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William Rivers Pitt argues that U.S. attack on Syria would be ’20 pounds of stupid’

Writing for Truthout, William Rivers Pitt makes a full-throated argument against a U.S. military attack on Syria.

Pitt, who is certainly a lefty peacenik in case you take that as grounds to dismiss him, concedes that President Assad probably did use chemical weapons. Pitt spends most of  his pixels arguing that the cost-benefit balance just doesn’t work out to overall U.S. benefits. If you can stand a heavy dose of sarcasm/cynicism about U.S. militarism, the whole piece is here.

But here’s a taste wherein Pitt pretends to mock his own argument that maybe there are situations that do not call for bombing:

Crazy, I know; this is America, after all, and our presidents like nothing more than to flip a few cruise missiles at other countries, combined with a few bombing sorties for good measure, because it’s a hell of a lot easier than actual statecraft. Besides, it looks good on television, and all those meanies in Congress can’t accuse the Commander in Chief of not doing anything. Oh, also, cruise missiles and bombs cost a lot, so if we pull the trigger on Syria, someone will get paid handsomely.

What ho, this we call “diplomacy,” right? Flatten a few buildings, blow some children sideways out of their kitchens during breakfast, take a victory lap on the Sunday morning talk shows…what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/27/2013 - 08:20 pm.

    in a ten pound bag

    to complete his evocative (self-descriptive?) title.
    It’s downhill after that.
    Pitt seems to be assuming that what the U.S. military is planning is the overthrow of Assad. In fact, most of what I’ve read from anyone to the reality side of the tea party is that we are planning on neutering Assad, not killing him.
    It has been pointed out that our best interests are in maintaining a status quo.
    Overthrowing Assad turns Syria over to Islamic radicals.
    Letting him eliminate the rebels removes a check on his behavior which would also unstabilize the region.
    So — a targeted cruise missile attack, with enough getting through to seriously weaken Assad while keeping him in power, but with less capability for military adventures.

    I do find it reassuring that Pitt has precise information about both the capability (and reliability) of Iranian missiles and warheads, and our own weapons.

    A final point:
    I believe that the 60% figure refers to the percentage of Americans who do not want to see American troops on the ground in the Middle East, not those opposed to ANY military involvement.

    Pitt is more of a peacenut (a caricature of a left wing peace activist) than a peacenik.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/28/2013 - 07:43 am.


      Paul, how confident are you that we can neuter Assad without overturning the balance of power? You sound very confident. I thought one of the lessons of the past ten years is that military campaigns are, by their very nature, unpredictable. Is that not a big thought in the so called ‘reality party’ anymore?

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2013 - 09:46 am.

        Lacking Pitt’s

        inside information, only moderately.
        But our current military capabilities are far greater than those of Syria, Iran and Russia combined, so we should certainly be capable of a targeted strike. It is far more likely that we will fail to take out some targets, which would leave the current balance of power unchanged than that we will do -more- damaged than planned.
        The only way that we would change the current BOP is by killing Assad, which seems unlikely. It also seems unlikely that we would do enough damage to Assad’s troops and tanks (currently not target according to reports) to give the rebels a decisive military advantage. As long as we do not provide them with heavy weapons they will not be able to defeat a modern army; just harass it.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 09:30 am.

      ….a targeted cruise missile attack, with enough getting through to seriously weaken Assad while keeping him in power, but with less capability for military adventures….

      That doesn’t call for a weapon, that calls for magic.

      Cruise missile kill most people within a 100 foot radius, and wounds most people within a 200 foot radius.

      Surgical strike? Just like surgery, if your scalpel is a baseball bat and the procedure consists of breaking open the pinata.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2013 - 01:32 pm.

        and the alternative?

        Is doing nothing preferable?
        Most of the alternatives I’ve seen involve U.S. troops on the ground.
        I think that the main point is to demonstrate to Assad that we CAN take him out;
        thus we would not try to totally destroy the Syrian infrastructure (the way we did to Iraq) — just do enough damage to clearly military targets to demonstrate his vulnerability (and possibly send the same message to Iran).
        I doubt that there will be much ‘collateral damage’ to nonmilitary personnel from attacks on runways and parked military aircraft — certainly far less than Assad had caused so far.
        To use your metaphor: all surgery destroys some health tissue; it’s the net effect that determines its value.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 02:42 pm.

          There are no good options. I don’t think Assad is delusional enough to doubt that the US could destroy Syria or damage the military of Syria to whatever extent the US desires. Iran is likewise not so delusional.

          The problem is what comes the day after muscle-flexing, feel-good bombing.

          Bombing a country is not a casual act–it’s a very real act of war. While we may dance around the official declaration of war with legalities, it is an act of war.

          And, what is the tipping point for the Assad regime? Do you know? Does anyone know? Will we be, in a few months, propping up Assad or Assad’s successor to keep Syria from tumbling into Islamic radicalism and the ethnic cleansing that is underway in Iraq today?

          It’s starting a game of n-dimensional chess–it’s all “unknown unknowns”, to paraphrase another person who thought a recent non-war war would be a cakewalk.

          Doing what you can (bomb) because you can (bomb) should ring some pretty unpleasant bells from recent memory.

          We can’t even go into this thinking we will be greeted by rose-throwing throngs.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2013 - 02:54 pm.

            Assad knew

            what we -could- do;
            he didn’t know what we -would-do.

            And you’ve got a good point about legally declaring war–
            The last time we did THAT was WWII.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/28/2013 - 07:40 am.


    I’m curious if the presumptive Dem nominee for 2016 has weighed in on Syria. Has anyone seen anything?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2013 - 09:50 am.


      Definitely presumptuous.
      It’s a long way to 2016.
      I can’t find anything by her recently; she’s no longer Secretary of State and she’s been letting Kerry run his office.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 12:20 pm.

      An inflammatory comment from Hillary Clinton on Syria?

      Now that would be “20 pounds of stupid” given that she was so recently Secretary of State and therefore great weight would be given to her words, and that candidates commenting on proposed actions generally end up being stranded high-and-dry by the flow of events.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/29/2013 - 07:55 am.

        Who Asked For Inflammatory?

        Does she think this is the best way to go about this? If she doesn’t say anything now, isn’t that the way we should read her thoughts? Or is this Syrian approach a change from the ideas of the State Dept of last year?
        “candidates commenting on proposed actions generally end up being stranded high-and-dry by the flow of events”
        That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? She’s very valuable politically and we shouldn’t dare to risk that value, right? Profile in courage.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/28/2013 - 09:04 am.

    We are certainly reaping the whirlwind that has resulted from our “Israel first” policy.

    We have no credibility or moral authority remaining in the region. 100,000 people dead? How does that compare with Afghanistan and Iraq? We fixed those places into models of democracy, didn’t we? In Egypt, both main factions believe that the US is on the other faction’s side.

    Until we grasp the fundamental religious and ethnic history that underlay the conflict for this town or that town, and the willingness to destroy their former neighbors in the madness for victory for their God, we do not belong in that region.

    What did we do in Lebanon to bring peace? Or did the war-sickness abate with the simple realization that the pain of war was unendurable?

    Our added killings in the area will do nothing to abate the madness.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/28/2013 - 01:10 pm.

    It’s not enough

    Twenty pounds of stupid, that is. I’d argue that active military engagement in Syria is at least 50 pounds of stupid, not to mention self-inflicted injury.

    Mr. DeFor asks an excellent and relevant question. My incomplete knowledge can dredge up no statement or position for Mrs. Clinton. I’d like to know if she’s taken a position, too, and if so, what it is. Without sounding too isolationist, I’m inclined toward Neal Rovick’s take on this. Cruiser missiles are “surgical” in the same sense that Neal suggested.

    Beyond that, I find myself asking rhetorically, “What are they smoking out there in D.C.?” As Neal points out, we already have life-long enemies by the tens and hundreds of thousands in the area, due to our previous nuanced, subtle and culturally-sensitive approach to solving Middle Eastern problems. Many of the relevant societies are both tribal and religiously fundamentalist. We don’t understand them, and they want nothing to do with the materialistic secularism that the United States represents to them.

    Someone should also mention that the U. S., swimming miles offshore in very deep water, is currently up to its nostrils in debt, is weighed down by a Congress that’s dysfunctional and paralyzed, and is increasingly being run by multinational corporations and an oligarchy that don’t want to pay for their own protection. There may be profits to be made from a hugely expanded Middle Eastern conflict, but there’s no upside in that scenario for American society, social, political or economic.

    American military action against Syria will create more enemies for the U.S. while simultaneously piling more debt upon the mountainous heap we already have. We have nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose. Does that mean the Assad regime deserves a free pass? Of course not, but we shouldn’t get too sanctimonious about Syrian atrocities, which have been committed by both sides. That seems especially true when our own hands aren’t entirely free of blood in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

    This might qualify as one of those foreign policy situations to which there is no easy, and especially no easy military-based, solution.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2013 - 02:59 pm.

    If Iran

    completes its takeover of Syria as a client state and then destabilizes Turkey (which is not the secular bastion it once was) then our Middle Eastern position will be a lot worse.
    As has been pointed out, the Arab theocracies are not going to like us no matter what we do (short of going Muslim), and with friends like the Saudi’s and Oilerates we don’t need enemies.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/28/2013 - 09:16 pm.

    Mrs. Bill Clinton

    The reason you haven’t seen the American press ask her about Syria is because on March 27, 2011 she said this about Assad:

    “There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

    They don’t want to embarrass the party’s 2016 nominee when it’s easier to just ignore it.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 08/29/2013 - 07:15 am.


      Assad wasn’t gassing his own people in 2011, so what she said then is a non-story. You may be confusing her with Ronald Reagan, who knew Sadamm was gassing Iraqis and supported him anyway.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/29/2013 - 07:56 am.

      ….”Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

      Perhaps it is the ‘many members of Congress’ that should be embarrassed that they believed he was a reformer.

      Or perhaps there was no possible understanding of the future arc of the conflict that began with peaceful demonstrations on March 15, 2011 and spread to nationwide demonstrations in April 3011 when Assad brought out the army.

  7. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/29/2013 - 08:18 am.

    Other Question

    Have we heard from Minnesota’s Senators and congresspeople on whether or not Obama can bomb Syria without congressional approval?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/29/2013 - 09:30 am.

      Have you tried Googling?

      It’s easy to search if this is a serious question.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/29/2013 - 09:40 am.


      Senator Franken supports an air strike(s). Senator Klobuchar has been a little more measured, saying an international response is called for.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/29/2013 - 01:12 pm.

        Which . . .

        . . . was not your question.

        I believe Rep. Nolan has asked that Congress be reconvened to consider this issue, but I don’t know about the rest of the delegation.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/29/2013 - 09:01 am.

    Do nothing

    I don’t know why so many people think that killing people is “better” than doing nothing? The words:”surgical strike” describe an illusion, not a real military operation. The outcome of such strike in Syria is unpredictable, and we don’t know what we don’t know.

    The risk of a bad outcome here is not zero. Using lethal force under such circumstances is actually stupid. We can imagine different scenarios all day long but we not talking about launching imaginary missiles into an imaginary scenario.

    The seed of this conflict and its very nature were determined 50 years ago during the cold war, you’re not going to fix it today by launching a few missiles. There’s no reason to believe that missile strikes will improve the situation.

    I know simplicity is tempting, but simple mindedness is rarely a good response to complex problems.

  9. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/29/2013 - 09:08 am.

    Eric strikes again

    Eric, I used to respect you. I guess I didn’t really know you. You say “Pitt, who is certainly a lefty peacenik in case you take that as grounds to dismiss him, concedes that President Assad probably did use chemical weapons.”

    I assume you actually read the article, not just the catchy headline. The closest Pitt comes to expressing any thought as to responsibility for the attack is “If it is established that the Syrian government did this …”

    So your statement is a blatant untruth. Why?

    Those who wonder what Pitt actually said can read the piece at:

  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/29/2013 - 02:50 pm.

    Clinton Opinion on Congressional Approval

    I guess I found something of an answer here:

  11. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 08/29/2013 - 03:51 pm.

    doing nothing

    Right now, Obama is making a big show of taking action. He boxed himself in by making that “red line” comment, so he thinks he has to at least appear to be responding. Actually, I think he is looking for an excuse, any excuse to do nothing. (He might blame Congress, the UN, the UK, Russia or France.)
    If Obama does finally take action, it will be very small and ineffectual. Then he will quickly change the subject, and hope everyone will forget all about it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/30/2013 - 09:33 am.

      Small and ineffectual

      What “effectual” response should he make? Continued, but accelerated, diplomacy? A prolonged bombing/missile campaign? Ground troops?

      Let’s hear a suggestion that goes beyond “I hate Obama!”

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/30/2013 - 08:30 am.

    Doing nothing cont’d

    Rosalind makes an interesting point but consider this: let’s say Obama drew that red line thinking Assad would never cross it? If so, that means Obama has already made some bad assumptions. So we’re going to follow up on those bad assumptions by making more assumptions and adding lethal force to the mix?

    Look, here’s the other thing that Obama had better be thinking about because its the most likely scenario: the strikes will have no effect and at best will only increase the ferocity of the fighting on the ground. In that case the US will be demonstrating its its impotence rather tha it’s power and THAT won’t help anyone, even in theory.

    • Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/30/2013 - 09:22 am.


      “If so, that means Obama has already made some bad assumptions.”

      There’s every indication that it was the invaders who used the gas, not Assad. So Paul I assume you mean Obama made a bad assumption when he said that Assad used gas.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/30/2013 - 01:18 pm.

        No Gregory

        The consensus at this point is that government forces deployed the gas. You may not agree with that consensus but until it changes, it is the consensus.

        I do think we might learn something from Brit’s here, let’s at least wait until the UN report is finished and presented before making decisions.

        • Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/30/2013 - 02:15 pm.


          I think the consensus you are referring to is here in the US. Most of the world thinks it was the invaders. I’m glad you’re at least willing to wait for the UN report, something Obama does not seem willing to do.

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

            No no no

            Gregory, calm down,

            I’m arguing that we should NOT launch an attack, please read my posts if you’re going to comment on them. what part “do nothing” is confusing you?

            I think it’s interesting that you claim to know what the whole world is thinking yet you have not produced a single source for that knowledge. No, the world does not support the US plan to launch an attack, but does not mean whole world thinks the invaders launched the chemical attack.

            Furthermore your constant use of the term “invaders” to describe the rebellion indicates a sympathy for the Syrian government. While there are some foreign fighters in Syria this is nevertheless a civil war not an invasion. Only the Syrian government claims this is an invasion.

            What’s your agenda here? Are you opposing US military action or supporting the Syian government?

  13. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 08/30/2013 - 01:43 pm.

    definition of effectual

    If Obama gets Congress’s approval to act, an “effectual result” would include regime change, destruction of the poison gas, and destruction of the means to deliver the poison gas. My prediction is that none of those will happen. Obama is protecting only his ego in shooting off his mouth about the “red line.”

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/30/2013 - 04:25 pm.

      Got it

      You want the President to get us involved in another prolonged war, this time with less support than we had going in to Afghanistan and Iraq. All we have to lose is thousands of lives (both American and non-American), billions of dollars, and any credibility in the Arab world. Oh, don’t forget that other powers–I’m thinking Russia here–would get to brand themselves as “The Country that Doesn’t Invade.” Mostly, though, think of the human cost. Your idea of an “effectual result” would cause many, many deaths. Is that really what you want?

      I will take a President who protects “only his ego in shooting off his mouth about the ‘red line'” over one who goes to war on a phony pretext in order to resolve Oedipal issues any day of the week.

  14. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 08/31/2013 - 11:44 am.

    No attack in Syria

    You misread me. I am 100 percent against attacking Syria. I was defining what an effective response would need to be, and I’m certain an effective response won’t happen. Obama is using our military to make himself look tough, not be effective.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/03/2013 - 10:49 am.

      So . . .

      . . . you don’t want an attack on Syria (understandable), but you’re sniping at the President because he won’t do anything “effective,” as you define it.

      I sense an inconsistency.

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