this part of your interaction here illustrates an apparent inability to engage in critical and/or reasoned thought. Seriously. We are discussing a geopolitical situation and you come in here badgering people about what they individually will do about Syria's chemical weapons insinuating that they are ok with the use of said weapons. What we are suggesting, and its really pretty simple, is that the U.S. needs to stop meddling in the affairs of others with its military and intelligence services. Yes goodbye indeed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:45 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe we are talking past each other. AElfwine Evenstar is not cool with chemical weapons being dropped on Syrians. Agreed?
posted by Drinky Die at 1:39 PM on September 10 [+] [!]


No.

Assuming bad faith is conversational poison. He has said he cares but does not see military intervention as a good choice to address the problem. This is why I told you to shut up, there isn't any productive conversation in listening to you insist people are lying about their own views of the situation. AE might be wrong in this case, but he has always struck me as a very genuine anti-war individual.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:46 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


But, Drinky Die ... in conversation, "shut up" is akin to violence, a smack to the mouth. That's why I responded, inserted my "no" before your qualification. Smack for smack.
posted by philip-random at 10:51 AM on September 10, 2013


You really think we're still having a military invention? I'm not at all convinced that this was ever the intention anyway. I was never half as worried as most people I know about it. I don't understand being against U.S. intervention, meanwhile, while praising Putin for "schooling" the U.S. in anything. They're both big states with their own interests and their own posing, etc. (Also UN Security Council seats.) But I'm still hard pressed to see anything negative coming out of this, in the end, unless negotiations fail dramatically in short order.
posted by raysmj at 10:51 AM on September 10, 2013


You really think we're still having a military invention?

If the situation works itself out diplomatically I will be very happy but the legitimate threat of force will be a contributing factor. If you don't view that force as legitimate, it's very reasonable to be concerned because history shows diplomacy often fails. So one might, in theory, be concerned with deaths in future wars from similar brinksmanship. I know you aren't cool with those potential deaths, but they are something that should be examined when deciding if threats of force are the wisest choice for a particular situation.

None of this impacts the question of how AE feels about chemical weapons attacks in Syria though. I think if we apply some good faith we can assume that someone who is so strongly opposed to violence views the use of chemical weapons as a tragedy.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2013


AE might be wrong in this case

This is a distinct possibility given my status as a flawed and fallible human being. :) My initial instinct and reaction is to always be skeptical of military interventions. This may blind me in some cases to situations where maybe the use of force is appropriate. I don't think that is the case here given we have numerous senators and representatives coming out publicly stating that the case for the responsibility of the regime just isn't there. Maybe that will change and I will have to alter my thinking. As I said above the best case scenario is that Syria willingly gives up its chemical weapons. It's vexing to me why so many people here are arguing from the perspective that Syria used chemical weapons when this has yet to be proven.

I don't understand being against U.S. intervention, meanwhile, while praising Putin for "schooling" the U.S. in anything.

You don't understand how the use of soft power by Russia has apparently averted the need for U.S. intervention? Really?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2013


You don't understand how the use of soft power by Russia has apparently averted the need for U.S. intervention? Really?

You think Russia would have exerted it's "soft power" if the US hadn't been threatening intervention? Really?
posted by yoink at 11:03 AM on September 10, 2013


To expand a little, if this Russian initiative actually works (i.e., removes chemical weapons from Assad's arsenal), this will be an extraordinary triumph of military threat as a diplomatic tool. Without the threat of US military intervention it is unimaginable that Russia would have made this proposal. In fact, the best thing the Congress could do now would in fact be to authorize the raid with the proviso that all efforts must be made to pursue the diplomatic solution outlined by the Russians before military force is actually used. It might even be possible to establish some kind of bipartisan committee whose task it is to sign off within a given timeframe on whether or not the Syrians are making serious efforts to comply with the Russian proposal, and make future military action dependent on that committee's ruling.
posted by yoink at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2013


No, from what I've been reading there was talk about a chemical weapons turnover weeks ago, and gosh only knows what's been happening behind the scenes. I figured there had to be a reason why Obama kept going with this so hard, despite the polls showing a lack of almost any support from the public.

(That, and there was a side benefit of showing confusion among the GOP. Meanwhile, I've seen arguing that people will demand Congressional debates before non-strictly-defensive military action from now on. For the record, I'm not that optimistic.)
posted by raysmj at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2013


You think Russia would have exerted it's "soft power" if the US hadn't been threatening intervention? Really?

Probably not, but I don't really see where I asserted that it would have.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:13 AM on September 10, 2013


Everyone's right here. And wrong. There's all kinds of evil out there. We can't all take it all on with equal levels of commitment. We must make choices, and some of these choices will be wrong.

Maybe because I had a grandfather (and two great uncles) who experienced a mustard gas attack in WW1 (fortunately they had masks that functioned but some of their immediate companions didn't) ... maybe this prejudices me toward taking the use of chemical weapons more seriously than other evils. Maybe. Or maybe it just is more evil than other evils. It's that heart of darkness thing that they get to at the end of Apocalypse Now (Marlon Brando as Kurtz). Given that war by its very nature is programmed evil, why put any restriction on our actions? Doesn't such just allow the beast to continue to live?

To which my answer is, well, Kurtz had gone mad. Are we going to roll with a madman's logic?

Or more to the point, the "fuck all rules, hold nothing back" argument goes at least as far back as Tolstoy's War And Peace. And that character was pretty messed up, too. Except that was a different world. That was pre-Hiroshima. Hiroshima and the split-atom changed everything. Ever since then, the "hold nothing back" logic has only ever extrapolated to the death of all of us. And so, horrible as it may feel, we've been putting limits on our evil ever since, quantifying it.

And yes, there does seem to be almost unanimous agreement that chemicals belong in the "too evil" category. Such that I, pacifistic as I try to be, can begin to see an argument for forcibly shutting down any player who stoop to such extreme ends; just as I could get behind the NATO bombing of Serbia back in the 90s ... because somebody had to do something. And I'm glad they did. The checked something that had gotten way out of control. Yes innocents were killed, but likely far fewer than what would have happened had nothing been done.

Am I naive to think this way? Is Obama just some malevolent ass who wants to throw his weight around, get his name in the history books as a proper heavyweight? Are both sides in Syria equally in the wrong? etc etc etc ...

I don't have any useful answers beyond what I might think or feel. So thus endeth the rant. Except maybe one final throwaway. What would happen if, instead of missile attacks, the US (UN? whoever) just pumped gallons of Ecstasy into Syria? Absurd? Of course. But seriously, why not?
posted by philip-random at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I frankly am surprised there wasn't more talk about ulterior motives behind the threat-to-bomb before now.
I really haven't invested too much public faced thought into the Syria situation because it presented such a awful set of choices and not an easy absolutist stance, but I was wondering if the threats where aimed at trying to get al-Assad to the negotiation table, hopefully to try and simmer down the whole affair. In hindsight that seems kind of absurdest of me, but getting control of and eliminating the chemical stockpile is not a terrible secondary objective.
posted by edgeways at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's actually an interesting point you bring up, yoink.

Is Obama just some malevolent ass who wants to throw his weight around, get his name in the history books as a proper heavyweight?

I honestly don't know what to think at this point. Maybe Obama is playing the 12 dimensional chess game as his supporters always claim. Maybe he is just an incompetent and he bungled this whole situation while playing politics with people's lives. Maybe he is the "malevolent ass" you describe. I really don't know anymore, but this Russian deal is the best hope for averting another U.S. bombing campaign. Maybe Obama was actually part of formulating this course of action at the G20, but then why has his administration changed it's position several times everyday over the last week. Maybe to keep the Syrian guessing?

Either way, Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons will not do anything to stop the Syrian Civil War. Only NATO can do that by stopping the training and arming of the rebels, and by cutting off the money flow from the Gulf States. One of the best arguments against a strike is that it might plunge the entire region into a general internecine war. What we need to be working towards is stabilizing the region. The first step towards that is turning off the supply of small arms. Unfortunately this means that Assad will probably stay in power. But we could make a deal with him. If he begins reforms for a more open government we pledge to quit fomenting rebellion in Syria. With Russia as a good will partner this scenario could work. Not perfect, but a sight better than the body count rising to 200,000 over the next several years.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:30 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Without the threat of US military intervention it is unimaginable that Russia would have made this proposal.

Unimaginable? I fail to see why it is in the best interests of Russia to see their "client state" using chemical weapons on its own people. I thought Russia was supposed to be helping to "secure" the chemical weapons and prevent their use inside Syria since at least a year ago. They clearly have failed to do this, and it is beyond me why the international community is not outraged at Russia's failure to meet their obligations to secure these weapons, and is instead seemingly acting as if they are coming to the rescue some how. Russia could have prevented this massacre easily. Really, we should be outraged that Russia would allow these weapons to exist inside Syria at all.

Russia helps U.S., Syria establish contact, Turkey in shock. September 29 2012
Addressing the American media on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov dropped a bombshell. He said that Moscow had helped the American experts to establish contact with the Syrians on the subject of chemical weapons. “I hope I won’t disclose any big secret, but we have helped American experts establish contact with the Syrians on this issue, and we have received explanations and assurances that the Syrian government is guarding these facilities in the best possible way,” said Mr. Lavrov, as reported by Russia Today.

Lebanon’s Al Manar television website quoted its Arab sources in France as confirming that the U.S. delegation at the U.N. General Assembly annual session wanted to discuss with Syria, the issue of chemical weapons. The Syrian side pledged “with a Russian guarantee” that it would not use these weapons “inside Syria during the conflict between the government and the militant opposition”. However, the Syrian delegation was emphatic in stating that in case Syria was subjected to a foreign attack, in that case countries involved in inciting and participating in that attack would be legitimate targets “for the Syrian rockets… loaded with chemical warheads, including countries neighbouring Syria”.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Russia could have prevented this massacre easily.

We don't even know who launched the attack yet. Why do we continue to proceed to discuss things as if this is an established fact? Not calling you out specifically Golden as reading back through the discussion I have caught myself doing the same thing. Again a pertinent reminder of the power of propaganda. No one is immune.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2013


Do we even know a chemical attach happened? How do we know Assad didn't bomb a laboratory with extremely toxic chemicals? I read that CIA memo as saying the deaths appear to be chemical but not from weaponized chemicals. Is this based entirely upon the fact that no suitable rockets were fired? Did they examine the cause of death more closely? etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:03 PM on September 10, 2013


John Kerry pulls a Homer
posted by KokuRyu at 12:07 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I have a lot of respect for Kerry but kind of felt like he was bumbling through this. I would rather assume this was just very clever diplomacy instead of an unintended surprise but who knows.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2013


"I honestly don't know what to think at this point. Maybe Obama is playing the 12 dimensional chess game as his supporters always claim. Maybe he is just an incompetent and he bungled this whole situation while playing politics with people's lives. "

My best guess from the cheap seats is that he didn't want to get drawn into Syria, so he put out that dumb "red line" shit about a red line he didn't expect Syria to cross. Then when they did, he kinda had to follow through with an overtly earnest attempt to punish Syria with force.

And from what I've read about the intelligence chatter (and heard on NPR), the claim of culpability comes because the phone call intercepted was a "What the fuck did you do that for, lieutenant?!" sort of thing. The chemical weapons expert they had on was saying that Syria had likely been mixing small amounts of chemical weapons into their tear gas, and this was a bad over-mix.
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Over the course of 1983, our current president worked on his undergraduate degree at Columbia and then went through graduation.

And a couple of years ago, our current president's CIA set up shop in Istanbul along with the military commanders of Syrian rebels to help them with their war effort. The President's CIA (along with Gulf Arab money and Turkish support) distributed hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons and the death toll in Syria skyrocketed and the security situation deteriorated.

And a few years before that, the current Secretary of State John Kerry had a nice double date with Assad in Damascus.

Now, unless someone wants to make the "there's a straight line from this to Syria" again, and hadn't noticed the dramatic change in events overnight regardless, I don't get the point in bringing this up again, regardless of how long ago (but not ancient) it was. You want the U.S. to go back to 1983 and be cool with chemical weapons, or for Obama to apologize on behalf of the U.S. Govt. and public before working with Russia and France, etc., in bringing a chemical weapons turnover before the U.N. Security Council? Or can you not get out of self-righteous pundit mode?

No, I want the United States to stop terrorizing the world with its experiments in regime change and strategic weapons sales and to start participating in international organizations as a member instead of trying to run the world like a paternalistic geezer who can't be bothered to follow his own pronouncements.

Hardly any career civil servants are left from 1983, which was 30 years ago. With govt. retirement ages, they'd have been out long, long before, most of them. And there surely aren't higher-ups at the time or policy team people around from the Reagan years anyway (especially not with a Dem. administration in the White House now for nearly six years, with dozens of appointments at the upper echelons of all major and minor defense and intelligence agencies allowed under 1978 civil service reform rules).

The US policy towards Syrian regime change has been roughly the same since they were part of the coalition to invade Iraq in the first Gulf War, which was similar to our position after our various coups failed in that country and the Assad regime took over in the 1970s. But you're trying to convince me that a twenty year or ten year veteran in civil service wouldn't be influenced at all by people who worked from 1983 to 2013? Or by Joe Biden, who was elected in 1973, or John Kerry, who entered politics in 1972?

Obama, despite what year he was working on his undergraduate degree, had a chance to change the relationship when he came into office. He could have offered to pay for increased support to the two million refugees of the Iraq War straining the entire economy of Syria, but he didn't do that. Instead, his administration pursued the policy of regime change, and they are therefore accountable for at least some portion of the current situation. Unfortunately, Assad's regime was not as weak as they thought

What's more revealing is what the Obama Administration did as the deaths piled up from conventional weapons. They pumped tens of thousands of tons of more weapons into Syria, and not surprisingly, the death toll continued to rise. That's why the "red line" wasn't tens of thousands of dead people. That was the current effect of American, Turkish, and Gulf policies in Syria, so that's not a problem.

It's important to note that all of that are arguments you can make even when you presuppose that the US is trying to be a Good Samaritan. But the rest of the world probably views it like this:
In his decision to arm Syrian rebels with light weaponry, President Barack Obama may see merit in bleeding Iran, just as Iran bled the US in Iraq, so much so that the American people are simply unwilling to shed any more of their treasure in the Middle East.

Columnist Fareed Zakaria called that consideration a “clever, effective, brutal strategy to bleed America’s enemies” on Sunday, calling other justifications for the decision to provide only light arms “like trying to get a little bit pregnant.”

“The fact that Iran and Hezbollah are sending militias, arms and money into Syria is not a sign of strength. It is a sign that they are worried that the regime might fall,” says Zakaria. “Keeping them engaged and pouring resources into Syria bleeds them. It weakens them substantially.”

But Kenneth Pollack, formerly a CIA intelligence analyst and National Security Council staffer now with the Brookings Institution, said that the US “has no clue” what the Iranians are truly providing, or what those provisions are costing the regime.

“We know that Iranian support is important to Assad, but we couldn’t quantify it, and we don’t know the extent of the support,” Pollack told The Jerusalem Post. “Typically, we find it doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to provide Kalashnikovs and RPGs. The Iranians can provide lots and lots of them, and it’s really not going to affect their bottom line.”
Supposing that report is accurate, the Syrian story becomes a lot less attractive for Obama for people outside of the US propaganda model: he decided to continue a low intensity proxy war against Iran, and he is using the Syrian nation as a low-risk alternative -- politically and militarily -- to open confrontations with Iran. The escalation had nothing to do with the freedom or the security of the Syrian people -- after all, you can't increase security by destabilizing a state through guerrilla warfare. The Syrians are just unfortunate pawns and cannon fodder in the larger geopolitical goals of the United States, just as the Afghani mujahideen were once we abandoned them after our proxy war victory over Russia in the 1980s. As Obama himself implicitly admitted, the Syrian death toll was unfortunate but not a concern of the United States unless chemical weapons were used. The "line," therefore, is not a principled stance against use of chemical weapons, but a public relations effort designed to manage political support for American involvement.

That is also the position found in the leaked Stratfor documents, this communique being written in December of 2011:
I spent most of the afternoon at the Pentagon with the USAF strategic studies group - guys who spend their time trying to understand and explain to the USAF chief the big picture in areas where they're operating in. It was just myself and four other guys at the Lieutenant Colonel level, including one French and one British representative who are liaising with the US currently out of DC.

They wanted to grill me on the strategic picture on Syria, so after that I got to grill them on the military picture. There is still a very low level of understanding of what is actually at stake in Syria, what's the strategic interest there, the Turkish role, the Iranian role, etc. After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce missions and training opposition forces. One Air Force intel guy (US) said very carefully that there isn't much of a Free Syrian Army to train right now anyway, but all the operations being done now are being done out of 'prudence.' The way it was put to me was, 'look at this way - the level of information known on Syrian OrBat this month is the best it's been since 2001.' They have been told to prepare contingencies and be ready to act within 2-3 months, but they still stress that this is all being done as contingency planning, not as a move toward escalation.

I kept pressing on the question of what these SOF teams would be working toward, and whether this would lead to an eventual air camapign to give a Syrian rebel group cover. They pretty quickly distanced themselves from that idea, saying that the idea 'hypothetically' is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within. There wouldn't be a need for air cover, and they wouldn't expect these Syrian rebels to be marching in columns anyway.
...

There still seems to be a lot of confusion over what a military intervention involving an air campaign would be designed to achieve. It isn't clear cut for them geographically like in Libya, and you can't just create an NFZ over Homs, Hama region. This would entail a countrywide SEAD campaign lasting the duration of the war. They dont believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi move against Benghazi. They think the US would have a high tolerance for killings as long as it doesn't reach that very public stage. Theyre also questiioning the skills of the Syrian forces that are operating the country's air defenses currently and how signfiicant the Iranian presence is there. Air Force Intel guy is most obsessed with the challenge of taking out Syria's ballistic missile capabilities and chem weapons. With Israel rgiht there and the regime facing an existential crisis, he sees that as a major complication to any military intervention.
posted by deanklear at 12:27 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would rather assume this was just very clever diplomacy instead of an unintended surprise but who knows.

I dunno, John Kerry's "unbelievably small" comment about US strikes made my head hurt, as did the American rhetoric that attacking Syria would not be declaring war.

An "unbelievably small" pistol shot set of the First World War.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]




John Pilger.
The silent military coup that took over Washington.
This time it's Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and war crimes.
posted by adamvasco at 1:14 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just came in to say that hours prior to Kerry making the remarks I was briefly discussing this horrible mess with a coworker that was disillusioned with Obama. I said there was no good action as either you stand by while chemical weapons are used, or you possibly escalate the situation by trying to hit enough military targets that future use of chemical weapons that the calculus is set to deemed to costly.

I ended the conversation saying the the best possible outcome would be Russia or the UN being allowed to come in and remove the chemical weapons. I find it hard to believe that the current administration hasn't had that goal all along, and that Kerry "accidentally" made the remarks that Russia and Syria jumped on. Seems like it was a solution that was worked on in back channels that would afford reasonable cover to all parties involved.
posted by 6ATR at 1:19 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to the Burchett article referenced by adamvasco's last link:

The Atomic Plague [1945]
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:30 PM on September 10, 2013


Obama is either the luckiest sob who ever lived, or there is something to this whole 12 dimensional chess thing.
posted by humanfont at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So much for non-interference:

U.S. providing some lethal aid to Syrian rebels: opposition spokesman

"PLANNING FOR STRIKES

Rebel spokesman Saleh, who is based in Turkey, spoke at a news conference called to urge the U.S. Congress to authorize Obama's proposal for limited military strikes in Syria following a chemical weapons attack on rebel areas outside Damascus on August 21 that the United States has blamed on Assad's forces.

Saleh said rebel military leaders were coordinating with the countries that might participate in a U.S.-led strike.

He said the Supreme Military Council also had a plan to derive tactical benefits from the strikes if they do take place, such as by securing areas that are hit.
"

"derive tactical benefits from the strikes"... it never was just about the alleged chemical weapons, with the strikes - and now the weapons are flowing.

Business as usual. Strikes or no strikes, chemical weapons or not, we will continue our push for regime change and chaos. Cause that's just how we roll, baby.
posted by VikingSword at 3:58 PM on September 10, 2013


We don't even know who launched the attack yet. Why do we continue to proceed to discuss things as if this is an established fact?

wikipedia:
According to Human Rights Watch report, two types of projectiles were used in the Chemical attacks. The first was a 330mm rocket "that appears to have a warhead designed to be loaded with and deliver a large payload of liquid chemical agent". The second was a Soviet-produced 140mm rocket that can deliver three possible warheads, one of them specifically designed to carry 2.2kg of sarin. Adding that "Human Rights Watch and arms experts monitoring the use of weapons in Syria have not documented Syrian opposition forces to be in the possession of the 140mm and 330mm rockets used in the attack or their associated launchers."[79][64]
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:49 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Would HRW know one way or the other? As I understand it these rockets are specialised, and neither side could use them for other purposes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2013


I obviously trust Human Rights Watch more than the Washington Post's CIA source, fair enough. Always possible Assad bombed munitions the rebels took, but hey.

As I understand it, the French parliament has authorized military action against Syria over the chemical weapons attack, maybe the French could "take out" Assad without the U.S. being involved.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:13 PM on September 10, 2013




Here's the report that is being referenced. None of the authors have any firsthand knowledge of the events and things they are describing. Their analysis was not of primary evidence, but rather of pre-recorded videos and personal interviews over skype. They are open about this fact; from page 3:

Without physical access to Eastern and Western Ghouta, Human Rights Watch interviewed by Skype from August 22 to September 6 more than 10 witnesses and survivors of the August 21 attacks, and 3 doctors who responded to the attacks. Human Rights Watch also reviewed available video and photo footage from the scene of the attacks, including high-resolution images obtained directly from a source who photographed and measured the rocket components found in the Eastern Ghouta attack, and conducted a detailed analysis of the weapon remnants captured in such footage.

Human Rights Watch asked Keith B. Ward, Ph.D., an expert on the detection and effects of chemical warfare agents, to review the clinical signs revealed by videos of hospitalized victims of the attacks, the victims’ symptoms described by medical workers on the scene, and the reported clinical signs and symptoms exhibited by medical workers after working with the victims.


This is not to say that their findings will not turn out to be accurate, but given that we have senators and representatives telling us that they aren't convinced after seeing the classified evidence, I'll wait for the official U.N. report.

So I will stand by my claim that we don't have any definitive evidence who carried out the strike given we have yet see any conclusions drawn from experts who have reviewed the primary evidence firsthand.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:59 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great speech btw...
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:27 PM on September 10, 2013


Some say Obama is merely an extension of Bush, but I dunno. Bush was a much better used war salesman.
posted by telstar at 2:11 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Black, Brown, and Invisible, Rafia Zakaria, Jacobin, 10 September 2013
Just as mass incarceration uses the gloss of rehabilitation to hide the realities of social control, military intervention has appropriated the language of humanitarianism to disguise imperialist motives.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:52 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


How naive:

Assad makes new demands as Kerry, Lavrov meet on chemical weapons

"Syrian President Bashar Assad says he won't give up Syria's chemical arsenal unless the U.S. stops arming rebels."

What a loon. Worse, he displays a complete lack of understanding of U.S. modus operandi.

The whole point is to disarm him to make it easier to then launch an attack without fear of a military response. Look what happened when Ghaddaffi dropped any pursuit of WMD - he signed his death sentence. The more disarmed and helpless Saddam was, the more anxious we were to invade.

MO: First, point to WMD (real or imagined) as reason to attack and demand that they be removed. Once removed, launch an attack with impunity.

Assad should understand, that whatever he does, we reserve the right to attack. We'll arm and finance his opposition in a relentless drive at regime change, with the likely result of his death (see: Ghadaffi, Saddam etc.).; then, when the fighting gets ugly (unclear just who used the CW, but let's assume Assad), threaten direct attacks from us, unless he voluntarily relinquishes whatever weapons might give him an edge; once he does, we redouble our efforts at arming the rebels until the bitter end.

Because we are the deciders.
posted by VikingSword at 8:45 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Syrian rebel groups sought sarin gas material, Turkish prosecutors say

"Prosecutors in southern Turkey have alleged that Syrian rebel groups were seeking to buy materials that could be used to produce highly toxic sarin gas, Turkish media reported Friday.

An indictment issued in the southern city of Adana alleged that a Syrian national identified as Hytham Qassap, 35, was in Turkey trying to procure chemical materials for a pair of well-known Islamist rebel blocs, Al Nusra Front and the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades, the reports said. Washington has designated Al Nusra Front as a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda.
"
posted by VikingSword at 12:22 PM on September 13, 2013


The more willing we are to fly off the handle and react to provocations, real or imagined, the more incentives we create for attacks against us - this is a conscious strategy of Al-Qaeda, to provoke us into destroying our own economy through massive military and security related expenses. The best way to deal with this, is to not allow ourselves to be provoked or stampeded into ridiculous military interventions.

Zawahiri seeks to damage US economy

""We must bleed America economically by provoking it, so that it continues its massive expenditures on security. America's weak spot is its economy, which began to totter from the drain of its military and security expenditure," he says."

"Syria remains a key focus for international attention - including for al-Qaeda. Zawahiri warns Islamist opposition groups there not to come to any agreement with "secularists" who are also fighting the Assad regime."

posted by VikingSword at 1:06 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bah. Al Qaeda will never be as great a threat to the American economy as Goldman Sachs and their ilk.
posted by homunculus at 1:17 PM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


and Goldman can't damage the country like Obama has with his foolish renderings of statecraft.

No attacks anytime soon which is a relief. I Don't think we should be supporting Al-qada, no sir.
It is like siding with the Khmer Roughe after they were booted and the genocide was way out in the open I mean who in their right mind would support the old KR over Vietnam... oh thats right WE DID. screw this, no bombing of syria.

Assad should understand, that whatever he does, we reserve the right to attack.

Look, the president can bomb whom he likes. But this time the russians are involved and have the diplomatic and military situation in "upperhand" statis. Personally, I think this is what he wanted. His stupid threat was part of the theatre. bah.
posted by clavdivs at 6:30 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas
While the report’s authors did not assign blame for the attack on the outskirts of Damascus, the details it documented included the large size and particular shape of the munitions and the precise direction from which two of them had been fired. Taken together, that information appeared to undercut arguments by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that rebel forces, who are not known to possess such weapons or the training or ability to use them, had been responsible.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:08 PM on September 16, 2013


If Assad wasn't responsible for the use of gas then his punishment would actually be poetic justice: he was the one responsible for producing and storing it, after all.

Unfortunately, the "punishment" wouldn't be his alone, and I think justice is a pretty minor consideration at this point. I'd be delighted if we had a way to stop further deaths, even if it left Assad in power.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:16 PM on September 16, 2013




You just knew this would be coming - now let's see if they can muster any credibility. After all, they are not a disinterested party, unlike, arguably the U.N. inspectors. A complicating wrinkle is that while I certainly trust the U.N. inspectors and report far more than anyone else who is on either side of this (U.S. and gang or Russia and Assad gang), they were only tasked with material findings of CW use and possible means of how those were deployed, but they were not tasked with conclusively proving who used those weapons. Arguments have been made that extrapolating from this report, the evidence strongly points to the Syrian government. Here are some of the attempts to argue against that, for what they're worth:

Russia says it has evidence of chemical weapons use by Syrian rebels

"Russia will submit evidence to the United Nations Security Council implicating Syrian rebels in chemical weapons attacks, including one last month on Damascus suburbs, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday. “We have plenty of evidence and reports of chemical weapons use that prove the fact that the opposition regularly resorts to provocations to bring about strikes and intervention against Syria,” Lavrov told reporters in the city of Valdai, in northwestern Russia."
posted by VikingSword at 8:08 PM on September 18, 2013


Latest dispatch from Fisk.
posted by planetesimal at 8:14 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Russia's Tangled Logic on Syria
Russia's leaders may or may not believe their story, yet they have little choice but to stick with it. If they don't, they will have to acknowledge that Assad is a war criminal; accept that the UN Security Council resolution under negotiation should identify Assad as the culprit of the Ghouta attack; and either mount an argument that a mass-murdering war criminal shouldn't be touched, or agree to authorize his punishment by force should he refuse to give up the weapons. That isn't going to happen -- it opens the door to regime change.
Russia says no plans yet to destroy Syrian chemical arms on own soil
Asked whether Russia had such plans, Shoigu told Interfax news agency, "No. A decision needs to be taken for this."

"We have factories for the destruction of chemical weapons, but there is a big difference between 'ready' and 'willing'."

Pravda - Senator John McCain: Russians deserve better than Putin
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:12 PM on September 19, 2013


McCain is an idiot. Pravda hasn't been relevant in decades. It's a joke. Like if Putin had published his op-ed in the National Enquirer.
posted by Justinian at 10:53 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]



What Putin Doesn’t Have to Say About Syria
- Masha Gessen
As he lay dying in a London hospital in November 2006, the Russian secret-police whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko dictated his final statement, addressed to President Vladimir Putin: “You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.”
[...]
Now the man who is widely suspected of allowing a nuclear weapon to be used to silence a single opponent of his regime has put himself forward as the broker in the project of disabling the chemical weapons arsenal of his ally Bashar al-Assad, who has used these weapons against his own domestic opponents.
[...]
Russia’s behavior on the U.N. Security Council over the last year and a half has done exactly this — kept Assad safely shielded from sanctions, rendering the international community virtually helpless to intervene — and there is no reason to think this will change.
[...]
In another of many examples of Soviet-style doublespeak in his New York Times Op-Ed, Putin wrote, “No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage.” Coming from the bully on the Security Council, this should be read as a threat – and a portent of future events in Syria.

Here is what he is really promising: protracted and difficult negotiations on the Syrian project, from which the United States will emerge battered and humiliated, with a compromise plan that lacks a convincing enforcement mechanism. A frustrating, expensive and possibly dangerous attempt to put the plan in place will follow. The civil war in Syria will continue to rage, claiming more lives and robbing the Syrian people of hope with every passing day. Ultimately, the United States and its good-faith partners will have to admit the chemical-disarmament project has failed, as Syria lies in ruins — still ruled by Assad.

Once defeat is acknowledged, Putin will take himself out of the Syrian picture, using the alibi he has already put forward: It wasn’t Assad who used the chemical weapons in the first place, he will say.

He will not mention that he sees nothing wrong with using weapons of mass destruction to fight the opposition: that will go without saying.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"But what about the children!" no longer useful - chemical weapons being removed is now a bad thing, Putin a bad man for arranging the deal, and Obama and the West can go to hell:

Angered by chemical deal, Syrian rebels may lose the West

"MOUNTING CHAOS

The Arab- and Western-backed Free Syrian Army needs what friends it can get as it struggles to deal with mounting chaos in rebel areas.

Al Qaeda-linked groups, ostensibly opposed to the Assad government, are also fighting against the mainstream Syrian rebels and have even defeated FSA units.

The worsening outlook for the opposition, and the rift with Washington, became clear at its meeting in Istanbul, when U.S. diplomats did not show up.

Western diplomats who were there criticized the opposition's clumsily negative reaction to the chemical weapons deal, which has been largely supported by the international community.

"The coalition just has to make the right noises and realize that there is a big powers game going on," one diplomat said.

"They cannot ignore that the removal of Assad's chemical weapons is a good thing and the people in Ghouta are probably sleeping better now," the diplomat said, referring to the site of the August 21 chemical attack.

"Otherwise our parliaments will not keep giving us the mandate to support the Syrian opposition forever. We're already having to convince lawmakers that not every other Syrian is an al Qaeda member."
"
posted by VikingSword at 11:11 AM on September 20, 2013




From homunculus link above:

"Tunisian women have travelled to Syria to wage "sex jihad" by comforting Islamist fighters battling the regime there, Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou has told MPs.

"They have sexual relations with 20, 30, 100" militants, the minister told members of the National Constituent Assembly on Thursday.

"After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of 'jihad al-nikah' -- (sexual holy war, in Arabic) -- they come home pregnant," Ben Jeddou told the MPs.

He did not elaborate on how many Tunisian women had returned to the country pregnant with the children of jihadist fighters.

Jihad al-nikah, permitting extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners, is considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.

The minister also did not say how many Tunisian women were thought to have gone to Syria for such a purpose, although media reports have said hundreds have done so."[emp. VS]

Mind blown. I had no idea. With all the insane levels of sexual repression of women advocated by these fundamentalists, women in head to toe burqas not allowed to even leave the house unaccompanied - and then this being apparently A-OK.
posted by VikingSword at 4:20 PM on September 20, 2013


People are pervy.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:40 PM on September 20, 2013


Better emphasis:

"The minister also did not say how many Tunisian women were thought to have gone to Syria for such a purpose, although media reports have said hundreds have done so.""

C'mon, this seems like pretty obvious bullshit. Unsourced speculation from some random minister with no numbers to back it up? My guesses would be bad translation, or some Tunisian Herman Caine just shooting his mouth off.
posted by klangklangston at 7:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


sexual relations with multiple partners, considered by some hardline Sunni Muslim Salafists as a legitimate form of holy war.

If ony it were their only form of holy war. Maybe some Jihadis out there are hearing this and are like, "wait a minute, if this is legit holy war why in the fuck are we blowing ourselves up in market places and suchlike?
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:56 PM on September 20, 2013


Seriously, "sex jihad" is an excuse somebody came up with dipped to the lips.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 PM on September 20, 2013


I mean...some women and men have blown themselves up in the name of jihad. I can't say it's impossible they would have sex for it, but still sounds fishy.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:41 PM on September 20, 2013


Well, I never heard of the "sex jihad", but I don't assume it doesn't exist just because I never heard of it. I did find it rather astonishing, but I'm not any kind of scholar in this area. Some confirmation or additional details would be nice. Maybe someone who has more knowledge of these matters can chime in. Casual googling is not very illuminating at the moment, and what I see doesn't strike me as high credibility. For now, I'm going to place it in the "tread with caution, needs more info" category.
posted by VikingSword at 10:46 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I first read it, it set of my bullshit detector. Then I thought about how some of the 9/11 hijackers had spent time at strip clubs, supposedly forgiven because of their mission, and thought there might be some truth to it, though it was probably exaggerated. I think VikingSword has the right of it, for now.
posted by homunculus at 10:30 AM on September 21, 2013


Here's a more interesting and credible article on women in Syria's civil war:

The Civil War Within Syria's Civil War: Armies of Kurdish women are taking on Syria's Islamists -- and winning.
posted by homunculus at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, it really is a civil war. There are spontaneous militias springing that are pro-government (plus, of course some which are paid for by the government). These militias often are formed in response to depredations by the rebel forces, many are pro-Syria and against the rebels without being pro-Assad. It's complicated, as always, and much more complicated than the narrative our government pushes of noble rebels on one side and Assad and Hezbollah on the other. There are plenty Syrians who regard themselves as patriots who stand against the rebel forces, and are willing to die for their beliefs. The last thing this civil war needs is outside interference.

Syria's pro-government militias a major boost for Assad's army

""Once this is over, I go back to my job," said a 46-year-old militiaman in the Old City district of Bab Salam who goes by the nickname Abu Majd and is a goldsmith in civilian life. "We are not fighting for a name, Bashar Assad. We are fighting for our country."

Many fighters interviewed said they decided to join after losing relatives to the rebels. Raneen, 21, who serves in Tadamun, said she joined after two of her brothers were kidnapped by insurgents. One was later seen in an Internet video being sentenced to death for his pro-government stance, she said. She doesn't know the fate of her older siblings, but knows both may have been executed."


"Many militia members appear fiercely loyal and don buttons or T-shirts emblazoned with images of Assad, a clear provocation in some precincts. The militias include disproportionate numbers of generally pro-government minorities — including Alawites, Shiites, Christians and Druze — but in Damascus, many Sunni Muslims are also members."
posted by VikingSword at 1:16 PM on September 21, 2013


With all the insane levels of sexual repression of women advocated by these fundamentalists, women in head to toe burqas not allowed to even leave the house unaccompanied - and then this being apparently A-OK.

The thing is, not all fundamentalists are following the same set of rules. Sexual repression, as well, operates in cultures to support a status quo or social goal, such as encouraging marriage and reproduction. To the extent this may be true or tolerated, it would obviously be serving a certain goal.

In particular, the way Islam works is not at all the way Christian doctrine works. Going back literally nearly two millennia, Christianity has operated in a generally top-down form, with councils and conferences and doctrine and creed being widely utilized. But we accept that there are different strains and sects with differing views on everything from snake-charming to polygamy. Islam is even more diverse, with essentially any religious authority -- typically an imam -- being capable of issuing a fatwa, or ruling of religious law. There is no central office -- although in many ways under the Ottomans the caliph served as such -- which takes up rulings and appeals and determines which ones are correct or not. So any group could seek the blessing of an imam and a fatwa which legitimizes what they intend to do anyway (similar processes took place during the Crusades).

Still, all that said, this information comes from the Interior Ministry of a country which is right now somewhat anti-Islamist, so I would take this commentary with a grain of salt or two. I can easily imagine young women going to Syria -- where many women are in fact fighting -- with the intent to actually bear arms rather than babies, and coming back pregnant because of, well, battlefield ethics and such, and this being an attempt to stigmatize that.
posted by dhartung at 1:25 PM on September 21, 2013


Good longish article from Foreign Policy:

The Spies Inside Damascus
The Mossad's secret war on the Syrian WMD machine.

The points I took from it were firstly, that even good intelligence isn't necessarily all that good; also, that covert actions are like antibiotics: cheap, and effective, and every time you use them you increase the level of resistance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:04 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having gotten the initial deal to clear CW from Syria, the West is now pushing further, demanding Russia vote to allow the West to use military power against Syria. The Russians are having none of it, accusing the U.S. of blackmail and bad faith from the start:

Kremlin lashes out at U.S., says it's trying to wreck Syria deal

"“They see in the Russian-U.S. agreement not a chance to save the planet from a significant quantity of chemical arms stockpiled in Syria but an opportunity [hitherto] denied them by Russia and China, to in fact carry through a use-of-force resolution aimed against the regime and sparing the opposition, to accuse Bashar Assad of everything and thus untie their hands of power scenarios,” Lavrov said. “Our partners are now blinded by the ideological task to replace the regime because they said a couple of years back that President Assad has no place on this Earth and he must go.”"

As I described a few posts above, the U.S. MO has been to first disarm their target country of any dangerous weapons which might complicate an attack, and then once they're sure the country is defenseless, go ahead and attack with impunity. Any talk of removing WMDs is thus merely a prelude to an attack that's been intended all along.

I wonder how this is going to play out, and if this U.S. MO history repeats itself again with Syria.
posted by VikingSword at 4:42 PM on September 22, 2013


I thought Syria was willingly giving up its chemical weapons? Why would the US need to "disarm" them?
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:44 AM on September 23, 2013


Syria claims - along with Russia - that they are willing to give up CW. The West wants to make sure that Syria follows through, and in order to assure that outcome, the West wants Russia to agree to allow military attacks in case Syria doesn't come through.

The conflict is centered around the fact that on the one hand Syria has little credibility - it being an unsavory dictatorship and all - so understandably there is skepticism. Do we really trust Syria is going to come through? Hmm.

On the other hand, the U.S. has proven egregiously, that the moment they're given even a semi-permission to use military force, they'll use that not to assure that in fact WMDs are found/removed, but to change the regime - as they've done in Iraq, where we hurried the inspectors along and then ignored their findings, and with zero evidence - or trumped up semi-evidence - we stampeded toward an attack we planned all along.

That has badly broken any trust that the U.S. operates in good faith when they ask "give us a military option, so that our demand to remove WMDs is credible" - because people immediately remember the bait and switch this exact scenario prompted with Iraq. Russia knows very well that ultimately we're interested in regime change in Syria - as we were in Iraq. Everybody knows that, because we've been very open about it - as we are in Iran (in fact we've funded terror groups and special operations against Iran, as well as provided money for other regime-change avenues). Given that obvious fact, Russia is understandably suspicious about our demand for a military cart blanche. And that's the standoff.

Now, we could say "that's all in the past, that's GWB and his minions, this is a new day", and ask that Iraq be forgiven. Except for the fact that we never held anyone responsible for the Iraq disaster to account, we have retained many of the same old neocons in positions of power in the CIA, the defense department and so forth, Obama himself has proven to be very hawkish - and the aspirational Nobel Peace Prize given to him has proven to be a huge embarrassment, we've continued a policy of relentless intervention in the ME, we've been coaching and arming rebels to overthrow the government in Syria, we've declared openly - as the Russian foreign minister points out - that "Assad must go", and John Kerry and a bunch of administration lackeys have been relentlessly warmongering for an engagement in Syria. So how can we declare it a "new day"?

There is no trust for the U.S. when it comes to foreign policy and military intervention - a lack of trust we've richly earned.
posted by VikingSword at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


More non combat casualties.
Starving children forced to survive on fruit, leaves and nuts
Save the Children says conflict's restriction on movement and huge inflation is causing severe food shortages.
posted by adamvasco at 12:36 PM on September 24, 2013


I wish I had the words to express my anger and revulsion at this. If I thought military intervention would work I'd be standing at the sidelines cheering it on.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:37 PM on September 24, 2013


Syria claims - along with Russia - that they are willing to give up CW.

Syria and Russia claimed they wouldn't allow cw to be used on civilians in the first place a year ago. Apparently, their claims aren't worth anything - nor is a UN resolution with no consequences attached. It's like pretending that simply asking serial murderers to stop murdering would prevent murder. And if he says he will stop and doesn't? "Meh ... whatever."

The West wants to make sure that Syria follows through

Why is it up to the West to make sure that Syria follows through? I thought Syria was Russia and Iran's "client state"? Where is Vladimir Putin? Where is Ban Ki Moon? Where is the UN Security Council? Where is President Rouhani? What about the more than one millions child refugees? What about the daily bombardment of civilians with non-cw shells and children starving to death? Why do only Barrack Obama and John Kerry care about mass slaughter in Syria?
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:53 PM on September 25, 2013


I think it's clear at this point the deal is, at best, a deal to prevent the further use of chemical weapons rather than a deal to have them turned over. It's understandable there is no way to make that happen right now, but if they are used again it is clear the deal is broken and Obama is going to strike. At that point, I don't think I would blame him.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:09 PM on September 25, 2013


Syria and Russia claimed they wouldn't allow cw to be used on civilians in the first place a year ago. Apparently, their claims aren't worth anything - nor is a UN resolution with no consequences attached. It's like pretending that simply asking serial murderers to stop murdering would prevent murder. And if he says he will stop and doesn't? "Meh ... whatever."

And it's entirely possible that both the Russians and the Syrian government were sincere. They - and the Russians - may have claimed they won't use CW, but it can always happen that someone they don't have perfect control over goes ahead and does it anyway, as apparently happened in this case (supposedly it was not cleared with Assad and the result of someone in the field going against orders). Assad doesn't have total control. We don't have total control over the rebels we finance and what they do and the crimes against civilians they commit.

Of course, the ultimate moral and legal responsibility still lies with the Syrian government even if they don't have total control, and with the U.S. for our part, even if we don't have total control over forces we support. If you want to hold the Syrian government responsible for use of CW against their population - fine, and I agree with that.

But what to do about it? You can't just decide the U.S. is the judge, jury and executioner. That's why the UNSC exists. Just because the UNSC refuses to rubber stamp whatever we fancy doesn't mean we should go ahead and therefore ignore the rule of law. If you're going to attack Assad based on his breaking laws, you have zero moral standing if you break the law yourself.

And that brings us to what to do - first you have to establish that CW were used by the Syrian government rather than the rebels (personally I'm inclined to think it was the government) - and that must be done by a third party body (such as the U.N.), not on the say-so of John Kerry and various interested parties, whether Russians or Europeans. We don't have that as yet (the U.N. only established that CW were used, but it was not their mandate to prove who).

Once that's been established, you see what laws were broken. Legally, it looks like none - Syria is not a party to any CW use agreements, and furthermore, they didn't use it in an external war, they used it in their civil war. But let us drop this objection for the moment.

Next, you have to agree on what to do - if it is military strikes, you need the UNSC permission. You don't get to act outside of it just because you don't like the decision, or you are acting illegally. If you are acting illegally, you can get off your high horse about any illegal behavior by Assad.

What about the more than one millions child refugees? What about the daily bombardment of civilians with non-cw shells and children starving to death?

"What about the children" will not work. This is a civil war. It is not anybody's mandate (including Kerry and Obama) to interfere in a civil war. Civil wars have victims. The world should not attempt to increase the number of victims. We've seen how well "protecting the civilians" worked when we overthrew Saddam - so, sorry, nobody is buying the "what about the children" argument. How can we help? Not through military engagement, but humanitarian aid and diplomatic engagement to resolve the conflict. Military engagement has the opposite effect, because it can be logically argued that it is us who are responsible for the victims, starvation and refugees: after all, the civilians are caught between two forces, Assad and the Syrians who support him on one side and the rebels on the other (see article I linked to above - this is a CIVIL WAR, not just Syrian government against the rebels). Militarily you could attack Assad and end the war (theoretically), but you could do the exact same thing - end the war - by wiping out the rebels.

So who says which side has the moral high ground here? Kerry and Obama? Really? I for one believe - sincerely - that the AQ dominated rebel forces would create a hell on earth worse than Assad - so I believe it would be better for the Syrians if Assad won. But that doesn't mean I'd support attacking the rebels and helping Assad - because I believe it's their civil war. We are interfering and making it worse. We are helping one side - the AQ side. That's bad. We are culpable in the victimization of the civilians caught in our power game of trying to regime change. We should butt out. Fewer civilians will die if we don't attack Assad, and if we don't support the rebels.

And just in case anyone tries to claim that we're on the side of the rebels because we want to overthrow a dictatorship - that's utterly laughable. Example: Bahrain. An uprising - just as an uprising in Syria - against the rulers. The Arab Spring - in both countries. Violently suppressed with actual outside troops and Bahrain security forces - all of these actors are our allies. The difference is that we didn't finance rebels against Bahrain as we did for Syria. So much for siding with 'popular uprisings against oppressive regimes' - we'll support a regime or wage war against it purely 100% for our own interests. We have no moral high ground here at all.

Why do only Barrack Obama and John Kerry care about mass slaughter in Syria?

Obama and Kerry care about our geopolitical interests, period (notably absent in other parts of the world that experience mass slaughter but are deemed to have no geopolitical interest to us). If they truly cared about mass slaughter in Syria, they'd immediately stop interfering in the civil war by providing support and arming the rebels and trying to overthrow Assad. That of course, goes for all the other parties to this civil war - Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Russia.

The civil war intensity, duration and number of innocent victims can only escalate by becoming a pawn for a proxy war by great powers and outside countries.

We can't control what Russia does. We can, however control what we do. We should immediately stop interfering in other countries internal affairs, stop pursuing regime change for short-term geopolitical objectives, and generally stop using our military to attack countries that have not attacked us.

The sooner we stop interfering, the sooner the number of innocent victims will drop.

The CW deal is worth pursuing, but we should focus on humanitarian, economic and diplomatic help, and not throwing a blizzard of explosives into Syria. It's harder and more complex, but will unquestionably lead to a better outcome than injecting more weapons and destruction into the area.

I remain 100% opposed to any military strike against Syria. Let the Syrians chart their own destiny, wherever it may lead them, free from outside interference.
posted by VikingSword at 3:07 PM on September 25, 2013


Iran has extended a $7billion line of credit to Assad along with weapons, Al Quds special forces soldiers and advisors as well as weapons. Hezbollah has also sent forces into Syria. The option to leave his to the Syrians to work out is not an option available at the moment. Even with the external assistance Assad is not able to break the stalemate. The Al Qaeda backed groups do most of the fighting vs Assad, they are well funded by people beyond our reach. Our influence is pretty limited. My understanding is that we have talked about doing more tha we've done at this point. We have stuff ready to ship, but don't have confidence to send more than token amounts of it.
posted by humanfont at 9:41 PM on September 25, 2013


"But what to do about it? You can't just decide the U.S. is the judge, jury and executioner. That's why the UNSC exists. Just because the UNSC refuses to rubber stamp whatever we fancy doesn't mean we should go ahead and therefore ignore the rule of law. If you're going to attack Assad based on his breaking laws, you have zero moral standing if you break the law yourself."

As someone who really does value the UNSC more than most, that's nonsense on two counts. First off, the UNSC should be intervening here. Not doing so is more than not just giving the US a rubber stamp — it's a failure of international government, and given that international law is anarchy it's a serious blow to the efficacy of the UN. Second, positing that someone has zero moral standing to complain about laws being broken if they're breaking a different law is absurd; if a drunk driver hits you while you're jaywalking, you still have moral standing to condemn them for drunk driving. A reductive legalistic morality here is inane.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Iran's Rouhani Calls for Destruction of All Nukes

Now we're talking.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:31 AM on September 26, 2013


First off, the UNSC should be intervening here.

And how exactly should they be "intervening here"?

It's all well and good to spout lines about "should", but it all comes down to specifics. And as soon as you get down to specifics, opinions will differ. How do we determine the right course of action, and which opinion is the right one? Russian? Chinese? French? U.S.? Whose? And why? Hanging on your every word, with a million objections - ready any time! Good luck.

If there is no sure way to determine the right course of action, all you are left with is voting. The same basic idea Cleisthenes came up with to pick amongst differing opinions. That's what we're left with in the UNSC. "The UNSC should be intervening here" - it has, we already effectively have (assured Russian and Chinese veto) the UNSC vote - no military action. And IMHO, it's an excellent one, as I've argued above, as I don't believe a military intervention would solve a thing here.

Now, if we don't like the way the UNSC has been set up, the voting and the vetos, let's reform it and change the rules - and I couldn't agree more... the UNSC is a result of decisions and compromises made decades ago, and it can certainly stand a complete re-do - it's not working too well for the world as it stands now. Let us remember however - we were instrumental in setting up these rules in the first place, so it's not like these rules were imposed on the poor U.S. - we are responsible. Now we don't like it when it goes against our wishes, but tough titties - thems the rules (that we set up!). Don't like it anymore? Change 'em going forward - again, I totally think it's time. But for now, this is it.

Second, positing that someone has zero moral standing to complain about laws being broken if they're breaking a different law is absurd; if a drunk driver hits you while you're jaywalking, you still have moral standing to condemn them for drunk driving. A reductive legalistic morality here is inane.

The inane part is the inane analogy. What I posited were the most basic foundational principles of law enforcement in any civilized society - a policeman can't decide to go outside of the law to "punish" a criminal. A vigilante cop acting illegally, will find his actions nullified by a court - as we do all the time in cases of a fruit of a poisoned tree. That's what's happening here, only worse. We're not even the designated policeman. Nobody appointed us. The UNSC didn't clear us for action. Worse, the suspect has not even been convicted, let alone the sentence decided. If we decide "fuck it", we'll act vigilante style outside of the law, then yes, we have zero legal or moral standing.

Iran has extended a $7billion line of credit to Assad along with weapons,

Yep, and the Gulf States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia etc. have provided money, infrastructure, weapons, and intelligence support to the rebels.

All absolutely true. We still need not participate in these crimes and make it worse. Others doing bad things here and interfering is not an invitation for Uzbekistan or the U.S. to join the fray. We can stay out and not contribute to this bloodletting.
posted by VikingSword at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2013


Meanwhile, I hate to say "I told you so", but the pig is completely out of the poke, for all to see:

Key Syrian Rebel Groups Abandon Exile Leaders

Exactly as I have been claiming all along - whatever follows the fall of Assad, will be infinitely worse than Assad at his worst. We've seen this movie before in multiple countries, and wherever we've intervened - Iraq is now a festering sore with Afghanistan over the precipice. The Al-Quada are rampant where they have not been a factor before, and we and our sleazy fundamentalist allies of the moment (mostly Saudi Arabia), are the ones who are responsible for pressing regime change in favor of a much, much, much, much worse fundamentalist aftermath. We don't appear to be learning much from our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures - the genius of spending money and/or treasure on overthrowing a nasty regime in order to allow a much nastier gang to take over and the resulting catastrophe for the populace and detriment to our own long term - and even short term interests. A real win! Oh, and how sad that this bears out what that thug Putin (even a broken watch is right twice a day) pointed out: Kerry is a fucking liar - here we have the gory evidence in all its inglorious details.

This is what we are cooking up for the Syrian people. "What about the children" indeed - not to mention "what about girl-children education", "what about women", "what about sexual minorities", "what about religious freedom", what about any society at all that's not a savage hell of a 7th century interpretation of Sharia law.

In picking sides in this civil war - and fanning the flames of it - we really know how to make it the worst possible.

I can't wait for Kerry and the other warmongers to tell us all about the wonderful fate being cooked up for the Syrian people and how we are on their side, the "let freedom reign" side.

"As diplomats at the United Nations push for a peace conference to end Syria’s civil war, a collection of some of the country’s most powerful rebel groups have publicly abandoned the opposition’s political leaders, casting their lot with an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

As support for the Western-backed leadership has dwindled, a second, more extreme Al Qaeda group has carved out footholds across parts of Syria, frequently clashing with mainline rebels who accuse it of making the establishment of an Islamic state a priority over the fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad."

"Distancing themselves from the exile opposition’s call for a democratic, civil government to replace Mr. Assad, they called on all military and civilian groups in Syria to “unify in a clear Islamic frame.” Those that signed the statement included three groups aligned with the Western-backed opposition’s Supreme Military Council."

"The rifts between the exile opposition and those fighting Mr. Assad’s forces inside Syria have raised questions about whether the opposition’s political leadership has sufficient influence in the country to hold up its end if an agreement is ever reached to end the civil war.

“At this stage, the political opposition does not have the credibility with or the leverage over the armed groups on the ground to enforce an agreement that the armed groups reject,” said Noah Bonsey, who studies the Syrian opposition for the International Crisis Group."

"Further complicating the picture is the rise of the new Qaeda franchise, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has established footholds across northern and eastern Syria with the intention to lay the foundations of an Islamic state.

In recent months, it has supplanted the Nusra Front as the primary destination for foreign jihadis streaming into Syria, according to rebels and activists who have had contact with the group.

Its fighters, who hail from across the Arab world, Chechnya, Europe and elsewhere, have a reputation for being well armed and strong in battle. Its suicide bombers are often sent to strike the first blow against government bases.

But its application of strict Islamic law has isolated rebels and civilians. Its members have executed and beheaded captives in town squares and imposed strict codes, forcing residents to wear modest dress and banning smoking in entire villages."


How soon will Obama tell us "mission accomplished"? Right before Syria becomes a fundamentalist hellhole, or right after?
posted by VikingSword at 11:56 AM on September 26, 2013


"It's all well and good to spout lines about "should", but it all comes down to specifics. And as soon as you get down to specifics, opinions will differ. How do we determine the right course of action, and which opinion is the right one? Russian? Chinese? French? U.S.? Whose? And why? Hanging on your every word, with a million objections - ready any time! Good luck.

Right, so obviously you don't believe that the UNSC should intervene. Which is fine, but why shy away from presenting that opinion honestly and instead simply default to a rhetoric of endless objections?

If there is no sure way to determine the right course of action, all you are left with is voting. The same basic idea Cleisthenes came up with to pick amongst differing opinions. That's what we're left with in the UNSC. "The UNSC should be intervening here" - it has, we already effectively have (assured Russian and Chinese veto) the UNSC vote - no military action. And IMHO, it's an excellent one, as I've argued above, as I don't believe a military intervention would solve a thing here.

Again, that's an inane appeal to legalistic formalism. If left to an actual vote, it's likely that some form of additional sanctions would be applied to Syria — which can extend beyond simple military intervention, or could include military options dependent upon performance from Syria. Without the vetoes, that would be relatively assured. Justifying inaction based on formalism is empty — you simply like it here because it agrees with your preconceived opinion. By relying on the idea of formal legalism above international norms is morally bankrupt. And the hand-waving "Just change the rules!" ignores that this process would take years, maybe decades, which does actual Syrians no good at all.
posted by klangklangston at 12:00 PM on September 26, 2013


No, it's an appeal to follow the rule of law - that's not "legalistic formalism" (whatever that is), it's how you have a civilization. If you only follow the law when you feel like it, it's not the law. You are welcome to reform the law, and yes, it takes however long it takes, but meanwhile, the option is not to simply break the law.

If left to an actual vote, it's likely that some form of additional sanctions would be applied to Syria — which can extend beyond simple military intervention, or could include military options dependent upon performance from Syria. Without the vetoes, that would be relatively assured.

Then go ahead and have a vote - nobody is stopping us. We're not doing it, because we can't prevail - whose fault is that? People have different opinions. I have advocated from the beginning that we focus on humanitarian, economic and diplomatic efforts as most likely to be a positive in this situation. So I'm certainly not opposed to any vote along those lines (though that's not exactly where the UNSC would be most naturally coming in). As to "military options" - nope, that's a bad idea and it would be opposed, and should be opposed. I don't think sanctions per se are advisable either (except for weapons and some dual-use technology). "Without vetos" - but there are vetos, so anything after that amounts to "if my aunt were my uncle". You're asking for a vote for a military option, and it's just is not going to fly here - nor should it, if you look at the actual actors in this Syrian civil war.

Any intervention that includes any military option is taking sides in a civil war. As can be abundantly seen, that's a really bad idea, certainly for the U.S., seeing as we really know how to pick the winners given our track record. In any case, that's academic - who is most likely to come up on top after Assad are the worst of the worst thugs (see the article I just linked to). Do we really want to take sides in a civil war again? I hate to agree with Russia, but our openly stated push for regime change is going to be counterproductive in the long run - and a disaster for the Syrian people (though that's never stopped us before).

It's really not about liking or disliking the UNSC - all your speculation as to my internal state and speculation about my motivation notwithstanding. It's about the fact that absent the UNSC we have nothing left except "might is right" - which we may think is fine, but we might change our minds about that once China's rapid ascent translates into military rivalry. If we don't establish a respect for the law, then the law will not be respected when we need it (see China in as little as 20 years). A reversion to jungle principles will bring with it the laws of the jungle and a short and brutish existence for most - and a notable lack of justice; the only hope is civilization, the foundation of which is law. The UNSC is imperfect (understatement), but it's all we have. We should set about reforming it as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, that's where we are. And any military intervention continues to be a disastrous idea.
posted by VikingSword at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2013


"No, it's an appeal to follow the rule of law - that's not "legalistic formalism" (whatever that is), it's how you have a civilization. If you only follow the law when you feel like it, it's not the law. You are welcome to reform the law, and yes, it takes however long it takes, but meanwhile, the option is not to simply break the law."

Legalistic formalism is the approach you're espousing, where the form of the law is the primary determiner of legitimacy of action. An appeal to the rule of law as decisive is legalistic formalism.

The obvious counterpoint is that when faced with an unjust law, it is legitimate to break it, with the cliched reminder that siting at the front of the bus was illegal, but it was just for Rosa Parks to do that.

This is especially true in terms of international anarchy — laws have the level of legitimate force that we (international community) imbue them with.

For example, it would have been morally legitimate for other countries to sanction the US after the invasion of Iraq which, fairly transparently, did break the ostensible international laws. However, because the US would have vetoed such action through the UNSC, it would have been impossible to do under the rule of international law. The rule of law was not serving the legitimate moral justification that underpinned it.

"People have different opinions."

And some of those opinions, notably from Russia and China, are propping up the Assad regime as it gasses it's own people. A hand-waving "different opinions" is vacuous bullshit.

It's really not about liking or disliking the UNSC - all your speculation as to my internal state and speculation about my motivation notwithstanding.

The hell are you even on about? What speculation about your internal state?

"If we don't establish a respect for the law, then the law will not be respected when we need it (see China in as little as 20 years)."

Sino-paranoia aside, if the international law doesn't have legitimate force, it won't be respected either.
posted by klangklangston at 2:36 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


In not backing those who share our interests we have seen their ability to play a role in the future of Syria diminish. Not taking sides can a just as bad, or worse than taking a side. Our position on the sidelines is leading to the worst possible outcome.
posted by humanfont at 3:15 PM on September 26, 2013


The obvious counterpoint is that when faced with an unjust law, it is legitimate to break it, with the cliched reminder that siting at the front of the bus was illegal, but it was just for Rosa Parks to do that.

Just declaring a law unjust doesn't make it so. Otherwise any time we don't feel like obeying a law, we can declare it "unjust" and ignore it. It's begging the question. Who says the voting rules, at UNSC including vetoes are "unfair"? We are quite happy to use our veto, often the only country to do so, when f.ex., it comes to condemning some action or another by Israel. In contrast, Rosa Parks was always against the unjust bus-seating laws. The problem, is when you see the law as a matter of convenience to be used when it suits you, but ignored when it doesn't. That's not an equivalent situation to Rosa Parks. If we find UNSC laws or rules unjust, then we (a) shouldn't have made them so, and (b) are welcome to change them together with other stakeholders. Rosa Parks had no part in the making of those unjust laws, and was always against them.

For example, it would have been morally legitimate for other countries to sanction the US after the invasion of Iraq which, fairly transparently, did break the ostensible international laws. However, because the US would have vetoed such action through the UNSC, it would have been impossible to do under the rule of international law. The rule of law was not serving the legitimate moral justification that underpinned it.

That was an instance where we used the law to our advantage in the face of moral outrage. Now that the law no longer favors our desires of the moment, we don't get to say "see, we broke the law back then, so it's no good, so let us break it again". The solution is reform of the law, not disobeying it when it suits us. I'm eagerly awaiting when the U.S. opens discussions about reforming the UNSC. Until then, it's binding.

And some of those opinions, notably from Russia and China, are propping up the Assad regime as it gasses it's own people. A hand-waving "different opinions" is vacuous bullshit.

No, the bullshit is supporting and arming a rebellion against a sovereign government. The bullshit is in pressing with regime change with the excuse that the regime is repressive, but doing so when what will replace it most likely would be much, much worse for the Syrian people and far more repressive. The same bullshit we pulled in Iraq - Saddam was bad, but what we did in illegally attacking him resulted in much, much, much worse. Assad is bad (though not a fraction as bad as Saddam or his own father for that matter), but illegally attacking and replacing him would most likely result in a far more dire outcome.

I'm afraid that the "opinions from Russia and China propping up the Assad regime" are the less bullshit ones compared to our support for a more vile side of the civil war and pressure to overthrow Assad. So much for bullshit opinions. It would have been better had we felt legally constrained - even by Russia and China - instead of attacking Iraq. And it is better that we be legally constrained - even by Russia and China - instead of attacking Syria.

Saddam too gassed his own people. It was still an immeasurably worse outcome to overthrow him. It's exactly the same situation here. What would have been even better, is if we didn't repeat the same mistakes all over again - perhaps had we not fomented Kurdish rebellion (cynically), Saddam might not have felt compelled to use CW against them. Perhaps if we - and our sleazy allies - didn't foment rebellion in Syria, allowing the most savage AQ factions to wreak havoc in Syria (especially in areas they control, engaging in mass executions and imposing their medieval version of Sharia law), there would not be CW use there either. Moral of the story is not to meddle in other people's civil wars - and try to stay within international law... as we did with the first gulf war, which all things considered was a relative success - our mandate was not to engage in one side of a civil war, and not to press for a regime change, but to beat back a criminal who broke the law by attacking another country.

The hell are you even on about? What speculation about your internal state?

Here:

you simply like it here because it agrees with your preconceived opinion.

You are speculating about the grounds for my arguing for obeying the international law and going through the UNSC. You are also claiming that my opinion is "preconceived" which implies that somehow I did not carefully examine and reach my conclusions based on my best judgement in good faith. Are your opinions - "preconceived"? So why bestow that description on mine? How about you refrain from speculating about my motivations and stick to the subject (you know, as in "focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site"). I give you that courtesy, and I'd like the same consideration in return.

Sino-paranoia aside, if the international law doesn't have legitimate force, it won't be respected either.

I see no reason to accuse me of sino-paranoia. The rise of China is a fact. It is also a fact that the Chinese military is growing very rapidly, and that our interests often diverge. It is therefore a simple recognition of the reality of an emerging power that can rival us at some point - unlike if f.ex. I was expressing unrealistic expectations about Zambia doing the same. Citing such obvious facts should not be grounds for bad faith accusations. In fact, however, I was careful to speak from a very strong position here, because I'm referring to something concrete and outside of merely my opinion - the consequences of engaging in an illegal strike against Syria, one of which consequences was being given as an example of exactly China by a scholar (who thankfully did not have to endure aspersions of sino-paranoia):

The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars
What Will Follow Obama's Foray Into Syria

And China was the example, which I repeated in the same way as given by a recognized scholar in this area.

if the international law doesn't have legitimate force, it won't be respected either.

Which is exactly why you must make sure that the force is legitimate. In this case it is not, it is illegal. You strengthen the law by obeying it, not by breaking it. Military force in this case is not legitimate, so it shouldn't be used.

Military force here continues to be a bad idea, especially when it strengthens the hand of the rebels who appear to be the worse side in this civil war.
posted by VikingSword at 4:02 PM on September 26, 2013




"Just declaring a law unjust doesn't make it so. Otherwise any time we don't feel like obeying a law, we can declare it "unjust" and ignore it. It's begging the question. Who says the voting rules, at UNSC including vetoes are "unfair"?"

If the rules of the UN prevent the international community from sanctioning Assad for gassing his own people, they are unjust. You have to be pretty monstrous to argue otherwise.

We are quite happy to use our veto, often the only country to do so, when f.ex., it comes to condemning some action or another by Israel."

That's not an argument for a strict appeal to a rule of law.

In contrast, Rosa Parks was always against the unjust bus-seating laws."

Rosa Parks generally followed the unjust laws, regardless of her opinion on them. Following the law in general did not remove her claim that the laws were unjust.

The problem, is when you see the law as a matter of convenience to be used when it suits you, but ignored when it doesn't.

No, the problem is when you pretend that the law precedes justice.

That's not an equivalent situation to Rosa Parks. If we find UNSC laws or rules unjust, then we (a) shouldn't have made them so, and (b) are welcome to change them together with other stakeholders. Rosa Parks had no part in the making of those unjust laws, and was always against them.

The rules were set up because of a very specific historical context, so (a) is ignorant of their genesis. As to (b), I believe I've already addressed that.

That was an instance where we used the law to our advantage in the face of moral outrage."

Right, and that's an outcome you favor by blindly arguing from the rule of law. It's not one I favor.

Now that the law no longer favors our desires of the moment, we don't get to say "see, we broke the law back then, so it's no good, so let us break it again".

I think you're letting your froth confuse your arguments here.

The solution is reform of the law, not disobeying it when it suits us.

The solution is recognizing the limits of the law, and not confusing jot and tittle for moral imperative.

I'm eagerly awaiting when the U.S. opens discussions about reforming the UNSC. Until then, it's binding.

Not really. It's binding, except that in order to have a binding sanction instituted, the UNSC would have to vote for that. As the US still has its veto, that's impossible. It's as binding as cobwebs at the moment.

"No, the bullshit is supporting and arming a rebellion against a sovereign government."

No, really, the bullshit is gassing your own people. The rest of your paragraph there is just endless maundering, so I'm going to ignore it.

"Saddam too gassed his own people. It was still an immeasurably worse outcome to overthrow him."

Unless you were one of those Kurds getting gassed.

" It's exactly the same situation here."

Not really.

perhaps had we not fomented Kurdish rebellion (cynically), Saddam might not have felt compelled to use CW against them"

Yes, Saddam gassing Kurds was all the US's fault, and not at all Saddam's.

"Moral of the story is not to meddle in other people's civil wars"

Moral of the story is that you don't care about people being gassed.

"You are speculating about the grounds for my arguing for obeying the international law and going through the UNSC."

As the appeal to formalism is empty, the only justification for it is that you like the result it produces. Sorry that you're transparent.

"In fact, however, I was careful to speak from a very strong position here, because I'm referring to something concrete and outside of merely my opinion - the consequences of engaging in an illegal strike against Syria, one of which consequences was being given as an example of exactly China by a scholar"

In that article, he did not say that China would not respect international law, he said that China may be less inclined to respect international law. Further, he also wrote this about the UN's role, and ignored the very real fact that it is not likely to happen without a credible threat of force. China, by and large, is not a threat to US interests, even as it grows. China's more likely to see a move toward liberalization and reform than militarization over the next 20 years.

"Which is exactly why you must make sure that the force is legitimate. In this case it is not, it is illegal. You strengthen the law by obeying it, not by breaking it. Military force in this case is not legitimate, so it shouldn't be used."

Speaking of begging the question: You're using the law to justify what is and is not legitimate. As I pointed out above, that's a position that reduces to the absurd.

"Military force here continues to be a bad idea, especially when it strengthens the hand of the rebels who appear to be the worse side in this civil war."

The rebels are worse than the Assad regime? You're simply bloviating.
posted by klangklangston at 6:16 PM on September 26, 2013


Moral of the story is that you don't care about people being gassed.

Oh lovely.

[...]

Sorry that you're transparent.

I see. So my plea that you focus on the subject rather than transparently baseless personal attacks is not going to be heeded. Very well then:

If the rules of the UN prevent the international community from sanctioning Assad for gassing his own people, they are unjust. You have to be pretty monstrous to argue otherwise.

If the rules of the UN prevent outcomes worse than Assad gassing his own people, by preventing infinitely worse bloodbaths of much greater proportions (see Iraq), then they are just. Preventing an illegal war in Iraq would have been very just indeed, even if compared to Saddam's victims. Compare the number of dead and displaced Iraqis as a result of Saddam's actions, and in the aftermath of our attack. You have to be pretty monstrous to argue otherwise.

Moral of the story is that you don't care about much greater bloodbaths.

As the appeal to formalism is empty, the only justification for it is that you like the result it produces. Sorry that you're transparent.

I dispute that I appeal to "formalism", I maintain that this law, while imperfect, is better than no law - and in this case has a positive outcome, not simply that I like it because it happens to fall into a course of action I favor - and the proof of that is that I have given extensive reasons as to why it is that I think using military power in this case would be counterproductive and would worsen the outcomes for the Syrian people. That's what's transparent. Sorry if your claims to the contrary are transparently contradicted by the evidence.

In that article, he did not say that China would not respect international law, he said that China may be less inclined to respect international law.

Oh this is thin. Thin, thin. Let it stand there.

The point is that he did use China as an example - and was not sino-paranoid, which makes your sleazy attempt at smearing me as somehow anti-Chinese "pretty transparent, sorry."

And no, we don't want anyone else, including China to ever feel less inclined to respect international law.

China, by and large, is not a threat to US interests, even as it grows. China's more likely to see a move toward liberalization and reform than militarization over the next 20 years.

A pretty astonishing series of claims, none of which seems to be the consensus among analysts who see China's military as a growing possible threat and very distinct interests which are unlikely to be always aligned with ours (f.ex. Taiwan). But you're quite the prophet with the crystal ball!

The rebels are worse than the Assad regime? You're simply bloviating.

Oh really? Is "not so" the entire extent of your argument? Is "bloviating" the part where you make empty assertions against statements which are well supported by multiple sources? I have provided links showing how AQ-affiliated rebels are the overwhelmingly strongest military element in the rebel forces, how their objectives are an establishment of an Islamic state with extremist Sharia law interpretations, and how in the areas they control they have engaged in mass executions and severe repression of the populace.

And we have seen what these fundamentalists who assert such an interpretation of Sharia Law have done when in power - see Afghanistan.

I'm afraid it will be pretty impossible for you to bloviate convincingly enough to tell people that this is NOT worse than whatever Assad has done... in fact, as can be seen in that last link, the actions of these rebels are what propels the formation of many of the militias that fight for the government and against the rebels - because they've seen what the rebels have done; as many have said it was not because they're fighting for Assad - but against the rebels. I guess they know who is worse:

"Many fighters interviewed said they decided to join after losing relatives to the rebels. Raneen, 21, who serves in Tadamun, said she joined after two of her brothers were kidnapped by insurgents. One was later seen in an Internet video being sentenced to death for his pro-government stance, she said. She doesn't know the fate of her older siblings, but knows both may have been executed."

""Once this is over, I go back to my job," said a 46-year-old militiaman in the Old City district of Bab Salam who goes by the nickname Abu Majd and is a goldsmith in civilian life. "We are not fighting for a name, Bashar Assad. We are fighting for our country."
"

So much for that bloviating. Yes, I maintain - on good grounds - that fundamentalist style regime would be substantially worse than Assad, as we have seen, in f.ex. Afghanistan. And since these are the rebels who are the strongest militarily in that rebellion, they are more likely to come out on top, just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

You are welcome to contradict this with evidence and links. Or are you going to confine yourself to empty assertions and more bloviating?

The rest of your paragraph there is just endless maundering, so I'm going to ignore it.

How convenient for someone who has no arguments, so more empty claims - but I sympathize because it would be pretty hard to construct an argument wherein the intervention in Iraq would come out looking good, even in comparison to the gassed Kurds - by any metric and any measure. I guess it's all empty assertions and bloviating for you, after all.

That's not an argument for a strict appeal to a rule of law.

It is an argument for consistency in the application of the law, and pointing out the hypocrisy of only enforcing it when convenient.

Rosa Parks generally followed the unjust laws, regardless of her opinion on them. Following the law in general did not remove her claim that the laws were unjust.

Rosa Parks was forced to follow the law, but she never, ever agreed with those unjust laws.

We are happy to agree to follow and compel others to follow these very UNSC laws when it is convenient. We pick and choose. Difference #1

Rosa Parks had no part in the creation of those laws.

We were intimately involved in the creation of those laws. We don't get to now claim that these laws are oppressing us, since we created them and are happy to use them when it suits us. Difference #2.

The rules were set up because of a very specific historical context, so (a) is ignorant of their genesis.

No, it's not ignorant of their genesis - it's stating a historical fact of our participation. If we don't like it, we are and have always been free to change them - why haven't we? If we have the power to re-negotiate them, then we should do so, and we lose the right to complain about them if we refuse to do so because they often rebound to our advantage (our veto).

Rosa Parks had no option to directly participate in the reform of the law - all she had was the power of protest that then may propel those with such direct power to amend those laws. Her only power was protest and breaking of the law. By contrast we have the direct power to renegotiate those laws, because we are foundational stakeholders who created them in the first place. Difference # 3.
posted by VikingSword at 7:38 PM on September 26, 2013


Have you considered that if we gave more weapons and money to the non-AQ affiliated rebel groups they would be in a stronger position. The argument can be made that the US and the west are the only powers able to intervene decisively in this conflict and bring it to an end. If we fail to do so we face an uncertain outcome that could range from stalemate to a victory by AQ, or Assad. None of those options is desirable.
posted by humanfont at 7:57 PM on September 26, 2013


"Oh really? Is "not so" the entire extent of your argument? Is "bloviating" the part where you make empty assertions against statements which are well supported by multiple sources? I have provided links showing how AQ-affiliated rebels are the overwhelmingly strongest military element in the rebel forces, how their objectives are an establishment of an Islamic state with extremist Sharia law interpretations, and how in the areas they control they have engaged in mass executions and severe repression of the populace. "

What you haven't demonstrated is that they've done anything near, uh, say shelling their own civilians or gassing their own civilians…

Like, your ostensible "mass executions and severe repression" link says that a pro-government militia member thinks a couple of their siblings may have been executed. Why should I take you seriously if you don't even honestly represent what your links say?

Compared to, say, the repeated bombings of civilian areas by Assad forces, the equivalency is just bullshit. You clearly want it to be true, and you were upthread huffing off the Russian propaganda pipe about false flag ops…

So, yeah, bloviating. Same as your bizarro WELL ARE YOU A LAWYER I HAVE CITED A LAWYER nonsense.

"If we don't like it, we are and have always been free to change them - why haven't we? If we have the power to re-negotiate them, then we should do so, and we lose the right to complain about them if we refuse to do so because they often rebound to our advantage (our veto)."

We don't have the power to renegotiate them. We have never had the power to renegotiate them. Pretending otherwise is wildly out of touch with how the UN has functioned and continues to function. C'mon. Think things through for a moment.
posted by klangklangston at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2013


What you haven't demonstrated is that they've done anything near, uh, say shelling their own civilians or gassing their own civilians…

Like, your ostensible "mass executions and severe repression" link says that a pro-government militia member thinks a couple of their siblings may have been executed. Why should I take you seriously if you don't even honestly represent what your links say?


Honestly represent what my links say? That's rich, coming from you, seeing as you purport that all the link shows is a pro-government militia member thinking a couple of their siblings may have been executed. Oh really? That's an honest representation of that article? You pick one citation from one person (who btw. saw a video of an execution of one of their siblings, so no need to speculate about that one) who was given as an example of the kinds of things that happen, to claim that that solitary example is the extent of the entirety of the evidence? How about from the very same article:

1)Example of how these rebels "recruit": "At age 70, Ahmad Saidi took up arms after the slaying of his son, a father of five who was killed when a remote-controlled bomb blew up his car." "Saidi said his son Imad was killed Feb. 2 in the Tadamun neighborhood of Damascus, the Syrian capital, for refusing to join the rebellion against the government of President Bashar Assad." Do you think he's the only one, or only one example?

2)The entirety of that quote, which you have dishonestly misrepresented as "one militia member" Many fighters interviewed said they decided to join after losing relatives to the rebels. Raneen, 21, who serves in Tadamun, said she joined after two of her brothers were kidnapped by insurgents. One was later seen in an Internet video being sentenced to death for his pro-government stance, she said. She doesn't know the fate of her older siblings, but knows both may have been executed." This is the same bunch of noble rebels that thinks nothing of ripping the heart from their victim, eating it, and videoing the whole thing - you know, to show that Assad is worse.

3)By their fruit you shall know them: ""People saw how other neighborhoods were destroyed, and they didn't want the same thing to happen here." Apparently what they saw was horrifying enough that they decided to fight back even if they had no love lost for Assad.

From the other link:

"Further complicating the picture is the rise of the new Qaeda franchise, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has established footholds across northern and eastern Syria with the intention to lay the foundations of an Islamic state.

In recent months, it has supplanted the Nusra Front as the primary destination for foreign jihadis streaming into Syria, according to rebels and activists who have had contact with the group.

Its fighters, who hail from across the Arab world, Chechnya, Europe and elsewhere, have a reputation for being well armed and strong in battle. Its suicide bombers are often sent to strike the first blow against government bases.

But its application of strict Islamic law has isolated rebels and civilians. Its members have executed and beheaded captives in town squares and imposed strict codes, forcing residents to wear modest dress and banning smoking in entire villages.
"

And so we come to this:

Compared to, say, the repeated bombings of civilian areas by Assad forces, the equivalency is just bullshit.

Oh, it's bullshit all right. Your bullshit to be precise. To quote you, "C'mon. Think things through for a moment" - are you seriously not understanding that any talk about equivalency in the number of victims is idiotic at this stage of the rebellion, because the rebels are not as yet in charge of the country while Assad still is? When these fundamentalists are in charge - as they were in Afghanistan - that's when we get to see the comparison. We saw that ideology in action in Afghanistan. So when we say that the rebels are worse than Assad it is in the context of their replacing Assad as the power of the land - to quote my own post:

Yes, I maintain - on good grounds - that fundamentalist style regime would be substantially worse than Assad, as we have seen, in f.ex. Afghanistan.

That's what a replacement of Assad would give us - Afghanistan II. When we say they are worse than Assad, it is because we know the ideology they espouse. And that they would do so, we are already seeing a preview of even in the small spaces they tentatively control:

"Its members have executed and beheaded captives in town squares and imposed strict codes, forcing residents to wear modest dress and banning smoking in entire villages."

Once they're in charge, they'll be happy to wildly outdo Assad's number of victims with all his past and future shelling efforts - when they start a sectarian war with rivers of blood flowing, because that's what the AQ does, as they showed in Iraq, you'll see lickety split who is worse, the old style dictators like Saddam and Assad Jr. or the totalitarian fundamentalists. We've seen it before, and we know what to expect. Strict codes, dress, smoking - we've seen all this with the Taliban. They're bad, bad, news. Much worse than Assad.

"C'mon. Think things through for a moment" - who thinks this is a good idea:

Replace Assad with Al-Quada. "C'mon. Think things through for a moment" - does that sound good to you?

I think having seen comparisons between these two awful regimes, we know without bloviating where the Syrian people would be worse off - "C'mon. Think things through for a moment".

"Why should I take you seriously" when you make such asinine and dishonest comparisons?

We've tried spending treasure and supporting fundamentalist rebels before - and we got Afghanistan under the Taliban as a result. We've tried spending blood and treasure in regime change in a neighboring Arab country where the dictator gassed his own people - and we've seen the appalling results for the Iraqi people. And the pain has hardly stopped - both countries are deteriorating still. "So, yeah, bloviating."

We don't have the power to renegotiate them.

We have never had the power to renegotiate them. [!]

Oh the humanity. "C'mon. Think things through for a moment" indeed. First this nonsense: "how the UN has functioned and continues to function." - we have repeatedly managed to change how the UN has functioned, including when we withheld funds until reforms we favored were pushed through - so much for being "wildly out of touch with how the UN has functioned".

But more fundamentally - we are voluntary members of the UNSC. We don't have the power to renegotiate how the UNSC works?! Renegotiation starts the second we withdraw our membership from the UNSC - that's how plain the mechanism is. If we find how the UNSC functions, intolerable, we have the right to officially withdraw and void our obligations. If we think the laws are unjust, we have that recourse - to officially stop recognizing them. We are allowed to do that. Step two is to start negotiating on how to restructure the UNSC (just as we negotiated changes in the U.N.). Note "negotiating", not "dictating". Where we end up is up to the skills of our negotiators and the skill and interests of other stakeholders.

If we are unhappy, we can start the process of renegotiating - at any time. What is dishonest is to complain about the laws when they don't suit us, while eagerly taking advantage of those very laws when they do suits us.

So, "C'mon. Think things through for a moment."

But really, I don't know "why I should take you seriously", when your entire argument is composed of a conceit so farcical it's hardly possible to parody it, it's already a parody - the U.S. is totally against these unjust laws - which we are happy to use to our advantage on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays - but today is Monday and we must break them pronto just like Rosa Parks, lol, yo! Because we too, are fighting unjust laws (which we helped create and enforce to this day)! For the children! You don't want to bomb Assad and put the noble rebels in charge - you don't care about people being gassed! We care, which is why we bomb - is it still Monday? - we'll get back to you, thanks, and in conclusion, totally Rosa Parks, MLK the noted bombing advocate and civil rights under Al-Quada advocate, goodnight! P.S. Also - what LAW and LAWYERS? How "bizarro"! We don't need no stinking law and lawyers. xox. Now that's bloviating! Congrats.
posted by VikingSword at 10:15 PM on September 26, 2013


"are you seriously not understanding that any talk about equivalency in the number of victims is idiotic at this stage of the rebellion, because the rebels are not as yet in charge of the country while Assad still is?"

Are you seriously arguing that because if the Assad regime fell, there could be more murders of civilians, that means that's more important than the actual preponderance of real mass murders that the Assad regime has perpetuated?

Congrats, dude, that's why the US has propped up every murderous dictator we've backed. And you thought you wouldn't have anything to talk about if you and Kissinger shared a cab.
posted by klangklangston at 11:07 PM on September 26, 2013


Are you seriously arguing that because if the Assad regime fell, there could be more murders of civilians, that means that's more important than the actual preponderance of real mass murders that the Assad regime has perpetuated?

No. I'm arguing that a military intervention that results in the overthrow of Assad means the Syrian people are left at the tender mercies of AQ.

Therefore we should not do a military intervention in Syria.

Because, as I pointed out before:

Replace Assad with Al-Quada.

Is the worse solution. Just as:

Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Is the worse situation. Just as:

Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam.

Was a worse situation than: Iraq under Saddam.

Therefore we should not engage in military strikes against Assad.

Congrats, dude, that's why the US has propped up every murderous dictator we've backed. And you thought you wouldn't have anything to talk about if you and Kissinger shared a cab.

No, I never advocated supporting any dictator, including Assad, or Saddam (whom we did support for a time). I advocated and continue to advocate not to meddle in the ME or anywhere else - because supporting Saddam was bad, and overthrowing Saddam was bad. It's the interference that's the problem, not which side in a civil war we pick. Have we not caused enough destruction and suffering with our history of interference so far?

Sharing a cab with someone such as f.ex. yourself, would be a ride in silence, as you appear to have the odd conviction that the only alternative to attacking a dictator is to prop up a dictator, as if butting out entirely is not a possibility that would occur to you, and having it enunciated would stun you into a bewitched silence. I have no idea if Kissinger is similarly limited in his thinking.
posted by VikingSword at 12:05 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


When we don't intervien it often ends up worse than when we do. Rawanda is just one recent example.
posted by humanfont at 3:43 PM on September 27, 2013


It's hard to guess how intervention there would have turned out.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:04 PM on September 27, 2013


I rarely agree with VikingSword on an issue of ME policy, but revolutionary governments are often (perhaps usually) worse than their predecessors. When there isn't even an alternative government waiting in the wings then you have chaos, often until order is imposed from above. With Syria we do not see any alternative government; it is not even clear that the competing groups favor a unified successor state. Worse, a substantial part of the anti-government forces allegedly favor a sort of rolling armed insurrection, so it's not even as if their victory could bring peace. This is a bad, bad situation and I have no idea what the solution is.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:36 AM on September 28, 2013




Juan Cole has been smoking the funny stuff again:
the laughable character of the proposition that a weak country [i.e., Iran] very distant from Israel could menace it ...
Iran actually has the world's seventh-largest army and does threaten Israel: i.e., it makes threats against it. It is around 1,100 miles (less than 2,000 km) from Israel, not "very distant"; more significantly, Iran has a pretty free hand in Syria, with which Israel shares a border. And Iran funds and sponsors Hezbollah, an entity whose sole raison d'être is to menace Israel. Surely Juan Cole knows all this; I find it extraordinary that he can make statements so orthogonal to reality.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]




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