I don’t think for one minute that the governments of the US, Britain, France, and the UN inspectors, and Doctors Without Borders are falsifying anything about the use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria against their own civilian population. I think it’s all true. It’s not worth us getting involved in that mess however. It’s not that I don’t give a shit about people being killed on the other side of the world where the US has little to no direct strategic interest. It’s that I don’t give ENOUGH of a shit.
So Assad most likely used chemical weapons against his people in Syria. Well, that’s bad. It’s pretty fucking horrifying, actually, but those people are no more dead than the people who’ve been killed with bullets, bombs, rockets, and whatever else was at hand. It is only in the minds of people who’ve never seen incoming that this matters. Dead people are dead people and every weapon system ever devised including thrown rocks has lasting effects beyond the immediate strike. My children have never known war, hunger, or want. But they live with the after effects of war every day of their lives. I submit to you all that barring some major threat to US National Security that can only be reduced or eliminated by American military action, that we shouldn’t be doing that to people, and we shouldn’t help others do that to people.
Here’s what I think will happen. We’ll launch some cruise missiles from destroyers and submarines and maybe some JDAM from aircraft from Germany or Italy or carrier decks. Oh, and drones. LOTS of drones. And make no mistake, it WILL involve manned aircraft over Syrian airspace. There are some things hat pretty much have to be done by manned systems, and suppressing immediate targets is one of them. We will NOT target the actual chemical weapons facilities because we don’t want to be responsible for the huge contamination that could result from that. So we’ll hit some military airfields, some headquarters facilities, and some military garrisons. We won’t do a tremendous amount of damage to the Syrian military because their assets are in the field. We will kill a few mid-level and low-level officers and enlisted people because we don’t want to kill anyone who can actually give orders to the Syrian military. We won’t go after Assad himself because he’s the devil we know, and whatever else he may be, he’s not an Islamist. We won’t do anything that encourages the Kurds in north-east Syria to get frisky because the Turks don’t want that, so again, no hitting the high level command and control assets. The other people that we will kill? Civilians. Many people are against the military use of drones primarily for the reason that the people we kill with them tend to have a lot of civilians around them who also get killed. This will be no different, regardless of the platform, because high explosive fragmenting warheads and shells can’t tell the difference. It won’t really deter Assad from using chemical weapons, either.
Bashar Assad only has two realistic outcomes to this situation. Outcome one: he swings from a lamppost in Damascus alongside his sons and various family members. Outcome two: the rest of the world has to deal with him because he won. Since we aren’t going to do enough to guarantee that he doesn’t use chemical weapons again (that is to say, we aren’t going to kill him) then he really has no downside to continuing to use them, does he? I suppose some mid-level officer might refuse the order to employ them again, but that hasn’t happened yet, and most of the officer corps of the Syrian Army owes their positions and their pay to patronage by Assad and his clan. For many of them, this fight is also about their lives, as well.
So in the name of American credibility we’re supposed to drop a bunch of weapons that will primarily kill people who don’t really need killing. If that doesn’t deter Assad, as I think it won’t, then what? Does credibility demand that we bomb some more? If that doesn’t work, then what? Special Operations Forces? Ground troops? The fact is that air-power alone has never settled anything. Our use of air-power in in Libya was successful only because there was a large, relatively powerful, and unified opposition movement on the ground there. The Syrian rebellion isn’t all that large, relatively speaking, and isn’t unified at all. Not incidentally, we don’t trust them. The other historical operation this is being compared to is Kosovo, where after months of threats that did nothing to stop the Serbs ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians, NATO initiated a bombing campaign that lasted from 24 March to 11 June 1999. When that didn’t appear to have the desired effect, the US started making noises about using the USMC MEU and the 3rd BDE/82nd Airborne Division that were staged next door in Albania to take Kosovo from Serbia. The elements of the US Armored Division in Bosnia began to reorient their posture towards Serbia as well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered virtually the entire available British Army, 50,000 troops. It was not air-power that ended that conflict, no matter how much the USAF likes to say it was. It was the threat of a ground invasion. All those pundits saying that we can do it just like Kosovo have learned the wrong lesson.
No matter what happens in Syria, whether we do anything or not, and no matter who eventually wins, we, the US, are going to get blamed in the Arab street, and by the Arab press, and by Arab governments, most of whom happily buy our weapons and sell us oil as they oppress their people, while blaming us for the oppression. “If the Americans wouldn’t support Israel and keep trying to steal our oil, we might be able to give you democracy!” That there’s some truth to that only makes it all the more effective. So there’s really nothing to gain for the US. Even saying “well, punishing the use of chemical weapons is a good in its own right” doesn’t really work because nobody there thinks we do anything at all for the sake of doing good, even when that is exactly what we are doing. Also the recent revelations that we assisted Saddam Hussein in his use of chemical weapons against Iran (a revelation to whom, exactly?) is going to make us sound especially hypocritical. All of the aforementioned also applies to providing logistical support to France, Britain, and the rest of NATO. After all, as stupid people here like to say all the time, they’re our poodles, aren’t they? Since EVERYBODY KNOWS* that they would only ever move with our permission, then we own whatever they do, too. So we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t, and there’s nothing there for us to gain that will be worth the exertion. So I personally think we ought to sit back, save the American taxpayers some money in missiles, bombs, jet fuel, spare parts, office supplies, and (hopefully not) and SGLI pay-out or two.
While I think that as a general rule, governments shouldn’t kill their civilian populations, and stopping this meets one the two pillars for military action in my mind–that such action ought to be morally defensible whenever possible, I also think that the US has to have a compelling national security interest as the second pillar, and I haven’t seen anything that meets that requirement, especially when stacked up against the downside.
*Everybody who knows this is fucking stupid, but it only goes to illustrate the very point I’m making.
Well, at least you’re one of the few who’s willing to admit it’s all about how you feel.
I am in complete agreement with this.
Thanks for writing it.
I am with you. Western involvement in this messy affair would only make it messier. And at the end of it, who is assure that all those chemical weaponry have been seized and accounted for?
I would say that if there were something that we could do that would be effective, we should do it. But I agree with you about what realistic options are and what result we can expect from them. Quite honestly, the best thing that can happen here is that we go to the UN for permission and don’t get it. Then we get to say we tried and we registered our disapproval, but we don’t make anything worse.
Higgs Boson's Mate
Come on Soonergrunt, you know that people killed by poison gas are not only more dead than people killed by shrapnel, white phosphorous, napalm, cluster bombs, mines, or fuel/air munitions, they remain dead longer.
Thank you for writing something that explains pretty much how I feel, and writing it without the stupid implication that Kerry is a liar no different than Colin Powell or that there is nothing wrong with the use of chemical weapons.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: You are a fucking moron.
Well said brother.
Killing is wrong and justifiable homicide rarely is.
Please, not in our name ….again.
TY Sooner, I’m really conflicted about this, morally, ethically, politically… I would like to do what’s right but would also like it to mean something. In this case, doing something means that unless there’s a coalition for action within NATO or the UN, we do bupkis except try and help those in refugee camps…
This. We didn’t see a compelling national interest to stop the war as it wracked up a 6-digit body count, and I don’t see much of a compelling interest to get involved now, just because one side decided to use poison instead of explosives.
And all of that goes without saying that on the whole, most of our interventions in the Middle East end up blowing up in our fucking faces later on.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
Actually, it’s not that the people immediately killed remain dead longer, it’s that the people who survive suffer long-term effects that include cancer for themselves and birth defects for their children. Not to mention the effects on the environment that make the soil and water poisonous for anyone who tries to grow food there or drink the water.
It’s not the immediate deaths that made the international community ban chemical weapons — it’s the long-term aftereffects on the survivors. If we were using Agent Orange, would you still shrug your shoulders and say, “Eh, no big deal, it’s not like the people would be any more dead if we used regular bombs.”
ETA: And because using chemical weapons is a violation of international standards, the response should be international (UN or Arab League), not by the US.
Higgs Boson's Mate
I won’t dispute your opinion although I haven’t done any fucking for a long time. I have seen at first hand the effects of the munitions I mentioned above. Anyone who believes that one way of killing civilians en masse is less moral than all of the other ways of doing so might also want to question the rigor of their thinking.
@taylormattd: Your snark detector needs calibrating.
Villago Delenda Est
As John wrote last night, we only are terribly, terribly concerned about the deaths of civilians if someone uses the WRONG weapons to do it. Assad can slaughter tens of thousands with bullets, artillery shells, and bombs, but once he crosses the “line” to chemical weapons well, we’re shocked, shocked that people are dying.
Also, Soonergrunt’s two pillars are right on the money. There is no overwhelming national interest in what happens in Syria, unless your loyalties are first to the racist assholes of Likud.
Any US involvement in this civil war will have totally unknown consequences, except that the merchants of death will profit from it. Which is, after all, the only thing that matters.
Option 3: Assad and his family flee to Saudi Arabia (or Iran) to go retire to a compound somewhere. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but it’s happened before.
To me the biggest single question is whether we’ll accomplish something worthwhile. If we won’t- and it’s hard to see how we could- every other question is pointless. All we’re talking about now is doing something for the sake of doing something, and that’s obviously bullshit.
I say we drop a bunch of Whitey Pete on the bad guys and then go have a beer and call it a day.
Those people are lying; they are not against drones per se, but against military action in general because any military action carries a high risk of civilian casualties. Even a special forces mission like Abbotabad.
That said, I find it hard to quibble with anything you’ve written. The case against intervening is strong. But I worry about the longer-term effects of American credibility on the world stage if we sit back and watch this “red line” being crossed and do nothing.
Seems obvious that Obama never should have promised to intervene over chemical weapons in the first place. It would be a lot easier to stay out in that situation.
.. leaving Syria without a government. which means fighting to replace it. which means more war and tons of unsecured chemical weapons.
@Villago Delenda Est:
Actually, we’re shocked that people will continue to die long-term, even after the current hostilities are over.
But, like I said to HBM, I guess that if Assad was using Agent Orange, you would also think that was no big deal because, hey, dead is dead, right?
ETA: And since I’m sure I’ll be accused of beating the war drums, I’ll say it again — I think someone should do something, but the US should not act without UN approval at an absolute minimum.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Here’s an idea, next time why don’t you look up the history of choking agents, nerve agents, vesicants, and blood agents before you make snarky comments implying they are no big deal. A lot of the history involves the people who are *not* dead after an attack.
I mean, what the fuck is wrong with you people? It is perfectly fine to oppose intervention without having to downplay the use of chemical weapons. Jesus christ.
Agree with what soonergrunt sez.
Though I hope he is wrong & we won’t even lob a few missles.
Higgs Boson's Mate
There are also long term effects to wiping out whole families, sowing the ground with DU rounds, and leaving behind ordnance that’s armed, but failed to detonate. There are also long term effects from the destruction of infrastructure.
And you need to get your sarcasmometer checked; yours is obviously defective.
Assad has already won this war, the west is just still in denial about it, like they have been for the last year or so. The only option is decapitation of the regime by an external power.
There was no tactical or strategic reason for him to use CW. So we must assume he is now a madman or the scenario is a little bit more complicated.
When the so-far non-existent “evidence” the west has that Syrian forces were behind this, I will predict we will not see any direct order or chain of orders to whomever did this. It is easy to make this prediction, because the administration is doing everything it can to gin up the media spin, and revving up the war machine on this before being bothered to show any cards.
Villago Delenda Est
Sooner, feel free to nuke (ha!) my duplicate comment. Totally my fault, not FYWP this time.
Everybody knows this is nowhere. . .
@Roger Moore: Oh, it’s not defective. The fact that he was sarcastically implying the use of chemical weapons is no different than anything else speaks very poorly of him.
And we already know full well what a lot of people’s answer to that is.
I pretty much agree with this. So I guess you hate Obama and are a Bad Democrat, too.
this implies you know that the administration wants to go to war for some reason other than the chemical weapons thing.
what is that reason?
If I have to choose between a military dictatorship and a fundamentalist theocracy, I’m going with the military every time.
If we get involved in this, and even worse, get involved backing the wrong side – we’re going to reap nothing but sorrow from it.
Can we take a break from being the world’s policeman? This country’s been at war for more than 2/3rds of my lifetime. Can’t we just not do this for a while?
I was unaware that drone use causes cancer and birth defects in survivors years after they’re used. Who knew?
Higgs Boson's Mate
Her’s an idea; I already know the effects of the agents that you mentioned. The government made quite certain that I knew them. When you can explain why dying from one of them is somehow worse than having WP burn right through your body, or dying of explosive decompression in your basement because someone laid a fuel/air weapon on your neighborhood you step right up.
It depends a lot on the weapon. Some of them have terrible long-term effects and some of them either kill you or you get better. Some of they stay around for a long time, and some of them disperse almost immediately. The stuff the Syrians were using sounds like nerve poison, which tends to fall in the “either kills you or you get better” category without terrible long-term effects. Depending on the exact agent, it may be either highly persistent or degrade fairly quickly.
Honest question here, does anyone think Assad will continue to escalate his use of chemical weapons? Each attack has killed more people than the next, so doesn’t it follow that if he gets away with it this time, killing a thousand people (roughly), he’ll move on to gassing entire neighborhoods and villages?
I don’t think we should intervene because there’s no point in doing something that won’t tip the balance towards the rebels, Assad won’t ‘get the message’ even if we hit a few bases. I do understand the argument though that if you don’t stop him now he’ll use them on a larger scale later.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
Well, okay, then we should go ahead and use nukes whenever we want. After all, there’s always destruction left behind in the wake of warfare and it doesn’t matter what kind of destruction it is, so why not use nuclear weapons at every opportunity?
@taylormattd: that was HBM being snarky, because it speaks to the reasoning of those who are trying to get us into a war.
And I pretty much wholeheartedly agree with what Sooner said. No, to involvement. Assad has already won and his enemies are not really our friends.
@taylormattd: You ever see the result of willie peter, nape, beehives, time-on-target, or a fucking pressure cooker IED?
Jockey Full of Malbec
Smooth functioning of the global oil markets doesn’t count as a ‘national security interest’?
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
this is the reason why i’m against the use of DU.
i mean, come on, ‘dead is dead’ is a real superficial argument regarding weapons that leave persistent poisons in living bodies and the environment.
From what Doctors Without Borders is reporting, it sounds like it was probably sarin, which does degrade fairly quickly … unless it gets into the water supply, where it can last a bit longer (a few weeks vs. a few hours). But, hey, poisoning someone’s water supply is totally fair game in war, where anything goes.
Villago Delenda Est
Are you going to head down to the recruiting station and sign up to be boots on the ground for this thing? Probably not. So don’t be so eager to toss away still more American lives on false premises.
There is an unspoken assumption in this entire chemical weapons thing that Assad personally gave an order for them to be used. This assumption is based on US norms of control of “weapons of mass destruction”…that the President must personally authorize their use. This is an utterly stupid assumption to apply to Syria.
Furthermore, I would not, ever, place it past the Al Qaeda led rebels to create martyrs to make Assad look bad. Assad is, after all, an Alawite heretic and they are doing Allah’s will to bring the heretic down.
All those people are still fucking dead. If we weren’t interested in stopping the killing until some chemical weapons were used, we shouldn’t be interested now. This is not any of our business. Stay out. We’ve gotten into more than enough trouble in the Middle East over the last century, thank you.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Congratulations! You are making the *same* arguments as those who opposed the Geneva Convention chemical weapons protocol after World War I. So yes, let’s just get rid of that, because it’s all the same.
@raven: Many westerners in a certain city can now say yes to the last item.
Bob In Portland
A British expert of some sort on NPR this a.m. said it’s quite possible that the poison gas is a false flag op by rebel forces. As Pepe Escobar wrote in Asia Times:
The Ancient Randonneur
Bravo, brother, bravo. I, too, am one who strongly subscribes to this line of thought. Not quite 45 years ago Uncle asked me and a few other boys to go fight in a war that we had no business fighting. Not a day goes by I don’t think of the brothers I lost. The cause we were fighting for was unworthy of the sacrifice they were asked to make. Sadly it is a lesson our leaders never seem to learn.
@ruemara: Look at my first comment. I agree with Sooner’s post.
I also appreciate that he isn’t making stupid, vacuous, and historically embarrassing posts that downplay Assad’s use of chemical weapons. It’s entirely unnecessary to place yourself on the same side as those who opposed parts of the Geneva Convention just to oppose intervention in Syria today.
@Villago Delenda Est:
See, I knew you were going to ignore what I actually said:
But, hey, go ahead with the accusations of warmongering, because the weapon doesn’t matter.
Higgs Boson's Mate
I don’t think they get it. I once called in naval gunfire on a ville. It reduced the place to a slurry of mud, pots, pans, toys, plastic buckets, arms, legs…
But I guess that it was okay because we didn’t use poison gas.
I don’t know what the right answer is but I do believe that a large Western military escalation will likely destabilize a region that is already on a foundation of sand.
Lebanon is starting to totter again.
Israel just launched strikes into the West Bank.
The House of Saud is bankrolling elements that make Assad look like a Mr. Rogers.
In the last decade the US has launched military strikes or invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Our closest regional ally Israel has launched military strikes/invasions of Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Sudan. Both the US and Israel are deeply implicated in cyber attacks on Iran. Our ally France still has troops in North Africa in Mali.
Syria and Iran have a mutual defense pact.
Many elements in both the US and Israel and Saudi Arabia have been demanding a US attack on Iran for years and years now.
The US is very weak economically and our political system is a shambles.
This has the potential to not end well.
Bob In Portland
Also, at this moment Assad is winning the war. If you knock out key parts of his military you delay the end of the war, thus allowing maybe another hundred thousand to die from approved ordinance.
@cleek: Somebody misused CW, a red line has been crossed, something must be done, random people must die to make the west look somehow relevant.
It’s what leaders do.
Or perhaps after all this time, they have narrowed down his hideouts and we can drop a few deep penetrators while spending a couple weeks suppressing the hundreds of SAM sites. No Fly Zone opportunity, turn this war around, etc.
@Mnemosyne: This isn’t wrong but its beside the point. We don’t bomb China for permanently poisoining its own people and terrain–and we aren’t doing a thing to West Texas and its fertilizer plant explosions or about Fracking. We are not opposed to chemical warfare because of its lasting ecological effects or, if we were, it would put chemical warfare very far down the list of things we should be worrying about.
@Bob In Portland:
The rebels have been gaining ground everywhere but Homs and Damascus. They captured the road to Aleppo, the villages west of Aleppo, and much of the city of Deir ez Zour. The entire Euphrates River Valley is basically controlled by the rebels. Much of the Syrian army is holed up in bases launching artillery strikes and air strikes into surrounding villages and cities but not patrolling, and only being resupplied by air.
Villago Delenda Est
And you didn’t read what I wrote, either.
It’s not that chemical weapons aren’t bad…it’s that they are “terror” weapons that scare people. From a military perspective, they’re not all that useful. From a political perspective, they make a statement. The assumption is that if Assad’s people used them on the rebels, then Assad personally OKd their use. This assumption is based, as I said, and you did not read, on US norms of use for “weapons of mass destruction”. There is also an assumption that the rebels didn’t use them just to make Assad look worse than he already does.
Getting involved in this mess is a very bad idea, unless you’re pining for war with Iran, like the utter fucking scum that are the neocons, Likud’s fifth column in America.
Higgs Boson's Mate
Excellent point. The government isn’t even sufficiently concerned about pumping who knows what into the ground here to find out what’s being pumped, but it is willing to sling ordnance because the Assad regime may have used poison gas.
@Jockey Full of Malbec:
far as i know the carter doctrine is still in full effect.
I appreciate the acknowledgment that the alternative is to sit and watch and look at our satisfyingly large pile of unexpended paper clips.
If I thought it would stop the killing, I would be Ok with Obama using his book royalties to buy Assad a house in Beverly Hills.
Unfortunately, I think this is one of those intractable situations where the killing isn’t likely to stop for six or seven generations, and there’s nothing we or any other external force can do to stop it.
So why get involved?
@Bob In Portland: So should we help him gas the opposition to make sure it ends quicker?
I read Soonergrunt’s post that there is no silver lining, but this is why we shouldn’t do it. Attempting to dress up the consequences of that makes it seem disingenuous.
@GregB: This. Plus what Sooner said. There are no good options, only ones that have varying potential for disaster. This is clearly something the UN has to deal with as a deliberative body, not the US.
Sorry, that’s collateral damage. As I’m sure our betters will be along to remind us, the only damage that counts is the target. Everything else that happens is … well … shit happen.
At least that’s the standard we apply to ourselves.
I’ll bet Chomsky agrees!
I mostly agree with this post, which is pretty thoughtful, but I’m disturbed by the number of people on the left who seem to have become full blown isolationists. I don’t want to be the world’s policeman, but I also don’t want to sit back and say “not my problem!”
Leaving aside the question of particular weapons (still mulling over Soonergrunt’s stance on this, which is a serious argument), I tend to agree with the main point of his argument. I’m not (at this point) convinced that a military intervention in Syria will accomplish much, it could make the situation much worse, and I don’t think our nation is prepared for that.
@different-church-lady: He is explainig the basis for his opinons. What is your excuse for your malicious misrepresentation?
Fuck you, Leon. Seriously.
@Mnemosyne: Excellent point. Now talk about depleted uranium munitions.
The stamp of indifference from the left on the use of chemical weapons. Well, it’ll certainly spice up the rest of the Arab Spring.
@GregB: I agree with most of what you said, but would like to say something nice about France’s intervention in Mali: as interventions go, that one was more justified and more successful, than most.
@Villago Delenda Est:
No, we only care when those wrong weapons are used by a regime we’re not getting along with.
When Saddam gassed the Kurds, not only did we not intervene, we actively tried to cover for him by blaming Iran.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Fuck em if they can’t take a joke.
Well, I don’t give a shit. I frankly am tired of people who are fighting over stupid ethnic crap when it should be their infrastructure, their kids’ education and their health they should be concerned about. If I want to get involved in crap like that, I can find it right here in my backyard with the Deep South and Arizona crackers. These countries have been around a long time and if these idiots can’t figure out that spending money on arms and fighting is not changing their miserable lives, then they damn well deserve to continue to live their miserable lives. I’ve just come to the conclusion that microloans are the way to go with these countries. If other BJ’rs feel the same way go to Kiva or Heifer Int’l or whatever org. you can do microloan kind of stuff. It’s relatively cheap.
And by ‘We’ you mean Reagan, that paragon of liberal values.
So, if the rebels get access to some chemical weapons and use them against Assad’s forces/strongholds, do we then launch some bombs at them?
We’re going to hurl some missiles at a country and perhaps kill innocent civilians to slap Assad’s hand? I think we should have a better reason than that. I’m not downplaying the horribleness of chem weapons but for the love of pete, are there any good guys on either side of the fighting in this civil war? Sure, there are plenty of innocent civilians suffering but if we’re that concerned about them then we should invade, disarm Assad’s forces, his Hezbollah allies, the Al Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood types fighting against them, and occupy the nation for however long it takes to establish some compliant client state that will act the way we want them to act.
Recent Q-poll said 49 percent of Americans on board with missile/drone strikes as long as no Americans receive even a scratch. Are they on board with the above? If you aren’t ready to take on the whole kit and kaboodle then you shouldn’t support half-assed measures that won’t do anything and will probably make things worse.
And this can’t be compared to Libya. Just the close proximity to Israel, Turkey and Iraq makes this a whole different ballgame, not to mention Iran’s involvement in the region. In Libya, we could do whatever the eff we wanted and not really have to worry about the larger impact on our allies or the region in general – that was a very local issue. This…not so much.
I sincerely mean no disrespect, but I find the notion that “someone should do something” to be irresponsible. Surely you agree that there are some “somethings” that we (even with UN approval) could do that would have no positive effect and/or could make things worse. So I think it’s a mistake to take “do nothing” off the table without putting forward a specific alternative plan.
I said this in a thread last night: For the US to stand by and do nothing while children are being killed in chemical weapons attacks is truly a horrible option. That said, it is the option I currently endorse because I simply haven’t been presented with a better option.
It’s awful to sit back and allow atrocities to occur, but that should not be enough to force our hand into “doing something”. We have to find a specific “something” to do which will actually improve the situation.
If we can’t, then staying out of the situation — while a terrible option — is the best option available.
My grandfather was mustard gassed in WWI. He shook like a leaf for the rest of his shortened life. Luckily for those of us downstream, his 17 year old wife got pregnant before he left for the front.
i’m sure there are a lot of those people in syria. unfortunately, they’re stuck in the middle of all this.
My opinions on the subject are as follows.
Through decades of adventurism, the USA has squandered any moral authority for humanitarian intervention anywhere under any circumstances. Nobody with a working memory trusts you fuckers. If you are serious about armed humanitarian relief, you should start advocating for a permanent international force responsible to the UN, that was large enough to deal with these situations. This would have to be fairly large, like that of mid-sized power, with the ability to second under UN command, larger units from UN powers.
I can see no other way that large scale military intervention can ever be legitimised. No major power will easily agree to this, of course, and the reason for that is that the true motives for intervention are almost always illegitimate.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: As a veteran I agree totally with you. Dead is dead and wounded forever is horrible but nerve damage from WMD is then same as from an IUD. This is tribal warfare between to factions of Muslims. If we can help negotiate a peace after 1000 years of slaughter by every means, then go for it. If not, stay very far away.
Higgs Boson's Mate
@Bruce Lawton: Well that’s three of us.
why do you have to be so reasonable, sooner? isn’t it easier to just pitch a fit?
Jockey Full of Malbec
My suggested long-term solution to our problems in the region hasn’t changed in 30 years:
1) Get our economy and food systems off foreign-sourced oil, no matter the cost (the shit’s gone by ~2080 anyway).
2) GTFO of the region.
3) Laugh at them from afar, while they starve to death.
Until serious national resources are dedicated to (1)… we have a dog in any fight there, by default.
I agree with those who point out that there is no one simple option or action available to us, which is why I don’t have a fully formed opinion on what we should do yet.
But I’d also suggest that “do nothing” would be at least as bad, if not potentially worse.
I don’t think that America’s credibility will be affected by not bombing Syria back to the stone age. Not getting involved militarily is not the same as “doing nothing”.
However, I think that America’s credibility has suffered from the effects of invading the wrong country ten years ago, which demonstrated to the world that its “foreign policy experts”, like the guys who signed the letter asking Obama to bomb Syria back to the stone age, couldn’t tell one Arab from another or one Muslim from another. Along with many ordinary Americans who are still convinced that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Centre bombing. These are people who absolutely should not be intervening in a civil war, particularly when even people who know what they are talking about are having trouble understanding the motives of all the actors here.
No, I think it was H. W. Bush by that point, actually. But by “we” I assumed VDE just meant “the United States;” if that was supposed to mean “liberals” then I stand corrected.
Just Some Fuckhead
Is there nothing a good blowing up can’t solve?
Higgs Boson's Mate
@Jockey Full of Malbec:
Our last three interventions in the ME have not had good results. Do we really want to make the entire region into our own pottery barn?
CW is just an excuse for intervention. It worked for Iraq, and they will keep using it until enough people or political entities call bullshit.
While I agree with much of what you said, you have some big holes in that argument.
Thing is, we don’t really know what risks the situation in Syria poses to the EU and NATO countries such as Turkey. We are sort of obligated to at least help them if there is a real threat to them. Those things can be “some major threat to US National Security”, even though not directly to the US proper. I don’t necessarily object to helping them if they reasonably perceive a threat to their security, even if I don’t necessarily agree on the extent of the threat. If I were a Turk, I would be nervous about someone indiscriminate using Sarin in a neighboring country. That gas can cross the border, especially if insurgents they’re targeting are concentrated there. Artillery misses, and there is evidence this attack was a fuckup. An errant Sarin shell may do more damage than an errant conventional round. Syria is not some jungle in a corner of Asia; it sits on the Mediterranean, right next to Israel and Turkey and not all that far from southern Europe.
Yeah, but maybe you aren’t just interested in deterring Assad, which is probably a lost cause. Is it a good thing if various assholes around the world begin to think gassing is now an acceptable form of crowd control? Yeah, willy peter and fuel/air explosives are terrible, but why add to that list? Gas was something everyone agreed to ban, and many (not us, unfortunately) were willing to extend the ban to antipersonnel mines, as these are also indiscriminate and can pose legacy hazards. In the extreme, your argument is akin to NRA retards arguing that guns shouldn’t be controlled because people can kill with knives or cars.
This is about the only hope for any reasonable outcome in Syria. There is an argument that systematically wiping out those things that give them their social position, the planes, helicopters, bases, etc. might give them a reason to start questioning their loyalty to Assad. It also may make it easier for a peacekeeping force to go into Syria if the place goes to complete shit. I’ll concede it’s an iffy proposition, but it isn’t an unreasonable argument.
None of this shit is cut and dried.
such a force would be utterly impotent here, since Russia and China have both said the UN should stay out of Syria.
Exactly what will be accomplished by any action from the US? Assad will not stop the war, Chemical weapons will continue to be used in the Middle East by anyone who wants an advantage and any attempt to destroy them short of a nuke will either spread chemicals or make them vulnerable to being taken by all sides.
And what about Israel? If we attack Syria and weaken Assad this makes Israel more likely to have to go to war, possibly on two or three fronts. This will mean more money from us to help out and we have already pledged billions to both Israel and Egypt (not to mention Jordan) so any action will take our treasure, what’s left of our prestige (not that that is important) and probably our lives.
And there will be no upside to this. No one will be deterred from using chemical weapons – which can be made with very little capital investment using technology and recipes that are decades old – and the use of such weapons will become less and less abhorred.
Nukes, for example, are far more deadly than chemicals and have far more obvious sequelae on the living yet we don’t have the same knee jerk reaction to them. Yes, we think they are horrible, but for 50 years they were the lynchpin of our security policy and still have some gravitas. Our thoughts about them vary, but we are not universally condemning even though they should be.
One of the reasons is that chemicals are much scarier. I was trained to be scared shitless of them by the Army and probably could still put on a chemical suit in less than two minutes. On the other hand the latrines used to have unauthorized signs that said “If you see a bright flash then wipe yourself and kiss your ass goodbye.”
Chemicals, on the other hand, appear as if they will kill anyone touched by them in a horrible painful manner. They are, of course, horrible but the mortality rate of Sarin – one of the worst – is in single digits if the Iran-Iraq war experience is valid. Chemicals are more about debilitating an army and with proper precautions only slow one down. (At least that is what they taught me in Desert Storm.) Sadaam didn’t use them because he was told he’d be nuked if he did.
I agree with Soonergrunt. There is no upside to our getting involved in this war for us or our allies and certainly no good reason to use this as an excuse to unilaterally start shooting. What is the objective, what is the exit plan, and what is the benefit? Questions, if asked by Bush II, that would have saved us a lot of grief ten years ago.
@aimai: I feel torn about the idea of being killed by a chemical weapon being worse than being killed in some other awful way. I don’t really see that the ecological and genetic issues are really to the point, as the world/gov’t/business is quite happy to poison us all in every other area of life. That might be the stated reason, but it seems illogical.
But I still felt like chemical weapons seem worse. Wondered if it was due to feelings regarding my grandfather. I sat and puzzled till my puzzler was sore. In the end what I came up with: I think it’s really just that this line has been drawn and agreed to by the world. Going this extra bit is really attacking everyone, and the very notion that the world can set and keep a rule.
I liken it to the extra hunting down and extra penalties when someone kills a cop. The officer is just a person, is just as dead, but it is a bigger deal. I believe the reasoning is that while a person may kill, killing an officer of the gov’t is an extra step up into anti-socialism and rejection of the entire system.
When someone crosses that more official line, they are taking on a bigger thing. They should expect a bigger response. And then this is what puzzles me: why would the Syrian gov’t want to cross this line, when they know what will come of it? If it did come from Assad, what will crossing this line achieve?
ETA: That said, my personal opinion is that we should stay out.
Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937
WTF are you white privileging about now?
Patience is a virtue. Pity the U.S. government seems to be sorely lacking in it.
There is no need for a rush to war. Take your time. Line up all the right assets. Go through all the right legal channels. Slowly build your arsenal. Obama would do well to learn from the lesson of George the Elder and his multilateral group of nations under the imprimatur of the United Nations and the aegis of international law.
You may not agree with what Bush 1 did (I still have issues with it), but at least he went about doing it the right way.
BUILD YOUR CASE FOR WAR with the American people AND the United Nations.
If you take the time to do this, then you will be taking the moral high road. SHOW the international community that Russia and China are isolated on this matter – and make them OWN it with a security council vote on it!
And if the UN can’t agree, take it to the Arab League and get THEIR mandate for intervention.
The whole point is to be circumspect and provide LEGAL JUSTIFICATION for your actions. And I’m not talking about the bullshit “legal cover” provided by such whores as John Yoo, et al.
And try not consulting with Congress as just an afterthought. It would be nice if the Constitution actually counted for something when our country engages in acts of war.
Villago Delenda Est
Cripes, lots of people were asking those questions, but the deserting coward had no interest in exploring the answers at all. He wanted his fucking war. He got one.
Which is why he and all his top advisers should be treated exactly the way we treated the German and Japanese leadership of WWII. With hangings.
Higgs Boson's Mate
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937:
It couldn’t possibly be an allusion to having a dad who is suffering the aftereffects of combat.
@cleek: Yes, that would be a consequence, perhaps unfortunate. But just maybe, if two major powers disagree with Uncle Sam about the best course of action, there’s more to the situation than meets the eye. At worst, it means “great power struggle”, in which case hanging a humanitarian fig leaf over NATO intervention is only fooling the home crowd.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937: I’d guess it was about their father having been in combat. I don’t know the details, you should ask T&H, who likes to tell us who all the “killers” are here.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Jinx on a coke.
Villago Delenda Est
I did indeed mean “The United States”. In particular, the old men who are delighted to send young men and women to their deaths so that Halliburtion’s stock price soars.
Jockey Full of Malbec
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
As long as we insist on basing our civilization on the burning of fossilized plankton… we kind of have to.
I disagree with your count BTW. Libya would have been a civilian bloodbath w/o US and NATO intervention, leaving Ghaddafi still in power.
I agree. Thank you for posting this.
@PIGL: And I’m praising him for being honest about the basis of his opinions. What’s the problem here?
Higgs Boson's Mate
@Jockey Full of Malbec:
In one sense it’s a pity that they did away with the draft. Had they not done so then maybe fewer people would be so unconcerned about throwing our people into no-win wars for the sake of the smooth functioning of the oil markets.
I’m not so sure about Libya although I freely admit that nearly anyone knows more about the current situation there than I do. To my eyes it appears that we’ve disestablished a very bad government in favor of chaos.
Maybe what Obama should do is take this to Congress and make them sign off on what essentially is an act of war? Syria didn’t attack us or our allies – their government (allegedly) threw some chemical weapons (and a bunch of other weapons over the last few years) at areas occupied by rebels trying to overthrow said government. Heck, unlike the bogus Iraq argument, nobody is even asserting that our national security is at risk here. Get a resolution from Congress to act on this – force the hawks on both side to have some skin in the game. Then Obama can say that it was the will of the people of the US, expressed via their duly elected representatives in Congress. My guess is that even if he did do this (doubtful), he’d never get the votes because Congress – beyond tough words (cough…McCain…cough…Graham) – doesn’t want skin in the game, they just want to wave the flag, cheer the bombs, and act all patriotic until it comes back to bite them in the arse, at which point they will and can say, “Wasn’t me”.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: I think the draft was also useful for mixing different social groups together. I wish there were a national service thing, that was not military.
Higgs Boson's Mate
I think that the political calculus for Obama is even more dismal than you state. If we intervene and (Likely) Syria goes all to hell the Republicans will have an arsenal of criticisms to level at Obama. If it (Unlikely) turns out well then the Rs can say that they had to force Obama to do the right thing.
Everybody between the Bosphorus and the Indus can go DIAF.
/tired of the fucking middle east
Higgs Boson's Mate
It was also useful for showing draftees that there were alternatives to the environment that they’d been raised in.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Various people have been citing the argument against attacking is Assad is the example of Egypt shows the wrong people would be elected if he’s over thrown, so I guess yes.
Funny how all roads lead back to Nixon.
Jockey Full of Malbec
@Higgs Boson’s Mate:
No arguments here w.r.t. the draft.
Republics probably shouldn’t have entrenched, quasi-hereditary warrior castes in them (ie less like Rome, more like the Swiss, please).
I say take it to Congress, debate a Declaration of War for a few weeks and allow the American people to kill this inane stupidity being foisted on us by the Villagers. Nobody wants this war outside the Beltway, except perhaps defence contractors.
Side benefits of this strategy: the GOP will lack oxygen for their economy-destroying suicide mission.
Atrios linked this bit from the LA Times:
I sure hope that’s not an accurate depiction of Obama’s thinking. Because that’s just sociopathic.
That’s a well-reasoned and insightful bit of writing, Sooner, so of course we won’t hear anything like it come out of the mouths of anyone we can see on our TV, hear on our radio, or read in a major publication.
Higgs Boson's Mate
Congress will no more take responsibility for a war than it will pass laws that apply to it as well as the rest of us.
Your penance for even suggesting such a thing is to say “Mistakes were made” 100 times.
@OGLiberal: Ahem. War Powers Act. Congress washed their hands of this shit way back in the 70s.
@Just Some Fuckhead: I don’t know, but you win the thread. Kudos!
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: You’re missing the point. Just let McCain bloviate on MTP while Boehner gets consulted on war plans and Issa conducts hearings on the meaning of it all while the circle jerk reaches orgasmic levels despite the fact that nothing actually happens. Fill the WAPO editorial pages, and not Syrian morgues.
this is idiotic and beneath you.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that,
A) plenty of people who have “seen incoming” were instrumental in having these weapons put in a separate class from other weapons
B) you don’t have to get shot or vaporized by a nuclear bomb to notice there are consequences beyond immediate injury or death associated with different weapons
Many of the nations on earth got together and said, hey , some of these weapons are like really fucked up. Like, more fucked up even than turning an entire city to kindling and setting the kindling on fire fucked up.
That alone should tell you your dismissive pablum is way off base.
@Yatsuno: I know, but you can still make them do it. They won’t, but that’s the point. Of course, it won’t happen – no executive, regardless of power, is going to give up the power to blow stuff up without getting the OK from the other elected branch over government.
@TG Chicago: Actually, I think that’s the best thing we could hope for. We can’t end/prevent further escalation by Assad and we can’t prevent backlash from Assad’s allies. Our intervention, whatever its going to be, is purely symbolic.
Higgs Boson's Mate
The one thing that would make the Middle East sit up and take notice would be complete and total abandonment by the West of petroleum as a fuel source. Imagine where OPEC would be if the market for their primary product were to summarily crash.
The trouble with that is that the Gospel of Conspicuous Consumption practiced by the Teahad would never countenance such an effort.
@123 lethargytartare: Conceding your point, now what? Since 1997 when the Chemical Weapons Convention became effective why has our country not completed the destruction of its stockpile?
Many of the nations on earth did not, in fact, get tougher. They merely found a way to look better and maintain the weapons. This includes our own country. For crying out loud, Russia was able to destroy more chemical weapons stockpiles than we were.
I am not opposed to considering chemical weapons–whether used on civilians or on soldiers–to be a horror. Not at all. And I’m not opposed to having a line drawn between chemical/nuclear and “normal” weapons as far as the international community is concerned. I object to Mnemosyne’s argument that the reason we object to such things is because of their long term damage to those injured or to the environment. We fought a long, hard, battle against land mines because the truth is that armies and societies don’t object to permanently poisoning/injuring their own population in the future in order to gain a tactical advantage during a current battle. I guess I query the notion of a “we” who decide anything much, or anything sincerely and not contingently, in an international sphere. It is in fact the case that if parts of the international community support the government in question (in this case Russia and China) there is no uniformity in “our” response or the meaning “we” ascribe to chemical weapons.
Second of all I gree that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are horrific in their long term impact on individuals and societies but we are permitting incredible ecological devastation to happen all the time to civilian popuations all around the world–what makes capitalism’s demands ok and war’s demands off limits? If we were as passionately involved in working for more and better Minimata conventionswe’d all be better off.
I am totally opposed to conventional war and conventional civil wars–I don’t think that chemical weapons are worse than Bhopal or Minimata or even the frequent crushings to death of people in Bangladeshi factories. I think its absurd to become focused on chemical weapons used in one country and ignore the real and lasting destruction we ourselves wrought in creating an enormous refugee population in Iraq that spilled over into Syria, or that the Syrians are creating in Turkey.
@125 aimai: If this is the best you can hope for, may I sincerely ask that you rethink what you are hoping for? Would the “symbolic” death of someone you love and who is innocent of any crime be OK with you? If not, then what is the symbolism of killing someone else?
Symbolically killing people in the name of ‘justice’ seems to be the height of injustice to me.
When will occur to the Powers That Be to stay the fuck out of the Middle East? It’s their place not ours. We don’t need their resources. We have plenty of troubles of our own to deal with.
Higgs Boson's Mate
I strongly disagree. The prohibitions of the Geneva Convention were an attempt to characterize warfare as an orderly, controlled process. They were just as effective at preventing atrocities as would be shouting “Marquis of Queensbury Rules!” when a bar fight breaks out.
@TG Chicago: Wouldn’t be surprised, although not sure it’s sociopathic. It’s a way to try to get rid of those neo-con, armchair general fuckheads who wrote that letter to Obama asking him to do something, preferably involving bombs. They need some war porn because jerking off to Sarah Palin’s jogging magazine spread is getting waaaaay boring. And because they still haven’t gotten over getting picked on by the cool kids in the school yard so they (actually, our military – heaven forbid they get in harm’s way) need to take it out on somebody. Problem is that they’ll never go away – if we lob some missiles they’ll claim it was too weak or that Obama was just trying to wag the dog a la Clinton and Al Qaeda. If we follow it with boots on the ground and we end up in the predictable terrible mess that will follow, it will be because Obama isn’t a manly enough C-in-C and our troops don’t respect him and how could our military fight effectively knowing that the dude in the shower next to him is a gaywad? If we enlist the support of a UN or some other international coalition we’ll be ceding our superpower might and the right to do whatever we fucking please to wusbag Europeans a la our Balkan intervention. No fucking win here, which is why anything we do short of economic sanctions, embargoes – that type of stuff – is just stupid.
@aimai: I agree with every bit of this.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Still, I think there is more calculation to using chemical weapons that someone hitting below the belt in a bar fight. I don’t think it’s like it just happens in the heat of the moment.
@boatboy_srq: Amen. The cost of oil is higher than the price we pay at the pump.
we’ve destroyed 90% of our stockpile. russia, 60%. russia’s declared stockpile was bigger, but we’ve destroyed more.
@137 chopper: I won’t argue your statistics, but I’d ask you to consider that if the principle of the Chemical Weapons Convention is important enough for our nation to consider using violence to deter future use of chemical weapons, why has the same nation, the wealthiest on the face of the earth, not been able to completely eliminate these horrific weapons from itself?
@Villago Delenda Est: I saw a great lecture by Matthew Meselson years ago. He claimed that by weight they were no more effective than high explosives.
Higgs Boson's Mate
It certainly takes more preparation. My point is that once you decide to go to war for anything other than immediate self-defense you’ve already conceded that your institutions and processes have failed. At that point, pretending that other institutions can be effective is delusional.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937: Sometimes there are a******s who pull out the white privilege accusation just a wee bit too fast. You just joined the club, buddy.
@MikeBoyScout: Oh, you misunderstand me. I think that the quote from the unknown source about Obama’s deliberations indicate that they are planning on doing something symbolic which will, in fact, result in little or no loss of life. Not that they are choosing to blow up civilians as a symbolic gesture of violence.
We all are opposed to war. Chemical weapons are weapons, however. The operators of Bhopal were criminally negligent, but I doubt they intended to kill anyone. The reason for condemning chemical weapons is that everyone has signed on to their illegitimacy, the same can’t be said for chemical plants or garment factories. Maybe some day in the future, people will feel the same way about other weapons, like willy peter and fuel/air bombs or depleted uranium rounds or, for that matter, any use of weaponry.
People were already condemning Assad for slaughtering civilians, but he could argue that is was an unfortunate byproduct of trying to kill jihadi insurgents, and we have people on this blog who have inadvertently given credence to this excuse by arguing that Assad is preferable to the alternative. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but using chemical weapons completely undermines that excuse and makes it more likely that what he is doing is just ethnic cleansing. Because it looks that way, you have to condemn it, even if it was the action of a rogue commander, which seems likely. Some people have a very strange grasp of Western hypocrisy and use it in a weird way to gloss over mass murder.
If you don’t want to be involved, fine, there are plenty of practical reasons for staying out of Syria, most of which boil down to we can’t achieve anything positive and there is too much downside risk. These moral comparisons, however, are not very useful.
Higgs Boson's Mate
Aw, you’re just jealous because you aren’t as pure as Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937.
it simply takes time. we’re still working at it. we had a lot of it (tens of thousands of tons, millions of munitions, distributed all around the world). and it needs to be destroyed safely. can’t just crack open an artillery shell and pour the contents down the drain.
@142 aimai: I am sorry I misunderstood you.
Please understand me. Symbolically killing anybody is wrong. It is wrong when anybody kills symbolically, and it is a tragedy when any of us see it otherwise.
The most powerful symbolic action our nation could take when confronting this horror, is to not kill, neither intentionally nor unintentionally, in the false hope that another death would somehow prevent future deaths.
i hope not, they were from your own link.
well, you could quickly deal with the stuff if you wanted to fuck up the process and maybe leave residue in the environment.
taking down nerve agent munitions, disposing of the payload and decomming everything takes a while.
@hoodie: These moral comparisons aren’t very useful? They are to me.
There are lots of issues in this debate and this is one of them. Why react more strongly, and more violently, to chemical weapons than to mere bombardment or outright massacre. Doesn’t this tell Syrian civilians that its ok with us if Assad merely destroys, say, 30,000 of them as long as he doesn’t do it with chemical weapons? That we will only push back if it is the judgement of the international community that is insulted and not the number of deaths? I think this kind of talking about talking about outrage is almost obscene. If you want to intervene in someone else’s war go ahead, but don’t delude yourself that your actions are taken in order to civilize war or protect the environment (Mnemo’s point).
@muddy: “Still, I think there is more calculation to using chemical weapons that someone hitting below the belt in a bar fight. I don’t think it’s like it just happens in the heat of the moment. ”
I would like to see some actual evidence. I’ll evaluate that evidence remembering the run-up to the Iraq war, and remembering that it’s almost the exact same crew.
@45 cleek: I think you are correct. One has to have priorities. Our priority over 16 years has not been to eliminate our own chemical weapon stockpile. We have, however, found the time and resources to be in a state of war for most of those years, occupying 2 countries.
I cannot accept that the reason we have yet to destroy and eliminate our own chemical weapons is because there has been insufficient time.
For those looking for a ‘symbolic’ action, let me offer that a commitment to eliminate our own chemical weapons before the end of this year, and fulfilling that commitment will go much further than any military attack upon those who would use chemical weapons.
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: This. Let’s define unacceptable killing and then allow (and carry out) all manner of other means of killing.
I’ve seen the “chemical weapons/WMD” argument/excuse way too often to think it’s any justification for the mayhem and destruction left after our (meaning the fricking “allies”, another word draggged out with tiresome regularity) actions.
And there still is no definitive proof as to who’s lobbing the chemical weapons in Syria yet. Wouldn’t it be a shame if it was the “rebels”? ETA There are no white and black hats in Syria.
Mike in NC
Boots on the ground is the way to go, provided they belong to a scratch battalion of neocon pundits, talk radio blowhards, Wall Street parasites, and chickenhawk Republican members of the US House and Senate.
If any of them survive they’ll get to go on some nice R&R in Tel Aviv, paid for by Likud.
@Barry:What same crew are you talking about?
@aimai: You asked
I put to you that we should not react.
We should act.
And we should act in a way which is consistent with the principles we proclaim.
You may believe that a “more violent” reaction can help us obtain the benefits of the principles we proclaim, but I think that if you sit with that belief for awhile you’ll realize that An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind
@MikeBoyScout: I can actually answer this one from experience (I grew up near Edgewood Arsenal/Aberdeen Proving Grounds and knew many of their scientists/contractors). It’s because destroying them in some cases means handling dangerously leaking/unsafely contained chemicals, and leaving them be is cheaper and easier. Disposing of some of these things gets real expensive, also, so ‘sitting in a pile not bothering anyone’ becomes a go to response. It’s not always a ‘just in case’ thing.
@Mnemosyne: This, entirely.
If there’s really no difference between chemical and conventional munitions, why were the survivors of WW1 – who had more experience with both than just about anyone – so adamant that chemical warfare be banned? They did not sign treaties to ban the Maxim gun or aerial bombing.
Add in the fact that a terrorist driving a carload of nerve agent around a city *really could* spread a lot more death and a whole new kind of terror than a terrorist with a similarly sized conventional bomb, and I think there are multiple reasons why generations of diplomats of all stripes have worked hard to prevent chemical weapons from becoming the new normal.
Unfortunately I agree that the limited strike that seems to be in planning will have even more limited effect. If real international support can be procured, I would support a broader mission, perhaps to destroy to the degree possible the Syrian air force. But even if the US goes it alone, and recognizing the possibility of futility, I think a demonstration, at least, must be made. Where it goes from there, we’ll have to see.
@155 negative 1: I take your point that it may be dangerous and expensive for us to eliminate 100% of our chemical weapons stockpile. Shall you dispute that it is dangerous and expensive to react and attack the Assad regime in Syria?
Sometimes the right thing to do is dangerous and expensive. Often times the wrong thing to do is at least equally dangerous and expensive.
I believe that if what we want is to reduce the possibility of Assad or any other wrongful actor using chemical weapons in the future we would be far better off choosing to do the dangerous and expensive thing which leads by example, rather than the dangerous and expensive thing which seeks to deter through punishment.
Leadership is hard. It requires being on point; being vulnerable and usually alone.
we had more than 60,000,000 pounds of chemical agents, installed in close to 2,000,000 munitions. in bases all over the world. we had to construct (and are still constructing) specialized plants to handle the job of destroying these weapons. we’re talking about disassembling large and old artillery shells without blowing up the buildings and gassing everyone in the area as a result, then separating and destroying both the chemical agents and the propellants, and processing the results so that they aren’t a different toxic mess, then decontaminating and recycling the metal components.
regardless of your impatience, it’s a delicate and dangerous job. and it’s a job that is on-going, and we’re spending a lot of money and effort to make it happen safely.
Villago Delenda Est
@Mike in NC:
This, this, THIS.
If these motherfuckers want to intervene so bad, let them do it themselves. Put their own worthless skin in the game.
Sometimes the right thing to do is dangerous and expensive
and we’re doing it. the “dangerous” part means we have to do it carefully.
@cleek: I wonder how sequestration effects these things.
Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937
@Higgs Boson’s Mate: Thanks for the clarification.
looks like a good chunk of Congress is thinking the same thing.
@158 cleek: I’m in no way arguing that it is an easy, simple or inexpensive proposition to safely dispose of the chemical weapons we built and stockpiled.
But you tell me what percentage of the the F-35 fighter jet $316 billion dollar budget has been spent in the pursuit of our elimination of chemical weapons?
It is not the complexity of the task that has kept us from completing it. I’d ask that you face into the fact that the reason the task is yet to be completed is because it is and has been a much, much lower priority than warring with and preparing to war with others.
it’s a big job. it’s happening. but if you need to use it as something to be upset about, well then, rage away.
for my part, i’m going to take the fact that we’re doing it all as an unqualified good, and as an example of the US doing something right.
Digby asks How do you ask an innocent civilian to be the last to die for a (slightly more than) symbolic gesture?
I hope our president can see his way through this. I really do hope.
A couple points here. First, can we stop conflating the invasion of Iraq with what is being contemplated by the Obama administration? It was pointed out upthread that Bush the Lesser was determined to have his war come hell or high water, and he got it through deception and lies. Does anyone on this thread really think that Obama is eager to invade Syria, or even get involved in an air war? Obama made a dumb move in drawing a line over chemical weapons. A big part of the political equation is how to fashion a response that gets him, to the greatest extent possible, out of the corner he painted himself into.
Second, the assertion that Assad is “winning” the civil war in Syria is wishful thinking. The Rebels control substantial parts of the countryside and several strategic cities at this point. At best this mess is a stalemate at this point.
Third, I think it much more likely that Assad will continue to use chemical weapons on the civilian population as well as armed forces if nothing is done in response. Saying that does not mean I’m in favor of a response, but several have expressed the opinion that Assad will use his chemical weapons in anticipation of a military strike, I don’t think this as likely as a scenario where there is no retaliation leads to further use of such weapons.
Fourth, I agree with those who think this should go to congress for a formal declaration of war. Force the chickenhawks to shit or get off the pot. They won’t do it, and it may be Obama’s get of jail free card.
@165 cleek: I’m sorry we are talking past each other. Like you, I am glad progress is being made in the safe elimination of the US stockpile of chemical weapons.
My point is that if today the principles of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention are important enough for us to consider as acceptable killing people (“collateral damage”) for the principle of not ever using chemical weapons, then maybe we could take a few moments to understand how and why the elimination of our own chemical weapons stockpile was and is so very far down our own priority list.
@aimai: Sorry for obscuring the point. The Russians and others hide behind excuses that the bombardment Assad is conducting is an unfortunate part of a civil war against extremists. The problem is that there is some truth to that. The rebels do include some nasty characters, and are shooting back. Given the pretty universal taboo against using gas, gassing is pretty unambiguous evidence of an intent to kill combatants and civilians alike. Saying that Bhopal is as bad as Assad using sarin is a ludicrous categorical error as the latter involves a specific intent to kill. Making comparisons like that are not much better than a gun nut saying cars are worse than guns because they kill more people. Like it or not, “acceptable” weapons are the ones that at least arguably can be used to kill bad guys without wantonly killing the innocent. That doesn’t mean they’re wonderful and don’t result in a lot of unnecessary death and suffering, but don’t lose the element of intent in making these comparisons. As someone said, there was a reason all those WWI vets wanted to outlaw poison gas. By way of analogy, negligent homicide, manslaughter and premeditated murder all end in someone dying, but there are significant differences between them.
How about this?
I made a dumb move in drawing a line over chemical weapons. I’m sorry.
I won’t compound that dumb move with another which involves symbolic killing to get out of the corner I painted myself into.
We will work with the United Nations and all willing nations to determine the next best step; a step which looks to effectively prevent continued use of chemical weapons in Syria and any place on the globe. Steps which do not include killing innocent people in the false hope that this can in any way deter people who have already gassed their own innocent country men, women and children.
pseudonymous in nc
Picking sides in Syria right now is basically picking which ethnic group(s) you want slaughtered in reprisals by the winners.
it doesn’t matter.
we are doing the right thing. someone in Syria did the wrong thing.
if there’s a moral balance issue here, we are unquestionably on the side of good. even if it takes us 3000 years to destroy the last of our stockpiles, we will always be on the right side of the issue, when compared to someone who gasses their own people.
@pseudonymous in nc:
@cleek: It does matter cleek. It really does matter. Violently reacting to wrongs done in Syria may make you think you feel better, but being “right” always requires more than feeling one is.
feel free to link to any place on the internet where i have ever said i think we should “violently” react to anything that has ever been done in Syria.
@175 cleek: I apologize for implying you had. I meant that any US reaction which includes a military response where we risk killing innocent people to achieve a symbolic sense of morality is wrong. I accept that you agree. peace.
Overton Window calling: MSF has specifically said they don’t know where the CW came from. The assumptions that it was Assad are based on authoritarian proclamations, and one sketchy Israeli intelligence report. It reeks of all those people who *knew* that Saddam had WMDs just because they knew. It turned out they didn’t, and removing Saddam was no kind of solution.
I’m not at all defending Assad, but just attempting to point out the direction of the discourse, because cui bono?
It surely ain’t us.
@cleek: Good to see but kind of disgusted that the reps in my party are playing partisan games on something like this. 16 Dems v. 81 Rs….pathetic Who gives a rat’s arse if you have to put your signature on the same piece of paper as some tea bagging Paulite lunatic…if it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
@pseudonymous in nc: In addition, it’s not even a matter of “picking a side”. The sides are all jumbled up, and the gods know what will come out with whom in the end.
As Anne Laurie’s link to the War Nerd said last night, this is precisely the issue why everyone shudders at chemical weapons. No one seriously believes that Assad is going to send fighter planes to rocket New York, and no one seriously believes that we’re in danger of being invaded. But they shit bricks at the thought of a guy tough enough to gas his own people and get afraid that he’s gonna send someone to say hello with a batch of sarin and it MIGHT BE YOU HE’S AFTER! Booga booga!
I am depressed that people are so willing to kill Syrian civilians of their own accord simply to prevent looking weak or because their leader made a dumb statement when we were willing to do dick all the first 100k casualties simply because he used all the normal weapons to do it with. Time to get +many.
@aimai: That’s the best we can hope for? Why is “do something to keep the warpigs fed with blood” better than “do nothing”?
@OGLiberal: You don’t think it’s sociopathic to kill people simply to avoid being mocked?
Bob In Portland
@grass: How about indifference to kidnapping and torture and lying America into two wars? Or white phosphorus? How about Abu Ghraib?
And how about some proof that the Syrian army shot the stuff? After all, the cult in Japan didn’t need artillery to deploy sarin in the subways.
Bob In Portland
@muddy: Pepe Escobar:
As I saw somewhere this a.m., if Iraq had a son it would look like Syria.
pretty sure none of the herdeitary monarchs who rule Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, or Morrocco have now, or at any time in the past, ever said anything approximating that statement. ever. but it sure makes a great straw man, no doubt.
Your comments are so right on, it should be in every newspaper. Instead we get this mind pap about Syria crossing a line. Gee, and the U.S.A. hasn’t. It was O.K. when Iraq used chemical weapons to kill Kurds back in the day. No senior official will die. bombing will not stop Assad and his government. So why bother killing other people who are just trying to stay alive?
If Europe, the U.S.A., and Canada really want to do something they might save the money of a military action adn give it to Jordon who is drowning in a sea of Syrian refugees and debt trying to provide services to the refugees.
There is no need to go to war over what is going on in Syria. It like no one seemed all that bothered when the Kamur Rouge killed 3 million of its own citizens back in the day. The Syrian government will do as it pleases and no one is going to change that. Lets not start a major war just because someone wants to look “good”. We have had enough of the wars in the middle east. If things get messy in Syria with Nato countries, we don’t need to draw in Russia and China. The Americans and Europeans are drowning in a sea of national debt. Spend some money on your own countries and forget about interferring in other countries unless it really is necessary. Right now, its not necessary.
Actually, on this day, the 50th anniversary of the March in Washington and Martin Luthur King’s famous speech, the Americans might want to think about how they have been killing minorities in their own country through massive medical neglect, lack of education, housing, and jailing. People in glass houses should not throw stones.
@pseudonymous in nc:
I have seen plenty of evidence that the jihadis and takfiris have been slaughtering Alawaites, Shiites and Christians
. The mass grave uncovered earlier this week in Latakia is just the late3st example. have seen ZERO evidence that the Baathists are indiscriminately slaughtering Sunnis, now or at any time in the past. The jihadis and the Saudi/Qatari sponsors have made sectarian warfare, but the Baathists have refused to take the bait. The majority of the Syrian Army itself is Sunni, so the evidence that this is one-sided sectarian warfare is pretty compelling.
and FFS, we’ve have already destroyed 90% of the stuff and there was a wicked shit-ton of it to start with.
there are plenty of issues to be a jewish mother about, this one doesn’t make sense to me.
@TG Chicago: Yes, it probably is. If that’s the case, just about every elected official in the federal government and the people advising them are sociopaths because a lot of the decisions they make seem to be driven by fear of what somebody will say about them on the Sunday shows. (and this seems to afflict people with Ds after their name more than anybody else) I’m willing (but not happy) to believe that.
Oh, I definitely give a shit. But I also give MORE of a shit about international law, the international community, and the need for a functioning world government to deal with these kinds of matters. And I definitely give a shit about turning in our badge as world policeman too.
@taylormattd: @Higgs Boson’s Mate: You are a fucking moron.
snark, AFAICT. you’ve stumbled into the classic blunder!
There is a civil war going on in Syria. Picking out the baddies on either side is laughable – one is just as bad as the other. Despite how tragic it is for the innocent civilians caught in the middle of it, I don’t see that we have a dog in this fight. I believe our resources/efforts can be better utilised providing assistance and support to the refugees who are leaving their homeland under dire circumstances. The sabre rattling and rhetoric is Iraq all over again. Does the waste of the last 10+ years of capital, both economic and human, in the middle-east adventure count for nothing?
pseudonymous in nc
Oh, for sure, and there’s some precedent in Afghanistan where the anti-Soviet jihadist groups took about 30 seconds pause once the Red Army left before starting to shoot one another. But this is more like a medieval war of religion now, which is to say that it’s (per War Nerd) a war of local survival where far too many countries are actively backing their own horses.
I don’t agree with this. As arugments go, sooner’s is okay, but it makes a lot of assumptions.
I’m going to repost my comment from the last thread, but add a tl;dr version.
It doesn’t matter if we were hypocrites about chem in other times and places. It’s bad that Assad is using it on civilians, and it’s good to punish that, deter it in the future, deter other people, and it’s also good just to weaken Assad, period, on any pretext or none, as long as certain conditions are met.
We didn’t intervene pre-chemical weapons, but we should have. The case that chem is really worse than non-chem is subjective and debatable, but also not the point. It’s worth bombing Assad because he met a fairly peaceful rebellion with overwhelming force and slaughtered thousands of civilians. That’s enough. Someone should punish him; we’re capable, so let’s do it. Before major chem, the political will wasn’t there; now it is. Sometimes only stupid reasons allow us to do the right thing; doesn’t matter.
Bombing Assad is not useless or symbolic. We’re entirely capable of shutting his air force down permanently for not much extra cost and basically zero risk of US lives. If Assad thought his air force was ‘symbolic’ he would just fly it in circles instead of using it to bomb the crap out of rebels. This is easily the dumbest part of this argument. Maybe weakening Assad’s military capabilities won’t win the war for the rebels, but ask a Syrian rebel if it’s a net positive. I’m about 100% sure the answer is yet.
Equally bullshit is the idea that Assad and the rebels are equivalent. Bad things have been done on both sides, but the human rights violations aren’t even close to equivalent. Not even within the same ballpark. Assad is systematically slaughtering civilians and the rebels are… not. It’s that simple. Assad’s regime is hierarchically organized; observers here are sinfully conflating the worst of the rebels with the whole movement. They are not morally equivalent.
Furthermore, Assad has basically no way to regain power without eliminating, one way or another, the Sunnis of Syria. The rebels, as the demographic majority, can establish control of the country without genocide or mass expulsion. Assad can’t.
The US national security case is that open sunni-shiite war is destablizing the shit out of the area, has already spread violence to several other countries, could re-open full scale war in various places. Furthermore, civil wars fuel islamic radicalism fuel terrorism against the US. There’s your national security case. Questions?
It’s not symbolic just because it doesn’t solve everything. The risk of civilian casualties of significant size, given appropriate targets, is minimal. What civilian casualties will happen – and I would expect very, very, few to none – don’t have the same moral significance when doing nothing can reasonably expect to lead to 10K more civilian deaths a year. If bombing Assad shortens the war by a year, that saves 100 times more civilian lives than it will claim, if done responsibly. This isn’t close air support to COIN in cities, it should be the precision bombing of heavy weaponry used by soldiers at standoff distances.
Skepticism is fine, but there are things to be done here, and horrible things to be stopped that can’t be fixed by nonviolent means. Kosovo is the right metaphor.
I was vociferously against the Iraq War, as I am against starting wars. I’m pro-Afghanistan exit. But I’m not against military action where there’s a good case that more lives will be saved than lost. If there was a possibility of deteriorating the behavior or the restraint of Assad via retaliation or further sparking the civil war it would be, probably, a bad idea. And if someone was likely to win without intervention it would be a bad idea, but in both cases, not the case. Things are already as bad as they can get on both of those scores. There are a lot of conditions that should be met before this becomes a thing worth doing for humanitarian reasons – but this is a case where they have been met.
@some guy: In the Hama Massacre 30 years ago the Baathists killed somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 Sunnis. I doubt the party has gotten any nicer in the intervening years.
ave seen ZERO evidence that the Baathists are indiscriminately slaughtering Sunnis, now or at any time in the past.
Holy shit. You must be a paid Assad plant, right? This is laughably false to the point of incompetence or hackery.
Four links from July and January 2013 at random. By no means the complete list.
You deserve instant disqualification.
The only Sunnis left in the Syrian Army are being held there by threat of death to themselves, their families, and their associates at the hands of the Assad regime. I’m generalizing, but that’s mostly correct. Media reports on this and reports from defectors have been plentiful. I can’t believe how brazen is the disinfo in comment sections…
pseudonymous in nc
The genocide and/or mass expulsion will just be for shits and giggles.
Sorry, but you have to pick which groups you prefer to see slaughtered en masse. You can’t punt with the facile idea that it’s going to end like fucking Appomattox.
Very well fleshed out Sooner.
There is absolutely no positive outcome for us to get involved. Yes it is horrible. Yes we could do a lot. Yes it would not fix anything and most likely will make it a lot worse. The downside of not getting involved is that we have no control on the outcome. Which is OK because we have really horrible outcomes when we do get involved in stupid situations. Like trying to overthrow dictators, like trying to force democracies on other countries, like sticking our noses and every other part in places that they don’t need to be. More people die, more of us die, all in the name of making things worse. A wonderful empire building policy we have, isn’t it? What’s the definition of insanity? Keep doing the same thing over and over, hoping it will at some time work.
Maybe it’s time to grow the fuck up and stop thinking we are the end all be all of the world.
Stay the fuck out. Period. Full Stop. End of story.
False Flag. They want you to forget the NSA/PRISM.
When did Balloon Juice become charter members of the Curtis LeMay “No Weapon Is Too Terrible So All Weapons Are The Same” fan club.
May as well just straight to carpet bombing incendiaries and hell while we’re their nerve agents and dirty nukes. It’s all the same.
The new troll subject?
You hve to wonder why Obama is so upset about 1,300 people being killed by chemical weapons in Syria? It is about the same number of people killed in the U.S.A. each week by guns. Do we see a rush out to deal with that? Not so much. Then you have to look at the approx. 50,000K people killed in drunk driving accidents? Does this get Washington’s knickers in a knot? Not so much. So what is the problem with this? More kids die of starvation and disease each day than the number killed by chemicals in syria.
Is it the method of the killing which is bothering everyone? Yes, that is most likely it. Up until now chemcial warfare has not been an acceptable way to go. Now that Syria has done it and there are no “repercussions”, we will see more of it in other countries. It is not unreasonable to conclude that is why Russia and China don’t want Syria interferred with. They also have plans.
The West has been at war for at least 10 yrs either in Iraq or Afghanistan. What did we get? Another day older and deeper in debt and a lot of dead and maimed young people. Bush was so anxious to rush into Iraq no body thought to think ahead. They wanted the oil.
world leaders ought to understand, war is the last resort, not the first. If you go straight to war, then what do you have left to “threaten” some one with. In the case of Assaid. Its like, does he care if there are military strikes? Of course not. He is sitting in a bunker somewhere and he isn’t going to get hurt. It will be the citizens of Syria who will be hurt.
With France “drawing” its line in the sand perhaps they could start by no longer selling arms or anything besides food and medical supplies to Syria. then Britian, Canada, U.S.A., German, etc. could get on board. But that won’t be happening because those government leaders don’t want to upset those inthe “gun” industry. It is fairly simple to reduce the amount of war and the destruction of war if you reduce the amount of weapons sold to these countries. However, most western countries make so much money from selling weapons, presidents won’t do anything. Their financial backers would take a huge hit in the wallet.
First of all, I believe we should not get involve with the conflict in Syria. There are too many factions in the mix.
However, I read an interesting AP article yesterday that shed some light on why Obama is persistent with his limited strike strategy. I previously said Obama must be on crack to think that firing a few missiles will change the outcome of the conflict in Syria. After reading this AP article I have to admit I was wrong.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has been funding classified research for over a decade on how to neutralize chemical weapon stockpiles without releasing the toxins in the air. The US military has develop advanced technology that is attached to missiles that can destroy and neutralize chemicals without releasing toxins into the air.
I believe Obama’s strategy is to use this classified technology to destroy Assad’s stockpile of chemicals. The only missing piece is good intel from CIA and NSA regarding location sites.
I know this won’t help some who are angry over our involvement. However, it does give some logic to his madness.