Some Thoughts On Syria

Scattered thoughts. Mr Obama has apparently (I’ve been busy … I haven’t read his transcripts) … so, what is  the basis of his moral/ethical argument for killing bystanders to send a message to Mr Assad?

  1. An analogy for Syria .. consider bullying the moral schoolyard equivalent of gas warfare. You put a red-line in the sand to the school-yard bully. He is seen bullying some people, so … you beat up his sister, who may or may not be able to convince him to stop in ways you cannot. But, is that ethical?
  2. This passage can be said to argue that state violence is in some cases permitted, to as it were, send a message.
  3. Some differences between gas and military vs civilian targets and modes of delivery. But … if the reason you are against gas is that it is a thing killing civilians why aren’t people speaking even more strongly against practices that kill far more civilians. The biggest killer of civilians of all, the tacit acceptance by everyone (but me apparently) who fails to call committing violence for political purposes without wearing a uniform a war crime which should invalidate both your cause and any claims for mercy.
  4. The Volokh link I posted earlier tonight highlights the real-politik position on the matter.
  5. What motive did Mr Obama have in denying “I never said red line” … does he not realize that statements he makes are not in a vacuum and he indeed did say red line?
  6. Speaking of gas, the Germans manufactured several tons of ClF3 intending to use it. Yikes. That stuff seems as dangerous for the caster as the castee. It does on the other hand make light of typical protections like gas masks.
  7. Would a limited token bombing discourage or encourage another totalitarian ruler to use Sarin on his people?

7 Responses to Some Thoughts On Syria

  1. So a few thoughts that I think are being missed here:

    1. The ‘red-line’ is not about any statements but about actions. There’s a taboo against using WMDs, esp. against civilians. Furthermore the US recently went to war over a poorly behaved dictator who may have had WMDs on the grounds that while we may permit bad people tohave WMDs, they must be ‘well-behaved’ bad people at worst. Here we have an example of more or less the same thing but this time the WMDs are real and the guy is using it. Not doing anything at all about it now would essentially make the last Gulf War totally meaningless.

    2. Again not doing anything is doing something, it’s undercutting the taboo against WMD use. It’s highly likely that if the decision ends up being nothing, Assad would likely step up chemical weapon use (why not after all?)

    Note that #1 and #2 are an issue for us regardless of any ‘red-line’ statements ever made by anyone. Granted at this point it seems like Republicans are starting to assert Kerry was right about the Iraq War all along. Nonetheless, even if Iraq was a huge blunder one would think we should at least try to salvage something helpful from it. Do we really want to declare the 3000+ Americans who died for Iraq died literally for nothing more than Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” photo flop?

    3. The taboo may appear irrational in the sense that conventional weapons kill a lot more people. The Nazis, for example, killed more people with by simply assembling teams of people to shoot victims with cheap bullets than they did with death camps and specially built shower/gassing units. One may fairly ask why is it horrible to kill 1400 with gas but not to kill 1400 with shelling and air strikes? But that’s actually an irrelevant question. It would be nice if there was a huge international taboo on shelling cities. There isn’t but there is on using WMDs. Is the world going to be better or worse without that taboo? I think it’s going to be worse.

    4. Since this is really about norms of behavior, the actual impact strikes may have on the civil war is also irrelevant. Assad may still win his civil war, but to preserve the taboo life must be harder for him than it would otherwise have been.

    5. “Killing innocent bystanders”….well here’s a solution: Syria must surrender all its WMDs for either destruction under the supervision of inspectors or shipment to a designated ‘trustworthy state’ for destruction (perhaps Russia) and submit to a ceasefire and mediation of its civil war. Refusal means air strikes on all known WMD deposits and a general no-fly zone for the Syrian air force as well as strikes on anyone fighting (this would make it easy to enforce a case-fire…anyone shooting is by definition the enemy!). No innocent bystanders need be killed since the combatants can simply avoid all strikes by not doing things that, well, kill innocent bystanders. To do this, though, Obama needs authorization to use force.

    It may be that despite the strikes, Assad wins the civil war and keeps control of Syria. That wouldn’t be great but it would still be a victory in the sense that using WMDs was a huge ‘foul’ that almost cost him the game (and if we happen to destroy a huge stockpile of WMDS we may yet minimize the risk of a boatload of the stuff getting lost on the international black markets and literally ending up on a boat to America for some type of attack on us).

  2. Am I way too cynical, thinking that this year on 9/11 that Washington DC wants to be seen as doing better against terrorism than, say, last 9/11?

  3. Boonton,

    1. The ‘red-line’ is not about any statements but about actions. Mr Obama denied making a “red-line” statement which he had made earlier.

    . Furthermore the US recently went to war over a poorly behaved dictator who may have had WMDs on the grounds that while we may permit bad people tohave WMDs Contra the suggestion that WMDs were last only used WWI and by Hitler in WWII, Saddam used them against the Kurds. Your President has suggested (via Kerry) a tiny tiny inconsequential strike. This isn’t an argument against regime change. The case you need to make is to make one for a symbolic strike. I don’t see that argument and you haven’t made it here.

    it’s undercutting the taboo against WMD use

    And a symbolic strike is pretty much the same as not doing anything. Are you for regime change? I thought you weren’t an Iraqi war supporter.

    Granted at this point it seems like Republicans are starting to assert Kerry was right about the Iraq War all along.

    I don’t know that that means. What was Kerry right about? He voted for the war and voted against it? Is “being right” meaning being indecisive. Or perhaps you (like Mr Obama) intentionally left that completely ambiguous, so you couldn’t be pinned down in a mis-statement. Again. I understand the argument for forcing regime change. I’m not seeing the argument for a symbolic strike.

    The taboo may appear irrational in the sense that conventional weapons kill a lot more people.

    My contention treating the failure to use uniforms as a first order war crime kills way more civilians than all your suggestions combined (gassing, shelling cities and air strikes). Assad has machined gunned demonstrations. Why is that not a red-line?

    Assad may still win his civil war, but to preserve the taboo life must be harder for him than it would otherwise have been.

    Not necessarily. Mr Kerry has suggested any strike might be very very small.

    Syria must surrender all its WMDs for either destruction under the supervision of inspectors or shipment to a designated ‘trustworthy state’ for destruction (perhaps Russia)

    Is this evidence you actually read the linked piece suggestion that the Russian ship steaming into the region was to collect poison gases?

    Refusal means air strikes on all known WMD deposits and a general no-fly zone for the Syrian air force as well as strikes on anyone fighting (this would make it easy to enforce a case-fire…anyone shooting is by definition the enemy!).

    This is a far bigger action than the President has asked for. Odd that. No-fly might lead to escalation and Iraq-like involvement, eh?

    To do this, though, Obama needs authorization to use force.

    Actually he doesn’t for the first few months. He didn’t ask for authorization for Libya even though prior to his Presidency he said doing exactly what he did would be wrong. But you contend he is a scrupulously honest fellow.

    Assad wins the civil war and keeps control of Syria. That wouldn’t be great …

    But … you didn’t read the Volokh piece. Who wins and which is “great” depends a lot on the makeup of the rebels.

  4. 1. Imagine Obama made any ‘red-line’ statement, fact is the use of WMDs violates a taboo and would have been crossing a line. Failure to act would have diminished the taboo regardless.

    2. You’re right, Saddam used WMDs against the Kurds and WWII’s WMD record is not spotless. So what? Are you going to say incest isn’t a taboo because there are a handful of brother-sister couples you hear about every now and then?

    3. I wasn’t aware that Obama asked for permission for just ‘symbolic strikes’? Can you point me to a speech by Obama or Kerry where they state that they simply wish to make ‘symbolic strikes’ that Assad wouldn’t mind?

    4. “Assad has machined gunned demonstrations. Why is that not a red-line?” Beats me, the world isn’t a perfect place. Why is the world’s failure to make gunning down demonstrators a red-line something that is going to be solved by relaxing a red-line on using WMDs against civilians?

    5. ” No-fly might lead to escalation and Iraq-like involvement, eh?” In what way? Esp. if it starts off with destroying every serious military aircraft Syria has? The world has plenty of resources to impose a no-fly zone over Syria for nearly 100 million years if need be.

    Speaking of Iraq again:

    6. “Again. I understand the argument for forcing regime change.” Errr you seem to have forgotten quite a bit. Who but a committed Republican could forget Powell at the UN? The weapons inspectors? Bashing Scott Ritter for saying Iraq didn’t have any serious WMDs? Yellow Cake? Sorry Bush’s little war was premised on possible WMDS with a poorly behaving Baathist Party dictator.

  5. Actually he doesn’t for the first few months. He didn’t ask for authorization for Libya even though prior to his Presidency he said doing exactly what he did would be wrong. But you contend he is a scrupulously honest fellow.

    Suggest you brush up on your facts.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_military_intervention_in_Libya

    The actual air strikes in Libya were limited & done by French forces. US forces gathered intelligence, enforced a naval blockaid and assisted in enforcing a no-fly zone. Libya, if you’re strictly looking at what the US military did, wasn’t even comparable to Kosovo. The claim of inconsistency here is strained.

  6. Boonton,

    Imagine Obama made any ‘red-line’ statement, fact is the use of WMDs violates a taboo …

    Why should I image he made a red-line statement. He did. And then said he didn’t.

    You’re right, Saddam used WMDs against the Kurds

    Yet you were against moving against him there. Odd that.

    I wasn’t aware that Obama asked for permission for just ‘symbolic strikes’?

    Kerry said “The secretary of state issued his ‘ultimatum’ on the latest leg of a European tour seeking support for intervention. At the same time he said that if any strikes did take place they would be ‘unbelievably small.'” quoted from a UK paper. “Unbelievably small” sounds symbolic to me. Do you think “unbelievably” small strikes would have deterred Saddam. No-fly zones did not.

    In what way?

    We instituted no-fly zones against Saddam. They didn’t work.

    Errr you seem to have forgotten quite a bit.

    What did I forget? I’m confused. What things is Assad doing that Saddam did not? You haven’t laid out a case for a face slap/symbolic strike. Or do you prefer “unbelievably small” retaliatory strike.

  7. Why should I image he made a red-line statement. He did. And then said he didn’t.

    Meant to say ‘no red-line statement’. If Obama said nothing about Syria’s behavior fact is that wouldn’t have magically made it not an issue. The red-line was the use of WMDs, not the warning beforehand to avoid using WMDs.

    Kerry said “The secretary of state issued his ‘ultimatum’ on the latest leg of a European tour seeking support for intervention. At the same time he said that if any strikes did take place they would be ‘unbelievably small.’” quoted from a UK paper. “Unbelievably small” sounds symbolic to me. Do you think “unbelievably” small strikes would have deterred Saddam. No-fly zones did not.

    Given precision weapons, you can probably disable Syria’s entire airforce with a handful of very well placed strikes. That’s ‘unbelievably small’ compared to carpet bombing ala Vietnam, but hardly symbolic. Nato’s intervention in Libya probably cost Quaddafi his war and later his life. Yet it’s barely a match compared to Afghanistan, Iraq, even Bosnia/Serbia.

    Do you have any actual statements that the administration wants only ‘symbolic strikes’. Or is your only evidence what you and pundits think the strikes would be in your imaginations?

    What did I forget? I’m confused. What things is Assad doing that Saddam did not? You haven’t laid out a case for a face slap/symbolic strike. Or do you prefer “unbelievably small” retaliatory strike.

    What are you arguing against? If you’re arguing against any strike, then you either have to reject what we did with Saddam (who as you say did exactly what Assad did and now Assad trumps Saddam since he actually has WMDs). Or are you arguing against a small strike? If it’s that then I suggest you support any resolution unless you can point to language in it that specifically states only ‘symbolic or ineffective’ strikes are authorized.

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