Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The worst possible reason to bomb Syria

Although I strongly oppose initiating any kind of military action against Syria, I do concede that there is an argument to be made for it.  But this ain't it:
A failure to take action over Syria's use of chemical weapons would damage the credibility America's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Tuesday. 
"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Hagel told a Senate hearing, according to prepared remarks. 
"The word of the United States must mean something."
Here's the thing: the United States never committed to any action in Syria.  The president of the United States shot his mouth off in an ill-considered comment that he clearly did not think through.  But the president of the United States is not the same thing as the United States.  Equating a nation with its chief executive is the very definition of a dictatorship, and the United States is not (yet) a dictatorship.

As long as I'm on this topic, have you noticed how Obama takes great pains never to accuse Assad of violating international law, only international "norms"?  This is because Obama knows that as long as Assad has Putin in his corner the U.N. will never approve military action against Syria.  So Obama is hanging his hat on the international "norms" peg precisely because it's not a well defined term, and so Obama can apply Humpty Dumpty's theory of semantics and make the word mean whatever he wants.  (You know, bombing sovereign nations that have not aggressed against you and pose no security risk to you is also arguably a violation of international "norms.")

But this leaves Obama with a very serious problem: our allies have (wisely IMO) abandoned him. The U.N. is paralyzed by Russia, so his only remaining option is unilateral action.  But think about this: if he orders an attack on a sovereign nation for no reason other than that its leader violated international norms (whatever that might mean), what exactly remains to distinguish Barack Obama from Osama bin Laden, other than that Obama has a better PR department and a bigger arsenal?  Here's the thing everyone tends to forget about the so-called "terrorists": they don't think of themselves as the bad guys.  They think they're fighting the good fight just as much as we do (maybe more).  The only claim we have to any moral high ground in this conflict is that we adhere to the rule of law and they don't.  If Obama bombs Syria on his own initiative, not because Assad broke the law but merely because he violated norms, then Obama alone will have to bear the terrible consequences of that decision.  And I think that in his heart of hearts Obama knows that he has screwed the pooch, and he's not willing to go further out on this limb by himself.

I think this is the reason he decided to go to Congress, to provide himself with butt cover.  He wants to be able to share the blame in case this thing goes south (which is not at all unlikely -- we have an exceptionally poor track record when we try to meddle in the Middle East).  And he doesn't want to go down in history as the man who cut down the last law to go after the devil.  Not even George Bush ever went that far.


Tony Mach said...

You seem to have an interest in words and their meaning, and thinking the meaning of words through – yet I somehow get the feeling that you did not think through what you meant when you wrote that the UN security council was/is "paralysed" by Russia. Is it "paralysed" in the same way the British parliament was paralysed when it said no to Cameron's war plans for Syria?

Personally I think you have uncritically taken the position the MSM (not only in the US) floats about Russia (and the UN), and I would advise you to dig a little bit deeper in things concerning Russia and the UN (which BTW is more than the security council) and especially the relationship the US governments have to Russia and the UN. And taking uncritically the perceived common wisdom (with its reflection in the MSM) is not a wise choice in that matter (or any other) – but I would think you already know that.

Tony Mach said...

And one more point (there are lot's more, but this has to suffice): The UN is an organisation created to settle the affairs *between* states. The UN has actually no business interfering in the internal affairs of states (no matter how awful they are). For such tasks, there was (at least here in Europe) the "Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe", but the US governments have lost interest in the OSCE the minute the Soviet Union got dissolved (go figure).

Personally I think this trend of using the UN to interfere in the internal affairs of states is ill though out, as this is used mainly by the US to advance its interests (and not the claimed human rights). How would it be perceived if the so called "war on drugs" was declared inhumane and unlawful (which it is, in my not so humble opinion) by an international body, and the governments of Russia and China would call for the bombing of DEA and FBI offices? Or if the UN would declare Guantánamo base and the countless black site to be inhumane torture prisons (which they are) and call for the bombing of military and government installations in the US?

(Not to mention that after such "surgical" strikes are approved the targets of such bombing campaigns suddenly include civilian infrastructure, industry, commerce and media – you can find examples for this in the past two decades. And since when is the correct response to "He is killing his people!!!!!" to go and demand "We want to kill his people too!!!!!")

Ron said...

> you did not think through what you meant when you wrote that the UN security council was/is "paralysed"

That's possible. I did not give that word a whole lot of thought when I wrote it. Nonetheless, I'll stand by it for the moment because...

> Is it "paralysed" in the same way the British parliament was paralysed when it said no to Cameron's war plans for Syria?

No, of course not. The British parliament was not paralyzed at all. It actually made a decision. It wasn't the decision Cameron or Obama wanted, but it was a decision nonetheless.

The security council is "paralyzed" because Russia has a veto, everyone knows that Russia will use that veto to prevent the council from authorizing military force against Syria, and so the issue isn't even being raised. It's a very different situation.

> I think you have uncritically taken the position the MSM

What is the MSM?

> the UN ... is more than the security council

Of course it is, but the security council is the part of the U.N. that authorizes the use of military force.

Ron said...

> The UN has actually no business interfering in the internal affairs of states (no matter how awful they are)

The use of chemical weapons is not an internal affair. There actually is a treaty prohibiting their use.


It has been signed by most of the countries on the planet. Syria is one of the five exceptions.

Tony Mach said...

I think the international law as it is being interpreted and practised by the US government (and recorded by the MSM) to be a farce, and arguing about (real and imaginary) shortcomings of non-US entities to completely and utterly miss the point. Alas, I don't think I have much to add except that I find myself gravitating again and again to the speech Harold Pinter gave some time ago:

Maybe you will find it helpful too.

(Substitute in my last post "lot's" with "lots" and "OSCE" with "CSCE/OSCE")

Ron said...

I did not watch the video (too long) but I read the transcript:


I'm not sure why you referred me to it. I think Harold Pinter is a little wacko, but there is very little in the substance of what he says that I disagree with.

BTW, the LA Times is reporting that Putin says he could support a military strike against Syria if it were proven that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. I don't know whether this is a ploy or if he's being sincere. Either way, it surprised me.