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Off Topic: On the Syria Thing

I normally don’t comment on foreign affairs, both because it’s off topic, and because I tend to agree with Tam these days when it comes to foreign intervention. But since our imminent intervention in some other damned fool thing in the Middle East is what’s dominating the news, I thought I might opine.

I don’t really think the United States has a dog in a fight between Baathist Alawites and Sunni fundamentalist Al-Quada supporters. I also am not too concerned about how efficiently they can kill each other. But I am concerned about how efficiently they may be able to kill Americans depending on who gets their hands of all the fun toys when the dust finally clears.

If WMDs were enough justification to insert ourselves into Iraq, why isn’t it justification enough to insert ourselves into Syria? Especially given we know the Syrians have WMDs. We’ve seen them use them on their own people within the past few weeks. We’re not going on a bunch of outdated intelligence and fuzzy pictures presented in front of the United Nations like we were in 2003.

If all we’re going to do is launch some air strikes and lob a few cruise missiles, I’d prefer to save the money and trouble. I’d also prefer there to be some Congressional approval. If Bush can do it, so can Obama. I don’t think such things should be done by a President unilaterally. I’m also not too enthusiastic these days about the whole Middle East Democracy project. We tried that experiment, and I’m not convinced the results are worth it. Going in an taking the WMDs away from the combatants, and then letting them resume doing whatever it is they want to do to each other, is a fine, limited goal. Beyond that I don’t care what they want to kill each other with.

If the Obama Administration decides to go into Syria to secure the WMDs, I’m fine with that, provided Congress also approves. I was fine with the Bush Administration doing the same thing in 2003. Beyond that, there’s plenty of room for partisan bickering. But I think keeping WMDs out of the hands of unstable, mass-murdering fascists and religious fanatics ought to be something both parties can get behind.

59 Responses to “Off Topic: On the Syria Thing”

  1. CarlosT says:

    We shouldn’t get involved. It was a bad idea back then, it’s a bad idea now.

  2. Badbartimus says:

    There’s evidence to suggest that the rebels, not the Syrian government, are the ones usong the chem weapons. We saw this kind of thing happen in Bosnia. We are about to engage without knowing all the facts. Better we stay out of it.

  3. ecurb says:

    You can’t “take away” chemical weapons unless you destroy their their entire chemical industry, which would have the side effect of sending them back to subsistence agriculture (or at least it would reach “subsistence” after enough people starved to death).

    We had the same discussion about Germany after WWII.

    Besides, chemical weapons aren’t terribly effective “weapons of mass destruction”, unless you use the ridiculous modern definition of “any weapon in the hands of someone we don’t like”.
    Although I’m sure certain analysts are salivating over the opportunity to see modern ones in action against a civilian population–as far as I’m aware most figures on the real-world effectiveness of nerve agent attacks are guesswork and extrapolations from poorly done Nazi experiments.

  4. Matt says:

    Got to disagree with you on this one. I’m finding the justification of intervention to prevent chemical (or bio or nuclear) weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists to prevent them from being used here getting thin. I honestly don’t care at this point if Habib Al Terrorist gets his hands on a shell with Sarin in it at this point. The problem has always been one of deployment and use and in that, our jihadist pals have usually come up short. They’re just as likely to use such toys on each other as they would us.

    My issue is the what such intervention costs us. It is another ratchet in the noose around the neck of our freedoms. Another power grab by the government. Even if al Qaeda had gotten their hands on an entire arsenal of chem warheads, it’s nothing a drone strike or Seal team can’t fix later. I’d rather that than another sacrifice of freedom on our part against the nebulous threat of a terrorist attack here with anything, including chemical weapons.

    Mind you, if they happen to wind up being used against American interests, I hope the Congress and the President have the stones to respond in kind against the state that harbored such people with the only official response the USA has to use of WMD: in kind with a Minuteman III.

    The terrorists have to know that any such usage of such weapons against the USA would result in an apathetic American populace or government turning into the most dangerous thing on the face of the Earth. Even if it remained conventional, it would no longer be a war of containment or dictator toppling but rather one of annihilation of extremist religious terrorism everywhere. Starting within the borders of the state where the attackers were harbored.

    I am no longer opposed to the use of nuclear weapons in conflict. Especially if the conflict justifies them. If your country harbors those that choose to slaughter an American city, I consider that nation forfeit and vaporized martyrs and their supporters have a hard time planning attacks a second time.

    • jake says:

      “The terrorists have to know that any such usage of such weapons against the USA would result in an apathetic American populace or government turning into the most dangerous thing on the face of the Earth. ”

      Unfortunately, I think that’s what some of them would want most of all.

  5. Roberta X says:

    Why leave them to kill one another slowly and inefficiently, when they can do it wholesale and more quickly? I *wish* people in the region weren’t in a killing-eachother mood, but they are and I can’t change it and neither can a cruise missile, other than moving “kill Americans” higher on both sides to-do lists. –Unless we’re willing to bomb the place to depopulation and start over, which hasn’t really been considered cricket since Rome did it to Carthage.

    As others have pointed out, the issue is deployment. The other issue is, the US or our assets in the region are not the most likely first out-of-country target for chem/bio-war “WMDs.” Nope, that’d be Israel. Have they said they’re worried yet?

    • Rob Crawford says:

      Unless we’re willing to bomb the place to depopulation and start over, which hasn’t really been considered cricket since Rome did it to Carthage.

      Weird. It’s been done thousands of times since then, to no complaints.

      • Roberta X says:

        To entire nations? Or are you referring to Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki…?

        Where Carthage was, nothing is. Where those cities were…are still those cities. Compared to Rome, we’re pikers.

        • Matthew Carberry says:

          ubi Carthago est, nihil est

          Probably wrong tenses and such (google translate), but pithy. I like it.

  6. HappyWarrior6 says:

    The U.S. needs to stay out of it. It was a bad idea under Bush and just as bad under Obama. When will we learn? Appears we still haven’t, and ignorance is a bi-partisan tradition. But keep supporting the continued adventure in the Middle East… I’m sure Rep. Pete King will agree with you that it’s worth the effort.

  7. Ron says:

    I think there is an element here that is responding from a humanitarian point of view. I hear it said “we can’t stand idly by while innocents are being killed”. While I agree that in itself is a travesty,,,, we are NOT in charge. America needs to stop acting like the world’s keeper.

    Any efforts now on our part will add (???) extra financial burden to America. Any efforts now on our part will not eliminate the “bad element” here, but rather leave just enough to reform/regroup to become a problem AGAIN a short time from now.

    We should examine WHAT is our reward, what will be accomplished, what will be gained by our involvement.

    • Matt says:

      Innocents get killed in the world all the time. Bombings, election violence, coups, China, etc. No one is demanding that the USA step in to fix those issues and help people whose only crime was being part of the wrong tribe or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      The USA doesn’t win either way. Even if the world thinks “Something must be done!”, they are saying it while looking in the USA’s direction. And when the USA acts, they accuse the USA of being where it doesn’t belong, being imperalist, “Blood for Oil!”, etc. So let’s stop. If the world powers believe so strongly in an issue, let them talk the UN into sending troops under their own auspices.

      Even if Syria was turned into a chemically induced charnel house without a living soul, is it our duty as the USA to prevent it? And if we are going to intervene, I take the view we live up to the assumptions of the critics and go whole hog. Not to stop the violence, drop some bombs and go home. Take over the place. Kill off the existing government and do it British colony-style. Set up American schools, force English, teach western culture and so on. Transform it into the next democratic beacon Liberals dream about but can’t seem to understand why it doesn’t emerge (a whole other post).

      And since THAT isn’t going to happen, let it be others problem. I’m sure the concerned human rights leaders there like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and so on will jump right in to prevent wholesale slaughter in Syria. And if the Assad regime decides a little distraction is necessary and lobs chemical shells towards Israel, this problem will be short-lived indeed.

  8. dustydog says:

    Should hit Iran directly. Nuclear sites need bombing, sends the right message, doesn’t help our enemies.

    What’s actually going to happen, is we’re going to have a jet or two shot down over Syria, and have the pilots taken hostage.

  9. Rob Crawford says:

    A few equivocal claims of gas attacks is nowhere near the evidence we had in 2003. With Iraq, we had their own records showing they produced X amount of various chemicals and had destroyed Y, with X > Y. Their failure to account for the difference and continued violations of the Gulf War cease-fire, were casus belli. Bush also got Congressional approval.

    • HappyWarrior6 says:

      And even then we had no reason to believe that Iraq’s affairs had anything to do with attacks (or potential attacks) on the U.S., despite what the neocons proclaimed, yet we went in. If it was dubious then, it’s just as dubious now.

    • AndyN says:

      Their failure to account for the difference and continued violations of the Gulf War cease-fire, were casus belli.

      By any number of historical precedents, we were already at war with Iraq when Bush 43 took office and had been for the entirety of the Clinton presidency. Iraq immediately began violating the terms of the cease fire, attempted to assassinate a former US president and routinely targeted US aircraft that were trying to enforce the terms of the cease fire. For our part, US aircraft would respond with force to being targeted over no-fly zones and the US navy was prosecuting a naval blockade against Iraq.

      Bush 43 didn’t start a war with Iraq, he put events in motion to end the war we’d been fighting with Iraq for more than a decade. The decision to do that and the way the US went about doing it may have been questionable, but that doesn’t make it analogous to deciding to begin bombing a country with which we’re not currently militarily engaged.

      • Patrick H says:

        Historical precendents don’t equal constitutional authorization. There is no declaration of war against Iraq, hence any action is unconstitutional.

        • Geodkyt says:

          Actually, Patrick, the Supreme Court ruled on that issue, oh, about 200 years ago. When Congress authorizes the President to deploy the military to break things and hurt people, it’s a “war”, one that Congress declared. the Constitution is completely silent on the necessary wording of a declaration of war — and SCOTUS had to adjudicate this at the end of the EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. From when Congress issued (what would now be called) an AUMF over the “Quasi War”.

          The Authorization for the Use of Military Force met the SCOTUS definition of a Declaration of War. “Mr. President, you are authorized to unleash the Dogs of War and go make war on those other guys.” Period, end of argument.

          Shocking, I know, to realize that the Constitution ISN’T the Necronomicon from Army of Darkness, where if you don’t use the EXACT MAGIC WORDS, it doesn’t count.

          • Patrick H says:

            But you have to use the principles it meant at the time. They did not mean that Congress could give the President the power to declare. Congress had to. A declaration is a statement of fact. “I am a Republican” is a declaration of party affliation. “We are at war” is a declaration that we are fighting another country.

            Semantics matters in constitutional arguments.

      • Geodkyt says:

        Exactly — there was an effective (and legal) Declaration of War (see below, where I discuss how an AUMF is legally a Declaration of War) already in place from 1991 (BEFORE DESERT STORM was launched), and no peace treaty to end it — only a long running ceasefire.

        So, DESERT STORM was legal. The ceasefire was legal. And under both US law and the international Laws of War, the very first time Saddam steped over the ceasefire restrictions, the US (or ANY coalition member, individually or collectively) was 100% authorized to go “Game on!”

    • Patrick H says:

      Except we all knew then they didn’t have WMDs, and that was confirmed after the war.

      There was no justification to go to war against Iraq. Zero.

      • AndyN says:

        As of the middle of last year the UK was still helping the Iraqi government dispose of those non-existent WMD…

        http://news.yahoo.com/uk-experts-help-iraq-destroy-chemical-residues-144204378.html

        “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” — RR

        • HappyWarrior6 says:

          Right… Chemical weapons that were (according to the article you posted) in Iraq’s possession since before the Gulf War. Weapons that were never ever used in the U.S., or used against American non-combatants.

          Did we ever go to war in Iraq because of the threat they posed to the United States? Didn’t think so. Even Bush didn’t think so.

          It was an undeclared war of choice, as is Syria. As is anything else that will be done in the ME.

          • Actually, what Bush said was that the first clear evidence we might have would be the loss of an American city. Saddam Hussein’s past history of chemical weapons attacks on his own citizens, his unwillingness to allow U.N. inspectors, and his previous history of terrorist support (including the first Twin Towers bombing), all gave good reason to worry about him.

            The actual invasion and occupation were badly handled on many levels.

            • Patrick H says:

              Which of course was a stupid statement by Bush because Saddam had ZERO capability to attack a US city. Also there is ZERO evidence that Saddam that used chemical weapons on his own citizens. Who cares about UN inspectors. The only reason to worry about him is if your are completely paranoid and want to start a war.

              • If you have access to FedEx, you have the ability to deliver WMDs to the U.S.

                And yes, the evidence that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on his own citizens is overwhelming. This was well-established, and even those opposing the war reocognized the truth of it.

                Ideology is not a substitute for facts.

                • Patrick H says:

                  But you have to HAVE the WMDs first. And Saddam didn’t.

                  No, the evidence was not overwhelming. You need to do some research. Its highly unlikely he used them on his own citizens. More likely is the Iranians used them. Much more likely.

                  Not sure about your last part there- that seems to apply to you, since you have no facts.

                  • Geodkyt says:

                    Saddam HAD teh weapons. The UN inspection teams (UNSCOM) bloody well COUNTED THEM and stuck them in a warehouse with a UN seal on them BEFORE the 2003 invasion.

                    They also were forced to leave them behind, unguarded, after they were thrown out in 1998. Those weapons have never been accounted for.

                    I guess the VX fairy made them disappear, eh?

                    Seriously, were you in a coma throughout the entire Clinton Administration (which is when “regime change in Iraq” became US law (passed 360 -38 in teh House, passed unanimously by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton)?

                    Here’s another blast from the past:

                    President Clinton stated in February 1998:

                    Iraq admitted, among other things, an offensive biological warfare capability, notably, 5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs. And I might say UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq has actually greatly understated its production…. Over the past few months, as [the weapons inspectors] have come closer and closer to rooting out Iraq’s remaining nuclear capacity, Saddam has undertaken yet another gambit to thwart their ambitions by imposing debilitating conditions on the inspectors and declaring key sites which have still not been inspected off limits…. It is obvious that there is an attempt here, based on the whole history of this operation since 1991, to protect whatever remains of his capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, the missiles to deliver them, and the feed stocks necessary to produce them. The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons…. Now, let’s imagine the future. What if he fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal…

    • One of the concerns is that the gas attacks might in fact have been done by al-Qaeda factions among the rebels, either intentionally against civilians, or incompetence. I still find it more likely that Syria did it, but I would love to see some more clear evidence on this.

  10. Voolfie says:

    I like dustydog’s idea.

    But, the reality is if we don’t spank Assad, then we can’t very well lecture Iran when they deploy WMDs.

    I’m not saying it makes much sense, but it’s about being feared – something we’ve lost, apparently.

    • HappyWarrior6 says:

      There’s no need to “spank” anyone here…

      The only question we should be asking is: Are they in an immediate position to strike us based on their capabilities. Iran isn’t there. Syria isn’t even close, and no one is even arguing Syria poses a threat to the U.S. So why the aggression?

      • Voolfie says:

        It’s got nothing to do with Syria. The ONLY reason we’re going to attack Syria is to show Iran that we won’t tolerate the deployment of WMD. This is all about Iran.

        • HappyWarrior6 says:

          And what about Iran?

          • Voolfie says:

            They are hard at work on a nuclear weapons program. And whereas they bankroll a fair amount of the Islamic terrorism in the region, it is generally conceded that their possession of such weapons is a bad idea. However, we can’t (although perhaps we should) just go in and bomb them, because they haven’t done anything *yet*.

            • HappyWarrior6 says:

              Will you not stop until we have ripped apart the Middle East and killed our own troops doing it for something nebulous? This was the folly of Clinton, Bush, and now “the peacemaker” Obama. Leave us out of it.

              • Voolfie says:

                Look, I agree with you. BUT…it may very well be pay me now or pay me later. If we ignore Assad, then ignore Iran – there’s a better than 50/50 chance that Israel will do something about them and then the whole region could explode. How does a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel sound to you? Do you think that might impact our ‘National Interest’? One needs to at least recognize the ‘Big Picture’.

  11. Patrick H says:

    If WMDs were enough justification to insert ourselves into Iraq, why isn’t it justification enough to insert ourselves into Syria? Especially given we know the Syrians have WMDs. We’ve seen them use them on their own people within the past few weeks. We’re not going on a bunch of outdated intelligence and fuzzy pictures presented in front of the United Nations like we were in 2003.

    Because it wasn’t enough justification back then, so it shouldn’t be now. This is exactly like Iraq- false evidence of WMDs. We had no evidence back then, and we have no evidence now. Plus, there is no Congressional Declaration of War. Congress doesn’t approve what the President does, they tell the President to do. Iraq was also unconstitutional for that reason. If we want the 2nd amendment to be respected, we need to respect the rest of the Constitution.

    Also. the warfare state reduces liberty at home. We see that with every war- declared and undeclared- we get into. Going to war against Syria is terrible and unconstitutional.

    But it is funny to see the Peace President go to war.

    • Patrick H says:

      Whoops that first paragraph was supposed to be a quote.

      If WMDs were enough justification to insert ourselves into Iraq, why isn’t it justification enough to insert ourselves into Syria? Especially given we know the Syrians have WMDs. We’ve seen them use them on their own people within the past few weeks. We’re not going on a bunch of outdated intelligence and fuzzy pictures presented in front of the United Nations like we were in 2003.

      Because it wasn’t enough justification back then, so it shouldn’t be now. This is exactly like Iraq- false evidence of WMDs. We had no evidence back then, and we have no evidence now. Plus, there is no Congressional Declaration of War. Congress doesn’t approve what the President does, they tell the President to do. Iraq was also unconstitutional for that reason. If we want the 2nd amendment to be respected, we need to respect the rest of the Constitution.
      Also. the warfare state reduces liberty at home. We see that with every war- declared and undeclared- we get into. Going to war against Syria is terrible and unconstitutional.
      But it is funny to see the Peace President go to war.

      • Not false, actually. After the war, even Saddam Hussein admitted that he prevented inspectors not because he wanted the U.S. to think he still had WMDs, but because he wanted Iran to think so. In addition, there was that Iraqi Air Force Vice Air Marshal who claims that many flights were sent to Syria to remove WMDs from Iraq before the invasion. There is a bit of corroborative evidence for his claims, including unusually high air traffic from Iraq to Syria in the last few days.

        The Authorization of Military Force is considered by the courts to be the equivalent of a declaration of war.

        • Patrick H says:

          Yes it was false. He had no WMDs. There was no proof. It was unjustified.

          Yes, because the courts are always right. Authorization of Military force does not equal Declaration of War.

          • Matthew Carberry says:

            20/20 hindsight.

            If a guy comes up to you with his hand behind his back or in his pocket as if holding a gun and tells you to give him your money “or else”, is your position that you will wait until he actually shoots you, or shows you the gun, perhaps lets you handle it, before you will treat his armed robbery threat as serious and credible?

            • Patrick H says:

              Totally different situations. That is an imminent threat, directly in front of you. Saddam who “might” have WMDs (but probably doesn’t) and “might” use them (but probably wouldn’t if he did), is not an imminent threat.

              • Matthew Carberry says:

                I was responding to your 20/20 hindsight about WMDs, not the ultimate justification for invasion.

                You may be right on the latter, but don’t bootstrap it with a bad argument on the former.

          • Geodkyt says:

            Well, Patrick, you better hop in your time machine and go back 200 years, and convince the Supreme Court of the United States they were wrong.

            The Constitution doesn’t specifiy that a declaration fo war contain ANY particular language, including the words, “declaration”, “of”, or “war”, so SCOTUS determined that when Congress says to go make war on someone, THAT is a “declaration of war”.

            • Patrick H says:

              What case are you citing? Link please?

              Maybe they don’t have to say “we declare war on country X” but they can’t say “the president can use force on this country if he wants.”

              As DoW is a declaration of action against a country. Its not well maybe, its we are at war. And war allows the President to do things, like actually wage it. He can’t wage war if war hasn’t be declared.

    • HappyWarrior6 says:

      Like I said… I’ll wait to see the warmongers among us agree with Pete King, Lindsay Graham, etc. that “during war times” (i.e., pretty much most of our lives if we are 40 or under) we must curtail those pesky civil liberties here at home for a greater good abroad.

      • Patrick H says:

        But we need to KILL EM TURRISTS! Won’t somebody think of the TURRISTS!?!?!?!

        • Tam says:

          Actually, this time we’re going to be flying close air support FOR the terrorists.

          Instead of bombing al Qaeda, we’re going to be bombing the people trying to kill al Qaeda.

          The GWoT is not over, we’ve just joined the other side by proxy.

          • Patrick H says:

            Which just shows why we should stay out of overseas interventions and the “GWoT”.

          • Matthew Carberry says:

            One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and apparently the distinction is based on mailing address.

  12. Andy B. says:

    This article in the New York Times suggests that Obama will use Clinton’s Kosovo model for authority for air strikes against Syria without UN authorization.

    The original article I had encountered on that subject, from a source I forget but recall as being left-leaning, suggested that Clinton’s compulsion for cobbling up a case for bombing in Kosovo, included the simple motive of establishing a precedent that he or future presidents could emulate in the future. The current situation with Syria makes that plausible.

  13. If only there were a way to stop use of chemical weapons against civilians without helping the al-Qaeda-backed cannibalistic rebels. We had the chance to back reasonable rebels against the Syrian government, but the Obama Administration, which was going to engage in “smart diplomacy” screwed that up, and now it is largely barbarians vs. barbarians. The longer they are killing each other, the less time they have to kill us.

    Perhaps punishing the Syrian government in some way makes sense. I would love to know where the nerve agents came from. You may recall the Iraqi Vice Air Marshal who claimed that Iraq shipped its nerve agents to Syria just before the Coalition invaded. And oddly enough, sarin, an Iraqi specialty, was one of the agents that al-Qaeda attempted to use against Amman, Jordan in 2004…smuggled in from Syria.

    • Matthew Carberry says:

      That would be the interesting find, the storage canisters the stuff came out of.

  14. OldTexan says:

    I was not happy when we put boots on the ground in any of the Muslim countries and I have grave doubts that bombing the crap out of stuff will have any long term benefit. Using western logic to understand and define problems in countries where the people have religious and tribal warfare that has been going on for centuries within the boundaries of countries that were formed almost 100 years ago in France leaves me not even knowing what the questions should be, much less the answers.

    I am more than willing to let some other countries that live a little closer to the situation screw this round up while we sit this one out. History shows that these folk tend to identify with the closest warlord and they will fight like marshmallows agreeing to anything for a short term then reverting back to serving their religious leaders and warlords like a tide coming back in.

    I want a strong proud USA with a military that will assure that anyone who messes with us is assured a fast everlasting vaporization, preferably not nukes, and that does not seem to be the message in recent years. We do not need any half-assed, one hand tied behind our back war and if we have to put our military in harms way it needs to be for keeps with a price no aggressor wants to pay and it should also cost us enough so that every person in this country knows that we are in a serious war. But that will not happen so I will just have to watch how this round of gun boat diplomacy plays out and I am a bit pessimistic that much good will come of it.

  15. Roberta X says:

    We need to stop bombing the world. Sooner or later, more of ’em will try bombing us back. I dunno how you win friends but I’m pretty clear on how to make enemies.

    • Andy B. says:

      I forget who I’m quoting, but someone once said “To stop poking a stick into a hornets’ nest, is not to cave in to the hornets.”

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