My Verdict On Syria

My friend, and a thoughtful blogger and careful thinker, Jim Wheeler, commented on the last piece I wrote on Syria, comments which included:

The extremists prefer polemics to analysis of the real issue, which is whether the U.S. can be sufficiently inspired by the indiscriminate deaths of 400 children to formally accept a role as world policeman for WMD’s.


The difficulty of getting a decision on this that is correct for the long pull is just that, people aren’t good at long-range planning.

I will use my reply to Jim as a statement on my position on what the U.S. should do relative to the use of chemical weapons in Syria:


As I have previously stated, and despite what Secretary of State John Kerry said today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the United States is, if there is ever to be one, the world’s policeman. There simply isn’t another nation in the world capable of enforcing the norms (and laws) against using chemical weapons and having the moral chops to pull it off.

Oh, I realize a lot of liberals are making the point that our past is replete with moral failings on the international scene, but that, in and of itself, is not relevant to the current situation. Sure, we have skeletons in our foreign policy closet. But those skeletons have nothing to tell us about what we should do now, here in the present, as we contemplate the horror of how innocent people, women and children among them, died unspeakable deaths.

One of the best books I have read in the past few years is “Stumbling on Happiness,” by Daniel Gilbert, a social psychologist from Harvard. The essential point of the book is that we, as human beings, don’t anticipate very well what the future will look like, which, of course, is often an obstacle to our “happiness.” We often assume the future will look a lot like the present, which almost never turns out that way, and we base our contemporary decisions on that faulty outlook.

Keeping that in mind, as I carefully watched the interaction today among Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee and John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and General Martin Dempsey, I was oddly struck by how much this issue of whether to attack Assad hinges on what may, or may not, happen in the future. I say “oddly struck” because I had raised the issue myself, in my first post on the subject.

My first concern had been whether Assad or his regime was the actual perpetrator of this horrendous act. I am now convinced he, or someone representing him, is guilty of the unspeakable crime of using chemical weapons against Syrian citizens. Given the reputation for military reluctance that John Kerry has enjoyed, the fact that he would sit there today and use “beyond a reasonable doubt” to characterize the evidence supporting Assad’s guilt is, well, quite persuasive.

But I also needed, as part of my quest for decisive information, for the President to explain what the consequences of any U.S. action might be and what the subsequent U.S. response might entail if things escalated. I didn’t quite get the decisive information I was looking for, but after being unsure for so long, I was finally convinced to support President Obama and his request to strike the Syrian regime because of a logical conclusion I was forced to accept: John Kerry is right that inaction holds more potential future danger than action.

Don’t get me wrong here. Kerry was mistaken to insist that he could definitely say what the consequences of inaction would be. At various times he asserted that he knew with certainty that Assad would use chemical weapons again, should the U.S do nothing. To a boyish Rand Paul he said:

If the United States of America doesn’t hold him accountable on this, with our allies and friends, it’s a guarantee Assad will do it again. A guarantee. And I urge you to go to the classified briefing and learn that.

Guarantee? It’s hard to imagine what may be in that classified briefing that would guarantee anything, much less whether a despot will again do something that has brought him so much negative world attention. But this lowly blogger will never see those briefings.

In any case, as I thought about it all, as I pondered the potential downside if nothing is done to Assad, the potential for unintended international mischief seems to be greater, seems to be much greater, if we look the other way—as we have before—and tolerate the tactical and open use of chemical warfare.

From North Korea, a nation that itself has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, to Iran, seeking nuclear weapon capability, to even Assad himself again using the weapons on his citizenry, it appears quite likely to me that more would be risked—more aggressive behavior by the bad guys—by not acting than inflicting some substantial damage on the despot in Syria and awaiting what, if anything, happens in the region as a result of such action.

I say that, of course, again mindful that a lowly blogger in Missouri is not privy to classified information, which, as far as I am able to surmise from oblique references to it, would only bolster the case for doing something rather than nothing.

I also draw this conclusion mindful of objections raised by many, primarily on the right, that Obama has demonstrated to our enemies that he is a weak leader, that he has made tactical mistakes, that he has no coherent regional strategy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Seeking democratic authorization, for an American, is not a weakness but a strength. Likewise, the so-called mistake of publicly drawing the “red line” was nothing but an affirmation of what Congress, and the various nations of the world, had already done. The world drew that line and painted it red long before anyone had ever heard of Barack Obama.

And as far as a regional strategy, as far as a coherent plan to deal with disparate countries like Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Israel, forget it. The only coherent policy, despite what the geniuses at the Council on Foreign Relations, especially the group’s president Richard Haass, have to say about it as they criticize Obama’s handling of Syria, is to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all foreign policy for a region as screwed up as North Africa and the Middle East. If Richard Haass thinks he has one, or can invent one, he is as delusional as the architects of the Iraq war, whom he now attacks.

Speaking of President Obama and his handling of this mess, some critics, including Haass, object that he should not have brought this issue before Congress for several reasons, among them that if Congress refuses to authorize action, or if it too tightly ties the President’s hands, then that will ruin our international credibility; we will be an unreliable actor and other countries will lose confidence in us. Nonsense. In a perfect world, our credibility would be based on a combination of our military might and our willingness to use it in conjunction with our moral might. But the truth is that our credibility is always only as good as our next act.  What have you done for me lately? is the question of the day, every day, in both domestic and foreign policy. This president has eliminated Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi, he has utterly decimated al-Qaeda leadership, but now we are told that he has squandered U.S. credibility by looking feckless and not decisively acting on his own. Ridiculous.

Additionally, as the President said, this is not Iraq or Afghanistan. This is not any other situation in history. This is Syria. This is sectarian and tribal madness. This is religion gone wild. This is chemical combat. And upon it all has to shine—has to shine—the light of civilization. Thus, this is a defining moment for America, the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization. We will leave our footprint on the right side of history or retreat into isolation. It is unarguable that we have done things in our past that have not advanced the cause of civilization, that in fact have set it back. But those things, those unconscionable mistakes, should not blind us to our duty now, at this moment, to do what is right when so much seems to be at stake.

Again, I am mindful that Syria’s problems are significantly rooted in religious nonsense and thus wearily intractable. That there are regional problems that ten thousand cruise missiles won’t begin to solve. That there remains a lot of unknowns, in terms of what may happen after a strike on Syria by the United States, and that, admittedly, the hypothetical outcomes if we don’t act may be exaggerated. It may be true that nothing of consequence will materialize whether we act or whether we don’t.

Most understandable, I am mindful that Americans are tired of war and war-talk. They should be. Thousands of lives, perhaps tens of thousands of limbs, and trillions of dollars from the national treasury have been invested in what now seem to be mistaken attempts to right the world with warfare after 9/11. I don’t blame folks for embracing skepticism toward American action against a worthless Syrian tyrant in a place far away from, say, Joplin, Missouri.

But as you pointed out, Jim, times and weaponry have changed. You said that in terms of our military technology, “This situation is unprecedented.” Indeed it is. Although what the President and Congress are contemplating is an act of war, it is not, as John Kerry pointed out today, war in the “classical sense.” As far as I’m concerned, this is truly a police action, even though the Administration refuses to technically characterize it that way and argues, plausibly, that there are national security issues involved that justify our explosive response.

I, though, was persuaded today by what I heard, which can be neatly summed up in words from John Kerry’s initial statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

So this is a vote for accountability. Norms and laws that keep the civilized world civil mean nothing if they’re not enforced. As Justice Jackson said in his opening argument at the Nuremberg trials, “the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to the law.”

If the world’s worst despots see that they can flout with impunity prohibitions against the world’s worst weapons, then those prohibitions are just pieces of paper. That is what we mean by accountability and that is what we mean by, “We cannot be silent.”

Finally, in Dreams from My Father, a pre-presidential Barack Obama told us that the law is more than “a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power.” He asserted:

The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.

As far as chemical weapons, that “long-running legal conversation” began in 1925 with the Geneva Protocol. And it’s not only our nation that is “arguing with its conscience,” but the whole world. Given that, no one can deny that if our national conscience loses this present argument, if we fail to enforce the law against chemical warfare, then the world’s conscience will lose too.

What then?



  1. Reblogged this on Beneath the Tin Foil Hat and commented:
    The U.S. has a long history of military intervention in other countries for capitalist gain. Having said that, I’m still not sure where I stand on Syria. If Assad is definitively using chemical weapons, then yes, he must be stopped. The Erstwhile Conservative makes a strong case for our intervention in this post.


    • A lot of folks still aren’t sure, my friend. It is a difficult issue.Thanks for reblogging the piece.


      • Duane,

        I would only point out that there is a vast difference between “action or inaction,” meaning a yes or no vote to authorize a military strike, and the statement that “inaction holds more potential future danger than action.” The latter presupposes an outcome that is unknown. And there is no plan B. At least none that I’ve heard of.

        Launching cruise missiles on a dangerous country, in a dangerous region, and then saying, in effect, we’ll just hope for the best — maybe the fallout (blowback) will be minimal — is IMHO irresponsible. I just have these visions of G. W. Bush standing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, on May 1, 2003, with this huge “Mission Accomplished” sign behind him.

        I understand your and others desire to deliver some modicum of punishment for a violation of international law perpetrated by a second class tyrant. But we as a country, especially our political leaders, have no claim to the moral high ground here. For example, here are some of the international treaties that we have either never signed nor ratified:

        – Convention on Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
        – Convention on the Rights of the Child
        – International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
        – UN Framework Convention on Climate Control (UNFCCC)
        – Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty
        – Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC)
        – Chemical Weapons Convention (Signed Jan. 13, 1993, ratified Apr. 25, 1997 The US ratified the Convention, but set extensive limitations on how it could be applied in the US, essentially gutting its provisions. The US specifies that material cannot be transferred outside the country for testing, limits which facilities can be tested, and gives the president the right to refuse inspection on the grounds of “national security.”)
        – (Land) Mine Ban Treaty
        – Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

        So, it’s a little more than hypocritical of us for going after a country that violates international law when we won’t even step up to meet our responsibilities as a player on the world stage and, by such inaction, throw women, children, the climate, test bans, biological and toxin weapons, and more, under the bus. We won’t even sign the Land Mine Treaty — the one Princess Diana worked so hard during her too short life to get completed.

        Well, this is one American who’s been pretty disgusted with our foreign policy over the years, and with our arrogance and hubris at calling the other pots black.

        Time for scotch.



        • Herb,

          Past hypocrisy is no excuse for present inaction. By your logic, there is nothing we can ever do, no action we can take, on the world stage because of the many mistakes we have made in the past. I don’t understand embracing that kind of logic, as it is obviously fraught with fallacies.

          And, you say it is “irresponsible” to attack Syrian targets without knowing what the fallout will be. If that is irresponsible, then so is not attacking Syrian targets, since we don’t know what the fallout for inaction will be. We can all agree here that there are varying degrees of uncertainty involved in this matter, no matter what is ultimately done. Thus, considering that we don’t exactly know how events will turn out either way is good reason to be cautious in our thinking, but it is not finally decisive, at least for me. There seems to be more uncertain consequences out there if we do nothing, but I admit it is a close call and that it could be a mistake to act.

          What bothers me above all is the absolute certainty with which the “no” voters hold their opinion, as if there are no dire consequences possible if nothing is done. I keep asking the question: If the United States doesn’t act to enforce norms against using horrific chemical weapons—weapons that one day may be used against American troops—then who will? And if no one will, then what are the consequences of that? Seems to me if you can’t answer that last question with certainty—and you obviously can’t—then you are in the same boat as I am, having to figure out as best you can just what will bring fewer dire consequences.

          And as for your list of unsigned or unratified treaties, I will submit to you, without doing any research, that many or most of them are unsigned or unratified because of opposition from the right. Again, should this president or this Congress be bound by the mistakes of the past? I don’t see how that is in the least bit rational.

          Now, you can have yet another scotch.



          • Duane,

            I think we just killed another horse. You don’t seem moved by my arguments, and I am certainly not impressed by yours. So, I would only close out my commentary with a September 5th Op-Ed piece from the Washington Post, titled, “A war the Pentagon doesn’t want.” It was written by Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general and a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. (

            I hope you will agree with me that because of his background, Gen. Scales has more much more understanding of the potential downside to any military engagement with Syria than either of us do and that his reasoning is more informed as well. You can read the whole thing or not. But one paragraph stuck out to me:

            “They [the pentagon and military planners] are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.”

            Now you can blow this all off by calling General Scales a Republican (frankly, I don’t know what party he’s in) and shoot-the-messenger. Or you can try to apprehend his message and see how it might inform your opinion on this matter.

            In any case, I have nothing more to add to this discussion. General Scales speaks for me.



            • Dead horses or not, I suppose I could send you to read about a retired general who supports my side of the argument, say, someone like David Petraeus. But then, heck, what does he know about the effectiveness of military power? The report goes:

              Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus has stepped out in favor of a military intervention that would punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people.

              Let me quote part of what you wrote, with one minor change:

              I hope you will agree with me that because of his background, Gen. [Petraeus] has more much more understanding of the potential downside to any military engagement with Syria than either of us do and that his reasoning is more informed as well…

              Now you can blow this all off by calling General [Petraeus] a Republican (frankly, I don’t know what party he’s in) and shoot-the-messenger. Or you can try to apprehend his message and see how it might inform your opinion on this matter.

              In any case, I have nothing more to add to this discussion. General [Petraeus] speaks for me.



            • Duane,

              I really like what you did there – substitute Gen. Petraeus for Gen Scales. I’ll have to remember that technique for future use.

              Of course, I see Petraeus’s comments as an off-the-cuff, knee-jerk reaction to the Syrian issue. Gen Scales, on the other hand, based his criticism on information from sources inside and outside the Pentagon knowledgeable of the military planning for Syria.

              At the risk of expanding this game of he-said, she-said, I would like to introduce another commentator on this subject – Andrew Bacevick. He did an interview with Phil Donahue, (filling in for Bill Moyers), on Moyers and Company, in which he gives us a broader perspective of the U.S. policy in the Middle East over the last 30 years, which, by any measure, is a fiasco. (

              (Bacevick is a graduate of West Point and received his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton. He taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University and is currently a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His son was also in the military and died in action in Iraq.)

              I found this 33 minute interview to be a real eye-opener. And Donahue asked the questions that all of us, on both sides of the issue, would want answered. For example:

              PHIL DONAHUE: “How can you watch these videos with the foam coming out of the nostrils. And we’ve got to do something.”

              ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, the attack is a heinous act. Now does the fact that they were killed with chemicals make it more heinous than if they were killed with conventional ammunitions? I’m not persuaded.

              I mean, I think the issue, one of the issues here, to the extent that moral considerations drive US policy, and I would say as a practical matter they don’t, but let’s pretend that they do to the extent that moral considerations drive US policy, there’s a couple of questions to ask. One would be, “Why here and not someplace else?”

              I mean, just weeks earlier, the Egyptian Army killed many hundreds of innocent Egyptians. And we sort of shook our finger at Egypt a little bit, but didn’t do anything. So why act in Syria? Why not act in Egypt? I think that that needs to be sort of, that needs to be clarified.

              And the other question will be, “Well, if our concerns are humanitarian, why is waging war the best means to advance a humanitarian agenda?” If indeed US policy is informed by concern for the people of Syria, let’s just pretend that’s the case even though I don’t think it is. If it’s informed by concern for the people of Syria, why is peppering Damascus with cruise missiles the best way to demonstrate that concern?

              I mean, a little bit of creative statesmanship it seems to me might say that there are other things we could do that would actually benefit the people of Syria, who are suffering greatly, who are fleeing their country in the hundreds of thousands. Who are living in wretched refugee camps. Why don’t we do something about that? Why wouldn’t that be a better thing to do from a moral perspective than bombing Damascus?

              And on it goes. IMHO, anyone who wants an overview of our policy in the Middle East, and how miserably it has failed, and how Syria fits in, should watch this video.



              • Herb,

                Look, I have said all along that our foreign policy, particularly as practiced in the Middle East, is replete with mistakes, missed opportunities, and malfeasance. But that can’t be a reason not to act when the situation seems to call for it.

                Here is essentially why I don’t side with people like Bacevich:

                I mean, just weeks earlier, the Egyptian Army killed many hundreds of innocent Egyptians. And we sort of shook our finger at Egypt a little bit, but didn’t do anything. So why act in Syria? Why not act in Egypt? I think that that needs to be sort of, that needs to be clarified.

                That kind of reasoning baffles me. Dealing with the Middle East doesn’t require some grand strategy, like so many people argue. It demands ad hoc policies (exactly the kind that Obama gets hammered for employing), so as to not get us mired in something we don’t want or can’t get out of easily. Of course we deal with Egypt differently than we do Syria for the simple reason that we have a different relationship with the Egyptians. Up until recently at least, they could be reasoned with, and I’m guessing we still hope they will listen to us at some point, at least to some degree. None of that is true with Assad and the Syrian leadership, nor the Iranians. So dealing with them requires a different approach.

                No matter what Bacevich says, there is a distinction between the chemicals used to kill those Syrians on August 21 and other, admittedly just as deadly, instruments of warfare. I know that because almost the entire world’s leadership has made that distinction, starting in 1925 and now, believe it or not, including Syria. So it is silly to say, as I have heard others say, that there is no difference, in terms of how we deal with what is happening in Syria, whether he used conventional or chemical weapons. To me, it makes all the difference in the world because I would otherwise be opposed to getting in the middle of an difficult-to-figure-out-who’s-who civil war. I favor action because there is one thing, in a region of muddied understanding, crystal clear to me: Assad broke an international norm against using horrific weapons and someone has to do something about it. And since no one else will and we have the big guns, that somebody is us.



      • I’m really enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work 🙂


  2. Thus, this is a defining moment for America, the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization. We will leave our footprint on the right side of history or retreat into isolation.

    Indeed, we agree on that. This thing could go either way.

    I heard something interesting about the matter last night. I think it was on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show when he aired one analyst’s theory about why Assad might have used chemical weapons at all. After all, it’s not like killing those 1,400 mostly-civilians was in any way decisive, and certainly not 400 kids. This guy’s theory makes sense: it was to ensure that the loyalists in Assad’s own regime don’t desert him. By taking this ultimate step he was sending the message that he is in the fight to the death, that there is no turning back and their only hope is cohesion with him. Any mob boss would understand. When it comes to messages, actions trump mere words. And I think it’s fair to say that the same can apply to inaction at a crossroad.


    • That is as plausible an explanation as any I have heard, Jim. If it is true, Assadism has flown way past Machiavellism. For all we’ve seen to date, it is amazing to me how relatively popular Assad remains. Parts of the country are in ruins, but apparently a critical mass of disapproval is not yet evident. Amazing.


  3. Thus, this is a defining moment for America, the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization.

    With all due respect, when supposed liberals use jingoistic slogans like this while advocating war, I have to wonder if there is any hope for country.

    “And now the parting on the left, is now the parting on the right.”


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 4, 2013


    No unexpectedly, you have reached a conclusion that if YOU were a member of Congress you would vote YES to suppor the President’s intentions. You have stated, clearly your reasons for doing so. I disagree, but do so honestly and respectfully. And to a degree at least, partisan politics play a role for both of us but without polemics between us, for now.

    Because you are a “lowly blogger” and thus do not have access to classified briefings, you base a vote of YES because you “trust John Kerry” and by extension the President. Makes sense to me as a rational for your vote.

    BUT, I do have a “leg up” on you and most commenters herein. I used to attend, conduct and participate in many highly classifed briefings, long ago on matters of grave national security concerns. I have sat with and briefed, listened and discussed many important issues with the CIA, NIS, ONI, DIA and other alphabets soup agencies, much less 4 star level Navy briefing alone.

    That is not in any way bragging, but only to make a rather simple point. A major issue, such as Soviet submarine quieting progress, an issue that challenged the HEART and soul of our National Objectives during the Cold War, were HIGHLY classifed in detail, but the issue and the answers reached in classified sessions could be sumed up in an unclassified statement that could scare Americans (at least those worried about such things) to death.

    I could ask questions herein that would be classified themselves, just the questions. But I have not do so here or in my own blog. But I have asked unclassified questions that have in no way been answered, publicly. There are two simple reasons for that, in my view. Either the intelligence community does not KNOW the answer OR the answer if made public would scare any America. “What do you mean? We can’t do THAT” would be the response and turn the tables on important issues.

    Now for trust. I wanted to trust our President and SECSTATE ten years ago, aruged in their favor to support their call to invade Iraq, primarily based on the WMD issue. They were wrong and I was thus wrong, in general, at least regarding WMD. I WANT to trust our Presient today and our Secretary of State as well. For sure regardless of how Congress votes I will SUPPORT whatever action they take after that vote. I am after all an American and will support our President in war and the “boots and their commanders” as well.

    But my ulitmate concerns now are that the answers (or inability to answer) the questions I have posed are not what we want to hear. I don’t KNOW that, but I sure suspect that to be the case, as it was in 2003. Such are the uncertainties of war. But today in America if our leaders are not 100% or damned close to it in decisions of war and peace, all hell is going to errupt after we go to war or violate peace (which any military strike does, violate peace).

    It happened to Bush and could happen to Obama which I do NOT want to see, furhter diminishment of American power, which is too small already, in my view.

    As for my own vote, right now, I will post a second comment below, showing how I answered it in my own blog.



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 11, 2013

      So you approved the reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin incident -eh?

      That’s the fundamental problem with everything the Military-Industrial-Spy Complex does. It’s all built upon the premise that they are the all knowing, all powerful, all benevolent, OZ and that you must put complete faith and trust in them, their word and/or abilities…even when they completely fail you. (See: Osama Determined to Attack On US Soil)

      All relevant information is hermetically sealed. Barring leaks from “traitors” who’ll spend the rest of their lives in a crappy airports, under solitary confinement in a military prison, or (theoretically for now) the target of a drone strike on American soil, the public will be kept far from any meaningful information for forever. Hell, it will be decades before we even know who’s going to be in those top secret tax policy discussions, never mind what they said in them.

      At this point, I don’t trust anyone with any power anymore, never mind somebody who keeps the facts from me as a daily order of business, even as they work to figure out what sock I put on first in the morning.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 4, 2013

    As for my own vote, right now,

    ansonburlingame Says:
    September 4, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply edit

    There are few, if any, right answers in this mess, a crisis for our own American government, not the people of Syria, in my view, when all is said and done.

    I have offered, as best I can, a non-partisan series of questions, concerns, etc. Most if not all of them are pertinent to what to do next in Syria, right now, or two weeks ago or a month later. Until such issues are addressed, carefully and very thoroughly, I remain on the “fence” as to how I would vote if I were in Congress right now.

    The solution for ME, to make up my mind would HAVE to rely on a very full and deep CLASSIFIED briefing. I am not an air attack expert at all. But I have been trained to think “militarily” as well, better trained for sure than any “civilian”. But again, I am no expert as well, for sure.

    Some of the questions that I would ask in such a briefing, a real grilling from me if you will, are themselves probably classifed questions, forget the answers.

    BUT, the unclassified question and answer must hinge on what we, America, now mean by “punish Syria”. Each word has a question. What does “;punish” look like after it has been delivered. And WHO IN Syria are we trying to punish, exactly?

    Finally, is “punishment” really enough to meet whatever our real goals might be. HELL, I am not even really sure what our immediate goal(s) might be, yet.

    Absent such detailed answers I would have to vote NO, however simply because one cannot be at all confused when initiating military action of any sort. No one knows 100% of the answers, or even questions, but ………


    ansonburlingame Says:
    September 4, 2013 at 8:53 am | Reply edit
    Adding to all,

    I don’t like Kunich. I probably even misspelled his name!! But he has asked a GREAT question.

    “Are we to now become Al Qaeda’s Air Force”?

    Boy does that get to the


    • Anson,

      My vote is not significantly based on trusting John Kerry or Barack Obama, except when it comes to the intelligence that we can’t see. As I said, it is largely based on a conclusion that inaction presents more potential for more bloodshed and trouble than action.

      I also respect the position you have stated here (I hope it is the same one you are expressing on your blog among your reactionary friends), although we don’t yet see eye to eye on the matter.

      I’m afraid I don’t see  the “diminishment of American power” you allude to. Our power, diminished or not, is not the issue. It is whether application of our power is the right thing to do, not just in Syria, but in many other places around the world.



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 12, 2013

      “Are we to now become Al Qaeda’s Air Force”?

      You may have stumbled upon something. I hear Al Qaeda’s pilots aren’t very good; poor landings, prone to bumping into in-flight obstacles, etc. If America becomes their Air Force, then maybe we can start finding some common ground and eventually learn to get along.


  6. Duane,

    Above, you write: “I was finally convinced to support President Obama and his request to strike the Syrian regime because of a logical conclusion I was forced to accept: John Kerry is right that inaction holds more potential future danger than action.”

    But to say that “inaction holds more potential future danger than action” contradicts what you wrote about Daniel Gilbert’s central point of his book, that, “. . . we, as human beings, don’t anticipate very well what the future will look like, which, of course, is often an obstacle to our ‘happiness.’” Not to mention our decision-making

    But you, via Secretary Kerry, are anticipating, almost guaranteeing, that we will face more danger if we don’t attack Syria than if we do. This, to me, is a false dilemma and therefore, as Mr. Spock would say, not logical.

    Anyway, most of what I have to say about this issue is over on Jim’s blog under “Fish of Cut Bait.” I won’t belabor those points here (you’re welcome), but I do think there are some larger issues involved.

    In that regard, I would suggest all members of Congress, and your own self, if you wish, read a a trilogy of books by the late Chalmers Johnson about America as empire. The first in the series was “Blowback,” which was based on 1953 CIA terminology in the aftermath of the spy agency’s first ever engineered overthrow of a foreign leader – democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq ushering in the 26 year tyrannical rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi who was himself forcibly ousted in the 1979. Volume two is “The Sorrows of Empire – Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.” The last one is “Nemesis – The Last Days of the American Republic.”

    In a review of Nemesis (, Stephen Lendman comments that, “Our democracy and way of life are now threatened because of our single-minded pursuit of empire with a well-entrenched militarism driving it that’s become so powerful and pervasive it’s now an uncontrollable state within the state. History is clear on this teaching we can choose as could all empires before us. We can keep ours and lose our democracy, but we can’t have both.” (Well, there’s that history thing again.)

    Sobering messages, these. But timely. And in my view, worth considering.



    • Herb,

      I purposely included the reference to Daniel Gilbert and his book to show that all of this is pregnant with uncertainty. It was a check, for the careful reader, on what I was about to say.

      Despite Gilbert’s point, uncertainty shouldn’t lead to paralysis. Decisions have to be made despite not knowing how the future will look. What we know is that there will be a future no matter what we do, and it is possible that attacking Assad is the wrong course. But I concluded, logically I might add, that inaction presented a potentially worse future (including but not limited to considering the potential behavior of other bad actors in the rest of the world) than action. (Of course, no matter what decision is ultimately made, we may never know if it is worse than than the other since counterfactuals are quite problematic in terms of drawing historical conclusions.)

      As for my presenting a false dilemma, I respectfully reject your claim. What is being debated in Congress, and on this blog for that matter, is action or inaction, not some third or fourth or fifth way. In terms of authorizing the President to strike Syria, this is an either-or moment for legislators. There isn’t a middle-ground resolution on the floor of either house. It’s either do it or don’t do it, with only the details of how to do it and for how long subject to nuance.

      Finally, of course our blunders in history are “worth considering.”  I tried to point out that I understand that there are horrific skeletons in our foreign policy closet. Militarism has been an ongoing problem, and as I suggested in the piece I wrote today, liberals should seize the ancient concept of “peace through strength” and use our military properly, as opposed to the way it has been used so often in our history.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  September 5, 2013

    Key point, and thus a dilemma. Duane said, “What is being debated in Congress, and on this blog for that matter, is action or inaction, not some third or fourth or fifth way.”

    Specifically, the debate is to “punish Syria” or to sit back and let events in Syria take whatever course “Syrians” decide to take. Actually, the debate is over “punishing Assad”, not “Syria”. For sure it is not over removing Assad (his government actually) from power.

    IF, and I mean IF, we sit back, we have a pretty clear picture of the immediate future. People in Syria will continue to die, lots of them including women and children. But that slaughter will not go beyond Syrian borders. Assad and his government do not have the real power to do so, extend the war beyond Syrian borders. They are simply fighting to survive in Syria. No one else as well, for now, is attempting to spread the conflict, outside Syria.

    BUT, if we actually “punish Assad”, no one knows the results. Simply for purposes of retaliation, the conflict could go beyond Syria in many different and unknown forms. Someone is going to be angry when they are punished and human nature is to strike back, somehow.

    The whole idea of deterrence, which this issue boils down to, is if someone actually hits you with a fly swatter, you hit them back with a stick, to remove the fly swatter, primarily.

    Well we (America) have not yet been “hit” with anything. Yet we are about ready to “punish” somebody with the equivalent of a fly swatter, not a stick at all, much less a club or even a “gun”. So if we start the hitting, with a fly swatter, the likelihood of some sort of stick headed OUR way, is not at all to be unexpected, in my view.

    If WE (America) are going to start hitting people I at least, suggest we use a damn big stick to be SURE whomever we hit cannot, regardless of intentions, hit back, with anything. (Sounds like John McCain, right.) But if we lack the resolve AND (maybe) the POWER to hit Syria with a stick, a big one, then ……….. (why try to land the first blow from America, for now, and only use a fly swatter in doing so).

    Interesting article in Straford by the way on what IRAN is doing right now, anticipating an American strike. They sure are not sitting still and waiting and neither is anyone else “over there” while we debate the use of a fly swatter and will put a time limit on even the use of that small response.



  8. ansonburlingame

     /  September 5, 2013

    Some may not like the fly swatter and stick analogy above. Let me be more clear. We “hit” with a very limited number of 500 pound bombs. What kind of “stick” could be headed our way? Think cyber, please, something that can hit HOME on YOU, right here in America.

    THAT is a dimension of war that we have yet to experience. Someday we will however. Are we really ready, NOW, to defend against THAT stick, one hitting the homeland of America. I don’t know, but am suspicious. But that is a “classified briefing” as well.



  9. Sedate Me

     /  September 11, 2013

    I’m torn on this, but I do know whatever does, or doesn’t happen, it will be done for the wrong reasons.

    1) Aside from saving the US Empire’s reputation, (aka America’s Red Line) what are these proposed strikes supposed to achieve? If they wont impact the civil war, what’s the point? The point is to remind everyone who the Big Dog is and that disobedience is unacceptable.

    2) Attacking Asshat himself has been specifically ruled out. Why? Asshat is the problem here. He’s the guy who killed 100,000 of his own people and gassed about 1,400 to death. He’s the guy most of his own citizens want out. And It’s not like America doesn’t specifically target individuals for extra-judicial, death-robot, attacks, even American citizens who may -or may not- have done something to piss off unnamed “high ranking American officials”. For that matter, even their American born teenage children.

    With vast independently verified use of torture, support of terror groups and use of WMD, doesn’t Asshat meet that incredibly low threshold for targeted assignation?

    3) If only somebody found shale gas in Syria, US airplanes would be fracking the entire country like nobody’s business and public support would be triple what it is.

    Sadly, “We don’t give a shit about you, only your resources” is the real message being sent in all this. Aside from a few hippies who hate war as a concept, nobody is against this military action on moral grounds. They’re against it because they see nothing at stake economically. Additionally, few are in favour of the attacks for the moral principles involved.This is yet another case of economic interests trumping moral principles. The meaningless attack Obama is promoting is a true “compromise”. It allows America to pretend it still has high moral principles without doing anything to back them up. That would set a “dangerous precedent”.

    In my opinion, it’s irrelevant whether this attack proceeds or not. Nothing will change either way.


    • King Beauregard

       /  September 11, 2013

      “Aside from saving the US Empire’s reputation, (aka America’s Red Line) what are these proposed strikes supposed to achieve?”

      If you can’t answer that question, you have not been paying enough attention to even try to discuss recent events.

      Obama has been very clear on what the strikes are supposed to achieve. Whether or not they would work as intended is another question and very much open to debate. But, that’s not the question you asked; you asked something that you shouldn’t need explained to you.


      • Sedate Me

         /  September 12, 2013

        Hey, it’s every American’s God given right to shoot their mouths off regarding things they know absolutely nothing about!

        While I set the ol’ VCR to record Obama’s TV address, a little power failure buggered that up. However, I heard more than enough before that. Perhaps, you didn’t comprehend my question well enough to discuss it and need it explained to you.

        My question was a sarcastic one based upon the proposed attacks. In all the descriptions, what wasn’t going to happen was more heavily stressed and better explained than what was going to happen. That is to say, having a single American soldier on Syrian soil, or put in harm’s way, is clearly out. Attacking Asshat himself is clearly out. Having a No-fly Zone is out. Trying to help the rebels with the attacks, or do anything that would help topple Asshat, is not the goal.

        So, since doing anything that would have a serious impact on the conflict is intentionally out, what’s left? The most likely scenario is launching some cruise missiles at some airbases and chemical weapons facilities in order to degrade Asshat’s ability to use more chemical weapons.

        The answer to my question is simple. The strikes will achieve next to nothing because they are designed to achieve nothing but save the American Empire’s reputation and make Westerners feel like they did something. Asshat can kill another 100,000 and create another million refugees, but he must do it with conventional weapons.

        What Obama plans to launch is Operation Half-Ass. “He’s horribly evil, but not worth risking anything to stop, or even trying to stop.” For a CNN estimated price tag of $1 billion, that’s not exactly good value for money. You’re better off paying Asshat a billion to live on a desert island for the rest of life.

        There’s a great case for action to be made, but the action proposed is vastly underwhelming. As a minimum, Asshat should be personally targeted and -even without the cliched “boots on ground”- the purpose of any attack should be to destroy his regime, a regime that gave up its right to exist the moment it gassed its own people (if not before). THAT’S punishment for crossing a red line. That’s a message to the world. THAT’S a mission. Anything less sends a message opposite to the intended message.


        • I hate to butt in here, but I must challenge you on this:

          ...the purpose of any attack should be to destroy his regime,..

          I have a couple of reactions to that statement:

          1) Clearly there is no national stomach for doing what you suggest, which means it is not possible to do it. Even though the stomach was wrong, there was at least widespread support for the ridiculously unwise Iraq war.

          2) Without those dreaded “boots on the ground,” completely destroying his regime would simply not be possible. Again, no national stomach for that.

          3) It is very far from clear to me, given the known and unknown motives of some parts of the opposition, whether even destroying the regime would result in a better situation than we have now, especially since there is still some small and fading hope of a diplomatic and political settlement.

          4) Destroying the regime would give the United States an awesome responsibility for what would follow and require us to get involved in whatever that would be. Thus, we’re back to 1) and 2) above.



          • Sedate Me

             /  September 12, 2013

            It’s your website and your opinion is worth way more than most, so you can butt in anytime.

            If you can’t topple a long established enemy who crossed your “red line”, used WMD on his own people and all the rest that supposedly merits an American response, then who can you topple? It’s not like America hasn’t used military force to topple 3 governments since 2000 alone, none of which posed a greater threat to anyone. Trying to topple governments has been America’s favourite pastime since WW2. Any action short of toppling Asshat tells would-be Asshats America will let them remain in power.

            1) Yes, a 1984-like state of perpetual war can get tiring, even if it’s just 1% of America making a sacrifice. But there’s no stomach for what I suggested because there’s no “American Interest” at stake or economic motive to kill this douche, just a moral one. America has a large list of drone strike targets and regularly kills people the administration of the day accuses of doing far less than what Asshat actually HAS done.

            2) You don’t even have to get Asshat. Being seen to be trying might be good enough. But if you cut off Syria’s head, the body will run around like a chicken for a while and then fall over. These Syrian bozos can barely hold their own against some guys with small arms and pickup trucks. Take out the leader, maybe the chief of the military, and the rest takes care of itself. Render them to the Hague if you don’t want blood on your hands. America probably doesn’t need any troops on the ground (a Seal Team 6 at most), but putting some troops in harm’s way says “Hey, look. We actually DO think 1 US soldier is worth 100,000 of you guys.” It’s all about winning hearts & minds, don’t you know?

            3) The fear of the next government really is overblown. I mean, what is the next government going to be, a dictatorship that meddles in its neighbours’ business, uses torture, WMD and kills 100,00s of its own people?

            4) As Peter Parker’s uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility”. If America ain’t up to the job, just throw in the towel and let’s declare China the new prison boss already.


            • We agree that America has the burden of responsibility. I have argued that same thing from the moment I made up my mind about what we should do.

              I guess what we essentially don’t see eye-to-eye on here is this: I look at the Middle East as separate parts, rather than a whole. And I judge past American use of military force separately, some for the good and some not, some wise, some not.

              Plus, it is the following that I stub my toe on, when it comes to the kind of wholesale action you champion:

              America probably doesn’t need any troops on the ground (a Seal Team 6 at most), but putting some troops in harm’s way says “Hey, look. We actually DO think 1 US soldier is worth 100,000 of you guys.” It’s all about winning hearts & minds, don’t you know?

              “Probably doesn’t need any troops on the ground”? That’s what is wrong with the kind of action you advocate. I am not in favor of that kind of intervention in a civil war that very few of us, including those who would be wearing those boots, understand. And winning hearts and minds, as a military strategy, looks good on paper, but it doesn’t have a very good track record in practice in that part of the world, at least past short-term successes. It turns out that winning hearts and minds in the Middle East, full of hatred for the United States by religious fanatics, is a full-time job, one that has drained our military and moral energy, not to mention our treasury.

              Finally, it is quite conceivable that a generation from now, no matter what we do, we could face worse things than the horrific things going on now–like a full-scale regional war with lots of more dead people and refugees with no place to go. The calculation here, and one that has to be made on a case-by-case basis, is what are the probabilities of making things better or worse? I’m not saying it is a slam-dunk case either way, but a limited strike, under these present circumstances, seems to be the best course of action.



        • King Beauregard

           /  September 12, 2013

          “The most likely scenario is launching some cruise missiles at some airbases and chemical weapons facilities in order to degrade Asshat’s ability to use more chemical weapons.”

          Okay, credit where it’s due: after much thoughtful analysis, you actually managed to figure out what Obama, Kerry, and others have directly stated as their goal.

          “Asshat can kill another 100,000 and create another million refugees, but he must do it with conventional weapons.”

          Yes, that’s correct. Because unfortunately, it’s very difficult for the US to bat for either side in this conflict and not make things much, much worse. That’s very likely why the US has stayed out for years now. But chemical weapons make it very easy to increase casualties by entire orders of magnitude, and while we can’t bring peace and prosperity to every war-torn nation, we can at least try to keep them from being able to massacre civilians incredibly easily. They want to massacre their civilians, they’re going to have to work at it.


          • Sedate Me

             /  September 12, 2013

            Now you’re starting to catch on.

            Peace, prosperity and chemical weapons, for that matter, are the sole reserve of the Unites States of America. No other nation gets to use weapons of mass destruction without a stern lecture and a billion dollar fireworks show. Does CNN have the rights to carry this one live? They sure as hell need the ratings.

            Yeah, those jumped-up Syrians should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and build their body count the good ol’ fashioned way. They’re acting like the Godless Commies won the Cold War and started handing out stickers and medals to everyone without making them earn it.


    • I’m not even going to try to talk you out of your cynicism, my friend, justified or not (some of it is; some of it isn’t).

      But I will quibble with the fact that you say you are “torn on this.” Sounds like to me you are pretty much against doing anything about the use of chemical weapons, which are banned internationally, against civilians.

      Finally, I strongly disagree with your argument that there is no relevance to acting or not acting. The Syrian regime and Russians sure think there is relevance, one because some of their military assets will get destroyed and the other because its mostly imagined strength as a influential world power would completely disappear.



      • Sedate Me

         /  September 12, 2013

        No, I can be convinced to go along with some action. It just has to be an action that means something. Unless there’s going to be some big-time mission creep, this just doesn’t cut it.

        Shit, the way America is dropping bombs these days, even on “allies” like Yemen and Pakistan, launching a few dozen cruise missiles just doesn’t tell anybody you’re mad at them the way it used to.


        • Okay. Wait a minute.

          You sort of premise your stance against meaningless action in Syria on what we are doing, via drone strikes, in Yemen and Pakistan, in that you say we are “dropping bombs” on our “allies” there. Huh? I can understand why some folks oppose drone strikes, but I can’t understand why folks would say we are dropping bombs on our allies. Sure, we are dropping bombs on territory controlled by, shall we say, less-than-hostile governments like Pakistan and more cooperative governments like Yemen, but we are dropping bombs mostly on the bad guys—our sworn enemies—with some admittedly troublesome collateral damage in terms of civilians being killed.

          So, I can’t accept your premise, my friend, to the extent your were serious in presenting it.

          I will say, though, that it is a principled position, albeit one I don’t agree with, to be for wanting to do more than “punish” Assad for his flouting of international norms against chemical warfare and actually punish him for what he has otherwise done to his civilian population. I am sympathetic to the idea that he should be ousted, I am just not convinced that getting rid of him makes everything better, especially since we will then be responsible for any and all outcomes. I have two boys, one of which is of age to be drafted. I just can’t see how I could consent to the risk of sending him, or anyone, into the middle of someone else’s civil war, especially when it appears to be so difficult to determine the motives of all the players involved.

          Finally, cruise missiles still send a pretty powerful message, as the current negotiations going on under the remotest of threats of using them, seem to demonstrate.




  10. ansonburlingame

     /  September 12, 2013

    I obviously stay out of the discussion with Sedate Me. He (or she) is against “anyone with power”. So cops, any elected officials, any decision-makers in corporations, unions, small businesses, etc., he must be against. I suppose the only power he likes is the “power of the people”!!! Yikes. Check out 1789.

    You can’t argue with that, for sure, or even find a reasonable basis for discussion.



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 12, 2013

      No, I said I don’t TRUST them, which is entirely different.

      Take elections. I routinely vote for people I don’t trust because I estimate that they’re more likely to do what I want do less of what I don’t want than the guy running against them. (Although, it’s worth saying that American democracy was largely built on the principle of no one person having too much power. Checks, balances, etc.)

      I don’t trust these folks largely because secrecy and lying is their currency. As Dr Phil says, “How many times does somebody have to lie to you before you stop trusting them?” Or, as the wiser and more eloquent G.W. Bush said

      (Hope that didn’t embed.)


  11. ansonburlingame

     /  September 13, 2013

    OK, you don’t TRUST anyone with power. Well, who do you trust, Sedate Me, which your arguments are sure doing to me!



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 13, 2013

      Unsure what you meant about my arguments but I’ll answer your question. (and as usual over-answer it and drift far off topic)

      I don’t much trust anyone anymore. Our species is untrustworthy to begin with, but it’s getting worse. Our culture now rewards lying, rather than punishes it. There are numerous recent examples of front-page lies (Saddam bought yellowcake!) that, when exposed, go unpunished. Wall Street turned the entire economy into a magic trick where all our money disappears into their pocket. The Internet is the greatest invention in the history of lying. The basic premise of Reality TV is to reward the most cunning and deceptive. There just ain’t no George Washingtons chopping down cherry trees anymore. (When is the last time you even heard that story?)

      Generally, I don’t trust anyone with motive to lie. The stronger the motive, the stronger the distrust. The more power someone has, or seeks to have, the more damage they can cause. Thus the more skeptical I am. Regarding your previous list:

      Advertisers, spokespeople, politicians and other professional liars are at the bottom, as it’s their very job to lie.

      The Military-Industrial-Security Complex is untrustworthy by the very nature of their profession. They snoop, sabotage, deceive & destroy for a living. Their track record is dodgy to say the least. They’re incredibly powerful, have no checks on their power and operate in complete secrecy. Yet they always say “trust us”, which is the last thing you should do with somebody saying “trust us”.

      I know cops, but based upon countless local examples of graft, abuse, apathy, incompetence and criminal activity, I don’t just trust cops anymore. Granted, only a small minority are dirty, but the system protects the very worst cops as if they were the very best. After seeing what went on at the Toronto G20 Summit (& how they completely got away with it) it’s clear that, organizationally, they’re now part of the Military Industrial Security Complex.

      Declaring I don’t trust corporations is as redundant as saying I’m against declaring Enron Day. The entire structure of a corporation is designed to avoid accountability for the people running and owning it. The amount of effort they put into PR, advertising, tax “avoidance” and now spying is shocking. Not to mention the hijacking of government power. Small business is exactly what its name implies, so I have less distrust of them. Unions are also an endangered species and most are so powerless, avoiding extinction seems to be their only priority.

      In the last couple of decades, the media has become untrustworthy. Profit and/or political motives have transformed much of it into unprofessional shills. Most in the media are now the equivalent of lazy, donut eating, cops who just read whatever they are handed.

      As for “power of the people”, people ARE the problem. As a whole, the public has never been stupider, greedier, lazier and less worthy of –not just trust- anything. But even if I trusted them, the political system is rigged to make them irrelevant.


      • I’m of two minds about your extreme cynicism, my friend.

        On the one hand, I understand it. The more I read, the more frustrated I get about what is going on and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any way of turning it around.

        On the other hand, the kind of cynicism you express leads nowhere, except to a sort of mental paralysis. You say, “I don’t much trust anyone anymore.” You also end with,

        …people ARE the problem. As a whole, the public has never been stupider, greedier, lazier and less worthy of –not just trust- anything. But even if I trusted them, the political system is rigged to make them irrelevant.

        All of that reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said in The Abolition of Man:

        You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.

        I don’t mean for this to sound like a sermon (I’d be the last one to give you one of those), and, as I said, I understand the temptation toward the kind of cynicism you outline for us here. But I submit to you for your consideration that you can’t “see through” everything, you can’t be so extremely skeptical about everyone’s motives, without risking a kind of blindness to other things going on, to the good and decent folks who are trying to make positive changes to what is happening, no matter how futile it might seem.

        In short, I would ask you to consider that the kind of cynicism you seem to have embraced might be at least a part of the problem, since it certainly isn’t part of the solution.



        • Sedate Me

           /  September 14, 2013

          As somewhat of a sermon giver myself, I respectfully disagree.

          I think my cynicism, skepticism and lack of naive trust is very healthy for both me and society, I consider it like a measles vaccine, a preventative exposure to the virus to build an immunity that prevents the disease from taking hold.

          For example, others may fall for bullshit lines like Hope & Change, wind up getting more of the same, then get bitter, drop out and only worry about #1 for the rest of their lives. There’s a reason 50% don’t even bother to vote and a larger majority doesn’t even pay attention. THAT’S being part of the problem.

          My brand of cynicism prevented me from having high expectations. I expected more of the same old crap. I didn’t expect the crimes of the Bush regime to be exposed and punished. I didn’t expect a new Church Committee. I didn’t expect any changes to how the economy works doesn’t work. I knew Republicans and bought off Democrats would block any serious attempt at improving things. All I expected was a “market correction” of the Bush Error and a return to the slow downward trajectory America’s been in for decades. So, I was only mildly disappointed in Obama, mostly in the Global Empire and Big Brother Departments. So come 2008, I’m still in the game. “Obama? Well, he’s less worse than the other asshole and all the imbeciles he beat.”

          I fully understand the value of remaining engaged. I just don’t have any illusions about its effectiveness. My cynicism keeps me grounded.

          It’s also just a starting point. My mistrust grows or declines as the person or entity proves/disproves itself of being trustworthy. I can always be won over, even by people I despise, based upon facts, logic & predicted behaviour. I gauge the likelihood of them fulfilling their end, based upon their track record and assessment of their motivations. I consider that a very healthy way of going about things.

          In a desperate attempt to make this thread less about me and more relevant again, Obama’s Syrian proposal is more Par For The Course. Because of his personal word and the potential damage to the American Empire’s image, there’s now a motive for something to be done. Yet because of America’s track record of not getting involved without (at least perceived) self-interest being the major factor, there’s a strong desire to do nothing. Thus, the proposed “solution” of a punishment that has no relationship to the scale of the crime. It’s something that can neither succeed, nor fail. Pats on the back all around!

          I consider it like Obamacare, only with cruise missiles. Propose what is a relatively minor change that doesn’t affect the overall nature of the status-quo (no drugs or public option / Asshat stays in power) endure the vastly overblown concerns of harm or arguments for inaction (death panels / a “worse” dictator) then look heroic and noble for taking a low risk move that barely changed anything. If I were expecting something more, I’d be severely disappointed. As it stands, I can complain, but fluff it off and move on to the next thing.


          • I find something interesting about your argument here, my friend, about your robust defense of cynicism, particularly regarding the “Hope and Change” mantra of the first Obama campaign.

            Yours is the “safe” position to take, isn’t it? You don’t risk anything because you have nothing invested. You don’t have any emotional or intellectual skin in the game. If things don’t turn out the way they were advertised (or the way people perceived them despite the advertisements), you can comfortably proclaim that “I expected more of the same old crap.”

            You say you “understand the value of remaining engaged” while not having “any illusions about its effectiveness.” Another safe bet, isn’t it? “My cynicism keeps me grounded,” you say. Yes, sort of like an airplane that never flies. The safest thing is to stay on the ground, I’ll grant you. But that’s the problem with cynicism of the kind you have expressed so far (at least the way I hear it). It’s safe but it doesn’t do anything or go anywhere. It just sort of sits and spins its wheels with no crashes or disappointments—or accomplishments.

            As I have said before, I understand healthy skepticism and what a valuable tool it is. I embrace it, I wrap my loving arms around it, but because I value it, I won’t let it morph into cynicism. Because I think cynicism is the easy path to take, as opposed to actually believing in a cause or, in terms of politics, a party or person. As much as it is wise to trust any politician, I trust this President, even though like you, I have been disappointed in some of the things that have happened during his presidency. I passed judgment on his character and personality and motives in 2007, and because I wanted to be invested in his success, for the first time in my life I actually worked on a campaign, worked to get him elected. And while there have been a lot of bumps along the way, and more to come, I pretty much got what I thought I’d get with him: some hope, some change, and some frustration. I was and remain invested in his presidency because cynicism is not a constructive option for me.

            And that’s because I deeply understand that changing the system is mostly an infuriatingly slow process (something I absorbed in my bones when I was a conservative fighting what I perceived to be entrenched liberalism). I knew there would be compromises that I would dislike, like the lack of a public option in ObamaCare, and I guess rather than being disappointed in the absence of dramatic, comprehensive change, I see it more optimistically by seeing it as progress and not regress.

            By the way, If that 50% of people you mention who don’t bother to vote would vote—and I don’t believe for a minute that it is cynicism stopping most of them from voting—and keep voting until things begin to change, then things would begin to change.

            Finally, I have to address your criticism of Obama’s “low risk” moves on things like ObamaCare and Syria:

            It’s something that can neither succeed, nor fail. Pats on the back all around!

            As I said, that’s exactly what I say about your cynicism. You’re always right in your judgments because no politician or party will ever completely succeed or fail. But ObamaCare, for all of its flaws, is a step in the right direction and there are a lot of us who believe, if it is allowed to mature, it will develop into a single-payer system some day.

            As for Syria, recent developments indicate that Obama is risking his own credibility by putting himself in a position where he can succeed or fail on the Russian deal. He’s already being attacked for his weakness as a leader, for not doing what you suggested he was doing only because “of his personal word and the potential damage to the American Empire’s image.” I hope on at least this point, at least at this time, that you give him credit for a little courage to do what he thinks is right in the face of the personal criticism he knew he would get for embracing even a shaky diplomacy over military strikes.



            • Sedate Me

               /  October 2, 2013

              If that 50% of people you mention who don’t bother to vote would vote—and I don’t believe for a minute that it is cynicism stopping most of them from voting…

              Then what is keeping them from doing something so easy? Is half the US population too stupid to find the nearest polling booth? Mass outbreaks of projectile diarrhea, perhaps?

              If it’s not cynicism, then it’s never giving a shit in the first place.

              I have to address your criticism of Obama’s “low risk” moves on things like ObamaCare and Syria…As I said, that’s exactly what I say about your cynicism.

              Are you equating my supposedly hopeless, defeatist, cynicism that’s “part of the problem” to Mr Hope & Change’s hope and change? You’re kind of making my point for me and I’m laughing myself to tears.The difference is I’m not the leader here. My brand of cynicism doesn’t influence policy. It doesn’t even affect my actions, beliefs or level of engagement. If anything, I’m slightly more involved than when I was a naive optimist. (Hell, I even joined a party this year.) If what Obama pushes for passes as naive optimism, I’ve got to work on my pessimism, or Americans must demand more from their naive optimists.

              As a Canadian, I was born with universal, single payer, health care as a right of citizenship. I can’t fathom how the world’s richest, most powerful, nation won’t even have universal coverage until next year. My pathetic nation of hedge-betting, naval gazing, igloo dwellers had single payer in 1966. (America too busy paying for wars, perhaps? )

              Sure, Obamacare is a minor improvement in field position. But from Day #1, even with a majority in both houses, there was virtually no attempt to go for anything more. It was the equivalent of calling two QB sneaks, punting on 3rd down and then high five-ing. It’s the strategy of a perennial losing team ashamed of its own policies. You’ve got to be a real pussy if Canadians are mocking your weakness.

              As for Syria, Obama put his credibility on the line a year ago with the “red line” statement. Once the red line is crossed, anything short of killing Asshat, or ending his rule, is a friendly fire attack on your own credibility. Republicans are just pilling on. Then Barry goes cap-in-hand to the Russian Mafia Don and now owes him a favour. Yeah, I know he’s trying really hard to walk away with something, but there’s just no way to polish this turd. You never draw lines in the sand unless you’re willing to go all the way .

              And yeah, I know that the Arab Spring is the inevitable result of decades of horrific regional foreign policy flopped on his plate all at the same time. But, as with most things, it’s just more defensive damage control. In the process, yet another generation in this region has examples of American double standards and self-interested action/inaction to point at.

              I don’t hate the guy, I just find it hard to cheer for anybody who can’t exceed my rock-bottom expectations.


  12. Duane,

    Regarding Syria’s violations of treaties, consider that the U.S. will also violate international law if it attacks Syria.

    From the “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” 1970:

    “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.

    “No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind. Also, no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.”

    This language is pretty unambiguous. A military strike against Syria by the U.S. is a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which the U.S. has signed and ratified.

    I know you want to treat chemical weapons differently than conventional ones. And I know you want to treat each incident in the Middle East as unique so that a strategy for dealing with it would be on a case by case basis. At least, that’s what I think you’re saying. And I’m not going to convince you otherwise, just as none of the other commenters here have been unable to do either. However, I continue to believe that such approaches to the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as you seem to support are both incoherent and, in the specific case of Syria, against international law.

    It just seems to me you are fighting very hard to defend a position that, IMHO, is very weak. I guess what concerns me most here is your inability to see the big picture. But, this is your blog and I respect that. I’m only a guest, so I do appreciate your giving me a voice in this discussion.



%d bloggers like this: