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Two dark views of the U.S. dilemma over Syria, one serious, one satirical

Britain, the most reliable U.S. ally for military adventure, will not help on a mission to strike Syria. Pres.ident Obama hasn’t exactly said he will strike, but seems inclined. Many in Congress want him to seek their authorization, but he hasn’t committed to that. The U.N. experts are finishing their inspection in Syria but, in case you missed this detail, the U.N. inspectors will not issue a finding about whether Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons, only on whether chemical weapons were used.

If you are inclined to think this through for yourself but need to understand the background, you could not do much better than John Judis’ primer in The New Republic. It’s not that long, but it manages to go back briefly to the Geneva Conventions to explain a pre-United Nations legal rationale for the United States to act and jams an impressive amount of basic information into his piece. Judis does not take a position on what Obama should do.

The Onion, on the other hand, managed to brilliantly (and pretty accurately) summarize the problems with every possible approach Obama might take by narrating it through the faux-sympathetic eyes of Bashar Assad himself. Here’s a taste (remember, this is Assad imaginarily speaking to America):

…So, where do I begin? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but let’s start with the fact that my alliance with Russia and China means that nothing you decide to do will have the official support of the UN Security Council. So, right off the bat, I’ve already eliminated the possibility of a legally sound united coalition like in Libya or the First Gulf War. Boom. Gone. Off the table.

Now, let’s say you’re okay with that, and you decide to go ahead with, oh, I don’t know, a bombing campaign. Now, personally, I can see how that might seem like an attractive option for you. No boots on the ground, it sends a clear message, you could cripple some of my government’s infrastructure, and it’s a quick, clean, easy way to punish me and make you look strong in the face of my unimaginable tyranny. But let’s get real here. Any bombing campaign capable of being truly devastating to my regime would also end up killing a ton of innocent civilians, as such things always do, which I imagine is the kind of outcome you people would feel very guilty about. You know, seeing as you are so up in arms to begin with about innocent Syrians dying. Plus, you’d stoke a lot of anti-American hatred and quite possibly create a whole new generation of Syrian-born jihadists ready to punish the United States for its reckless warmongering and yadda yadda yadda.

Okay, what else? Well, you could play small-ball and hope that limited airstrikes to a few of my key military installations will send me the message to refrain from using chemical weapons again, but, c’mon, check me out: I’m ruthless, I’m desperate, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in power. I’d use chemical weapons again in a heartbeat. You know that. And I know you know that. Hell, I want to help you guys out here, but you gotta be realistic. Trust me, I am incapable of being taught a lesson at this point. Got it? I am too far gone. Way too far gone…

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/30/2013 - 10:45 am.

    A “small strike” could be spun into the idea that the US is afraid of Assad and his allies, the survival of a US attack actually strengthens Assad, the careful avoiding of striking of Assad personally proves him to be “indispensable”, any collateral damage will be a PR nightmare (and Syria will have reason to magnify any collateral damage), and the US, once again, is proven to be a “paper tiger” in the ME.

    A “big strike” opens the door to a wider conflict, or just quickly accelerates the schedule of that big war.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/30/2013 - 12:43 pm.

    I just have this horrible feeling ….

    … that there are several advisers to President Obama who are saying: “Yes, but this time it will be different.”

    No, it won’t. It’s never different.

    It will be a quagmire, just as the writers at the Onion have so pointedly explained.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/30/2013 - 03:15 pm.

    and if we had listened to

    the isolationists who said we should stay out of WW II?
    We heard the same things then.
    Not all war is good (none may be)
    but some is necessary.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/30/2013 - 04:47 pm.

      It’s not WW2, and not WW3 yet. It is devolving into a regional sectarian/religious war where we have no standing. Almost every group in it is, or could be, our enemy.

      We would be sticking our in a bucket of blood. And what will have changed when we pull our hand out? Nothing–except we would have bloody hands.

      It’s madness–with atrocity on all sides.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/31/2013 - 09:51 am.

        On that level

        It’s more clan conflict (Alawite vs. everyone else) than religious (Sunni vs. Shia).
        But I think that Assad’s ambitions are broader than simply controlling Syria.
        I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as a regional conflict any more.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Schwartz on 08/31/2013 - 10:42 am.

    Real Politik

    We need to keep our eye on what’s important to us. I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever we do (or don’t do) Syria is going to be an awful mess for years to come. However, the actions that we take now will have repercussions outside of Syria also for years to come. So do we do nothing and show Iran, North Korea, and all our enemies and allies alike that US red lines in the sand about consequential matters mean nothing?

    Other sources have stated the possibility that US action will harden our enemies but I believe just the opposite 2 things: (1) US action will show our enemies that we mean what we say and (2) US inaction will show both our allies and enemies that the US is a paper tiger. But not just any action. We must choose the correct response. Taking out military infrastructure that will cause civilian casualties will be counter-productive. The only thing that makes sense at this point is to remove Bashir from the playing field. As repugnant as that is (and as bad a precedent that it sets) I fear that’s the only action that’s worth undertaking.

    The other item to note is that in the future we need to be more careful as to what we say and to build some sort of national consensus before we say it. (Yes, the president needs to lead but not by going out on a limb all by himself.) In our current political environment is that possible or just pie in the sky thinking?

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/31/2013 - 08:03 pm.

    Part of the problem

    is that we’re not dealing with nations here in the European sense, but with clusters of clans with little in common culturally or economically, lumped together by the British in the 19th century for their own profit and convenience.

    Few (to be charitable) of the middle eastern countries have a substantial history of nationhood. Egypt and Iran do, and Turkey (if you regard it as middle eastern) does, but that’s about it. Once you get into the Arabian Peninsula the only uniting factor has been religion. Arabs may all be conversant with the classical Arabic of the Q’ran, but the dialects they speak in everyday life may not be mutually intelligible.
    At some points in time there have been Syrian and Mesopotamian empires, but empires do not need to have common cultures. Even the Persian Empire, a comparatively well administered one, was still a conglomerate of cultures. As for the Pax Romana, read your Josephus.

    So, pessimistically, the area has been at peace only when it has been the peace of the sword. So, either we can invade and impose a Pax Americana (I’m not recommending this) or we must figure out a way to deal with constant conflict and minimize its violence.

    Again being charitable, that’s what Obama appears to be trying to do. Left with a British mess (which they have just wiped there hands of) we must muddle through, and try not to get caught in the big muddy (’60’s reference).

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