Syria: A Colossal Foreign Policy Blunder That Obama Can Still Avoid

It has been some time since this blog has addressed foreign policy, but the Obama administration is about to make a mistake so reckless, ill-conceived, and cataclysmically stupid that failing to speak out about it before it happens would be a travesty.

Why Are We Contemplating Intervention in Syria?

The administration’s case for war appears to boil down to two arguments: the US has a moral obligation to help Syrian civilians and the US’s credibility is at stake if it does not intervene. While these arguments are certainly necessary for war, they are not sufficient reasons to expend American blood and treasure in Syria.

Humanitarian Intervention As Casus Belli

The moral argument goes something like this: while Assad has been indiscriminately killing civilians for some time now, using chemical weapons against them involves a whole new level of brutality akin to genocide. As such, as the world’s sole surviving superpower, the US ought to set a precedent in which it punishes such behavior to discourage future WMD use by greater enemies like Iran.

The problem with this line of reason is obvious: the US has limited resources, so while a moral case for war is necessary, it is not sufficient. For one thing, the standard the United States is setting is an impossible one to achieve in practice. That is, it is impossible for the American military to punish every country that violates human rights or uses chemical weapons.

Becoming the world’s humanitarian champion is a pretty high bar, and one that has dangerous consequences. For instance, what if China were to use chemical weapons on its own citizens? Would the United States intervene there? Of course not, so why should the US set itself up for credibility gaps like this in the future?

Moreover, much of the current situation stems from the president’s own misinterpretation of long-standing US policy. The red line is not whether a country uses chemical weapons, but whether that country uses chemical weapons against the United States or its allies. And if the Obama administration thinks the rebels are its allies, it hasn’t been paying attention to the events of the last decade.

And there’s the rub: President Obama misapplied the “red line” comment to the wrong country (Syria rather than Iran) for the wrong reason (use of WMD against US enemies vs. use of WMD against US interests and/or allies), thereby cementing the United States to an ill-advised policy that none of Obama’s foreign policy advisors (with the exception of Samantha Power) would have ever recommended. And that brings us to the administration’s second argument: credibility.

The War to Maintain Credibility

To be blunt, that President Obama’s moment of ill-conceived policy improvisation requires the country to go to war with a country that is killing our enemies with chemical weapons is insane.

That’s right. Insane.

For President Obama, a failure to plan or study policy on his part does not justify dragging three hundred million people to war on their part.

It is…wait for it…insane.

What’s even more objectionable is that if the Obama administration gave one whit about credibility, particularly over WMD issues, it would never have bombed Libya. Why? Because the Qaddafi regime had given up its WMD precisely because it trusted that such an act would protect it from future US military action. Instead, bombing Libya made the case for every would-be proliferator on the planet that if they gave up their WMD programs, they would open themselves up to US military intervention.

Moreover, the United States has a long-standing precedent to not interfere with chemical weapons use against non-US allies. For example, chemical weapons use by Iraq in the 1980s against Iran did not provoke a US military response. In fact, the United States supplied the Iraqis with grid coordinates to maximize Iranian casualties!

So this is not about credibility. The Libyan intervention destroyed our credibility. It is about pride. The president’s pride. And rather than suck it up and admit that he screwed up, the president is dragging three-hundred plus million Americans to war with him.

Just How Stupid Is War with Syria?

The short answer is: incredibly stupid. The long answer is: Incredibly, colossally, insanely, drastically stupid.

In any menu of policy options, foreign policy practitioners should always include the status quo as an option. In most instances, the status quo is a straw man against which analysts can compare other, more likely, policy options, but in this instance, the status quo is the best option for several reasons.

First, Assad is fighting and killing many of the same actors US forces fought in Iraq, particularly elements of al Qaeda. In fact, Assad’s regime sent many of them to Iraq in the first place in buses to fight US forces. Now, after having trained against the greatest war machine on the planet, these jihadists have returned to fight Assad in a classic manifestation of the platitude: “you reap what you sow.” Why should the United States care whether Assad dispatches them with conventional or chemical weapons? America’s enemies are slaughtering each other, and it is costing tax payers nothing. Why intervene?

Second, what is the United States trying to accomplish here? The president has already made it clear that he does not seek regime change nor does not expect Assad to change his behavior as a result of these potential cruise missile strikes. Instead, Obama wants to send Assad a “message”? I suppose the message is that Assad ought not use chemical weapons on his own people. However, the last time the United States launched cruise missiles into Afghani pup tents following al Qaeda’s bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, it emboldened rather than cowed America’s enemies, ultimately culminating in the 9/11 attacks in New York. So does the president really believe these attacks will influence Syrian behavior? Even worse, isn’t there a risk that by weakening the Syrian regime, the Obama administration might force Assad to rely increasingly on chemical weapons to win?

Third, it is not obvious that the administration has clearly thought through the end game here. Unfortunately, this is nothing new, because from events in Libya and Egypt, it is pretty clear that the administration was flying by the seat of its pants in those events too. For instance, how will the strikes impact Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile? What if a US strike weakens the Assad regime to the point that it loses control of its chemical weapons much like Qaddafi’s regime lost control of much of its heavy weaponry, which is currently dispersed among Islamists who are wreaking havoc throughout Africa? Given that many of the rebels literally represent al Qaeda, is taking action even remotely worth such a risk? Which is a greater national security threat to the US: Assad with chemical weapons or al Qaeda with them?

Exactly.

Fourth, the enemy always has a vote, and Syria has Hezbollah, which makes al Qaeda look like a chihuahua. Imagine if Syria retaliated by dispatching Hezbollah operatives to the US and blowing up Starbucks and mini-malls. How would Americans react? If you don’t think most Americans wouldn’t demand boots on the ground, you didn’t learn anything from 9/11. And if you think Assad wouldn’t take such an action, you should remind yourself that he’s gassed his own people. To him, Americans are probably just another breed of cockroach in need of extermination.

Fifth, in addition to escalation between the US and Syria, this war also threatens regional escalation. Imagine if Iran gets involved to the point that it threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz and attempts to destabilize Iraq and/or Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The world would have $200 oil in no time. So when it comes to the potential for escalation, the United States is playing with fire here.

Sixth, since the United States lacks UN, NATO, and probably Congressional support, any war on Syria will lack legitimacy from the get-go. UN approval is a nice-to-have, but not necessary. However, when America’s closest ally (Britain), many American politicians and 91% of US citizens think this war is a bad idea, the president should listen.

Ultimately, the situation in Syria is nothing more than an internecine conflict between Sunnis and Shia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. All of them are bad actors. If we intervene and Assad wins, we lose. If Assad loses, we lose even bigger – a Sunni Caliphate run by al Qaeda in Syria is about the worst conceivable scenario, and a US attack on Assad would push the region closer to its realization.

In case I didn’t make it clear: a war with Syria is insane.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Defense, Energy Security, Leadership, Middle East, Policy, Politics, Terrorism, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Syria: A Colossal Foreign Policy Blunder That Obama Can Still Avoid

  1. lbwoodgate says:

    Before I weigh in here Sean let me posit that I too have strong reservations about intervening in yet another Middle eastern conflict. If it were not for the senseless slaughter of women and children with chemical weapons I would have no problem opposing it totally. ALL wars are insane and should be avoided at all costs save for absolute necessity to defend one’s turf.

    My comments here reflect, as they have in the past, that your “rational” views are not always broadly thought-out and seem to lack objectivity. They are simply low-keyed arguments to rip at Obama. Not that he should be immune from being ripped at. I have my own disagreements and disappointments with the guy. But here, where you’re trying to make an argument against military intervention in Syria, your basis should be on the policies that support intervention and argue against them. Policies which by the way have been employed by both sides of the political spectrum but seem to only get attention when your political adversaries are guilty of carrying them out.

    You are indeed a rational republican but all that appears to be is that you attack with less visceral emotion and with fewer straw man arguments than those extremists on the right who get way too much press coverage.

    So let’s begin

    “it is impossible for the American military to punish every country that violates human rights or uses chemical weapons.”

    So, if can’t save everyone, we should try not to save anyone?

    “The red line is not whether a country uses chemical weapons, but whether that country uses chemical weapons against the United States or its allies.”

    Really? The U.S. and Syria were both signatories to the 1925 Geneva protocol that prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare. The U.S. is a member of the U.N. and has signed on to abide by all the upgrades to that protocol which now outlaws the development, production or stockpiling of chemical weapons.

    ”What’s even more objectionable is that if the Obama administration gave one whit about credibility, particularly over WMD issues, it would never have bombed Libya.”
    What?? You’ve lost me here Sean. How did Obama use the WMD card in bombing Libyan targets to protect the rebels. I wasn’t aware that he did? When you say that Qadaffi “trusted that such an act (eliminating his WMDs) would protect him from future US military action” did you not consider that there would be other legitimate, humane reasons for U.S. military action there? I think you have stretched a notion here that lacks credibility.

    ”Moreover, the United States has a long-standing precedent to not interfere with chemical weapons use against non-US allies. For example, chemical weapons use by Iraq in the 1980s against Iran did not provoke a US military response.”

    A “long-standing precedent”? What other country, that we were not already at war with (re: Germany, Italy, Japan during WWII) has used chemical weapons before Hussein used them on the Kurds? Our moral compass was defective when the U.S. failed to sign on to a draft resolution to condemn Iraq’s use of chemical weapons on the Iranians. Vengeance, not morality prevented the U.S. from supporting that resolution which by the way was drafted by the Iranians. And let’s not forget that the big reason we went to war with Iraq in 2003 (one that turned out to be baseless) was because we felt they had WMDs that included chemical weapons.

    ”So this is not about credibility. The Libyan intervention destroyed our credibility. It is about pride. The president’s pride.”

    Seriously Sean? Speaking about losing credibility. There is no basis that I am aware for making this claim. And if this is an intolerable motivation for you, then where was your outrage when Bush in part justified going to war in Iraq, way before 9/11 occurred, because Saddam tried to kill his daddy?

    ” Assad is fighting and killing many of the same actors US forces fought in Iraq, particularly elements of al Qaeda.”

    This, IMO, is a very weak argument because we all know that if al-qaeda were the only ones that Assad was killing then there would not even be rumors of using our military in Syria

    ”Second, what is the United States trying to accomplish here?”

    The answer to this question seems clear. Stop the killing of innocent women and children and the rapid flow of refugees, most of them children, into Jordan and other neighboring countries. I will agree with you however that Obama has not effectively shown how simply sending a few cruise missals into Damascus to scare Assad will prevent the repression of the Syrian people. Whatever action we take is likely to have future ramifications much like what has occurred since we’ve invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

    ”the United States lacks UN, NATO, and probably Congressional support, any war on Syria will lack legitimacy from the get-go”

    Actually, Republicans and many conservative Democrats are ready to intervene in Syria but simply want the president to present his case to Congress first and let them make the declaration, per the constitution. The UN is not opposed to intervention. It simply wants to wait until their inspectors can validate the obvious use of chemical weapons and ascertain as best they can who in fact used them. So this point is really a straw man at this time Sean.

    ”Ultimately, the situation in Syria is nothing more than an internecine conflict between Sunnis and Shia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. All of them are bad actors. If we intervene and Assad wins, we lose.”

    A point could be made that if we and the rest of the civilized world doesn’t act on someone using chemical weapons to contain political opposition then we send a message that its use on a broader scale is allowable. Do we want our men and women in uniform spread around the world to face this ugly reality?

    Your turn. 🙂

    • LB,

      My thoughts are very well-thought out and rational. Moreover, you still haven’t made a case for why the US should intervene. Here is my response, point-by-point:

      “So, if can’t save everyone, we should try not to save anyone?”

      Not at all. But you should only intervene if and only if it furthers US interests. Intervening in this war will do nothing but harm our interests. Again, what is worse for US interests: Assad with chemical weapons or al Qaeda-affiliated rebels with them? If the US intervenes, is it more or less likely that this happens given the precedent in Libya in which heavy weaponry made its way throughout Africa spurring increased conflict in areas like Mali?

      The president hasn’t made a clear case for how this intervention furthers American interests. Period.

      “Really? The U.S. and Syria were both signatories to the 1925 Geneva protocol that prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare. The U.S. is a member of the U.N. and has signed on to abide by all the upgrades to that protocol which now outlaws the development, production or stockpiling of chemical weapons.”

      So what? Iraq was a signatory as well. Why didn’t the left trumpet this as a casus belli against Iraq in 2003? Why didn’t the right? Why didn’t the right cite it as a reason to intervene in the 1980s? And Syria has been developing, producing and stockpiling chemical weapons for decades? Where was your case for intervention then?

      Moreover, you conveniently neglected to mention that Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which is the more relevant treaty in this case.

      And why the United States? Russia and China are signatories of the CWC? Why can’t they intervene?

      And why isn’t the United States attacking Iran, who actually is a signatory of the CWC, but has been stockpiling chemical weapons?

      It is absurd and reckless to draw an arbitrary red line whenever anyone uses chemical weapons against anyone. The US has always been more focused. The reason the US invaded Iraq is that the Bush administration was concerned that Saddam Hussein would transfer WMD to terrorist confederates like al Qaeda and Hussein had already been firing at our aircraft enforcing a no-fly zone. Despite working with Hezbollah for decades, Syria has never transferred its chemical weapons to a terrorist organization. However, by weakening the Assad regime, these weapons are more likely to fall into terrorist hands.

      Given the options here, doing something that increases the possibility of such an end state makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

      “What?? You’ve lost me here Sean. How did Obama use the WMD card in bombing Libyan targets to protect the rebels. I wasn’t aware that he did? When you say that Qadaffi “trusted that such an act (eliminating his WMDs) would protect him from future US military action” did you not consider that there would be other legitimate, humane reasons for U.S. military action there? I think you have stretched a notion here that lacks credibility.”

      Obama did not use the WMD card. And that is the problem. One of Obama’s key arguments in bombing Syria is that if we don’t do it, the US’s “stick” on WMD use will lose its credibility. My point was that Obama’s previous actions have already destroyed US credibility in these matters. Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people before, and Obama did nothing. Why is it suddenly an issue now?

      In regards to Libya, Obama shot all US credibility regarding the veritable “carrot” of convincing countries to declare and destroy their WMD. Qaddafi got rid of his WMD program in response to American assurances that he would be rewarded for his behavior. President Bush delivered on this promise, but President Obama’s intervention reinforced the the belief for would-be proliferators that if a country gives up its WMD, it removes the last barrier protecting it from US intervention. The North Koreans rightly exploited US intervention in Libya as a textbook case of why countries should not trust American promises as a quid pro quo for disarmament.

      “This, IMO, is a very weak argument because we all know that if al-qaeda were the only ones that Assad was killing then there would not even be rumors of using our military in Syria”

      You’ve failed to establish how this a weak argument. Experts have claimed that the al Qaeda factions are the strongest ones among the insurgents, and are therefore the ones most likely to benefit from such a strike. These are the very same people who were actively killing American soldiers not long ago in Iraq, so I fail to see how this is a very weak argument. It is a highly relevant argument.

      Your hand-waving over the matter is a “very weak argument”. I’m going to need more than conjecture that “if al-qaeda were the only ones that Assad was killing then there would not even be rumors of using our military in Syria.” Of course, they’re not the only ones, they are just the strongest ones most likely to control Syria if Assad loses.

      “A “long-standing precedent”? What other country, that we were not already at war with (re: Germany, Italy, Japan during WWII) has used chemical weapons before Hussein used them on the Kurds?”

      Egypt used “mustard gas and possibly nerve agents during the North Yemen Civil War” and the United States ignored it. Why? It wasn’t in our national interest to intervene.

      “The answer to this question seems clear. Stop the killing of innocent women and children and the rapid flow of refugees, most of them children, into Jordan and other neighboring countries.”

      Again, we return to the credibility argument. Before the August 21st use of chemical munitions, the Syrian War had already killed 100,000 people. Why is President Obama suddenly concerned about stopping this killing. He had three years to do something, and now he decides to intervene. This is all too little, too late, though I have been arguing against intervention here from the get-go because the US has nothing to gain here. Let the Turks and Saudis step up and do something.

      It simply does not further our national interests.

      Obama hasn’t made a convincing argument about how this intervention furthers our national interests, and neither have you.

      “Actually, Republicans and many conservative Democrats are ready to intervene in Syria but simply want the president to present his case to Congress first and let them make the declaration, per the constitution. The UN is not opposed to intervention. It simply wants to wait until their inspectors can validate the obvious use of chemical weapons and ascertain as best they can who in fact used them. So this point is really a straw man at this time Sean.”

      Your first point about Congress is fair, and the Republicans (like John McCain) and conservative Democrats (+ partisan Pelosi) are wrong to support this war. But when 91% of voters are opposed to it, you can bet your ass that Congress in total will be hesitant to support it.

      But the UN is opposed to intervention, for now. A draft resolution for intervention authorizing military force in Syria failed earlier this week. As of right now, the UN has not authorized military action. That said, UN approval is far less important than Congressional approval. Until Congress votes to intervene, the US should not take military action. This action seems to be unfolding faster than any vote can conceivably happen.

      “A point could be made that if we and the rest of the civilized world doesn’t act on someone using chemical weapons to contain political opposition then we send a message that its use on a broader scale is allowable. Do we want our men and women in uniform spread around the world to face this ugly reality?”

      No, we don’t want our men and women in uniform spread throughout the world stopping every tin pot dictator from using chemical weapons on their own people, which is exactly why we shouldn’t intervene. If we set such a stupid precedent, we will be inclined to intervene when and if China uses chemical weapons on its people or when and if Burundi uses chemical weapons on its people. Regimes typically use these weapons when they are worried about regime change, so creating a precedent to deter future dictators from using them on their own people will never be effective.

      • lbwoodgate says:

        ”Moreover, you still haven’t made a case for why the US should intervene.”



        I think I have made as much of case to intervene as you have not to. Neither is set on a solid foundation. And to be clear. I am not supporting intervention without valid claims by the UN inspectors that Assad used chemical weapons and we have the backing of the UN to take action and the support of other nations including Arab countries. I pointed this out already Sean.

        But you should only intervene if and only if it furthers US interests.

        That’s debatable. There are moral grounds to intervene here even if we don’t gain everything we want.

        ”Intervening in this war will do nothing but harm our interests.”

        Again, a specious claim. Trying to save lives with no regard about how we will profit from it will always gain us the support of the world community at large. That has benefits that remain unrevealed at this time.

        ”what is worse for US interests: Assad with chemical weapons or al Qaeda-affiliated rebels with them? If the US intervenes, is it more or less likely that this happens given the precedent in Libya in which heavy weaponry made its way throughout Africa spurring increased conflict in areas like Mali?”

        Why is it automatically and either/or situation? Does our intervention have to allow for the transfer of weapons to unknown elements on the rebel side? How was what we did in Libya connected to what occurred in Mali. I haven’t seen any report that shows any “heavy weaponry” out of Libya that came from American sources.

        ”The president hasn’t made a clear case for how this intervention furthers American interests.”

        I haven’t denied this so please keep from reiterating it as if I had.

        ”Iraq was a signatory as well. Why didn’t the left trumpet this as a casus belli against Iraq in 2003?”

        The “left” encompasses quite a large group of diverse people Sean. For what it’s worth many did raise objections to Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. Many also supported the draft resolution to prevent Iraq from using chemical weapons in its war against Iran. The Reagan administration pretty much quashed any efforts to do this. In fact, it has since been revealed that the CIA under Reagan helped Iraq gas the Iranians.

        And Syria has been developing, producing and stockpiling chemical weapons for decades? Where was your case for intervention then?

        

Pardon me? I have always been opposed to the use of chemical warfare. Did you expect me to personally intervene or overthrow my government for this reason all alone? Quit attacking me as if I have been managing what our government has done over the years.

        ”Moreover, you conveniently neglected to mention that Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which is the more relevant treaty in this case.”

        To what end? I made it clear that the U.S. has and this gives credence to the argument for intervention, at least as a member of the UN and/or NATO. Not unilaterally

        ”And why the United States? Russia and China are signatories of the CWC? Why can’t they intervene?”

        For all of our failures to support efforts for fledging democracies, these two countries have always been all oppression. What else would you expect from them? Be serious.

        ”And why isn’t the United States attacking Iran, who actually is a signatory of the CWC, but has been stockpiling chemical weapons?”

        I have never indicated that the U.S. has a right to unilaterally act alone when such violations occur. We need to work with the UN and NATO to put pressure on these countries who violate international agreements. Failure to do so consistently always makes it a point of contention when we do choose to do so at various times

        ”It is absurd and reckless to draw an arbitrary red line whenever anyone uses chemical weapons against anyone. The US has always been more focused.”

        When we essentially gave our stamp of approval to Hussein in the 1980’s to gas the Kurds and use chemical weapons on the Iranians, what was our focus then? By not sticking with the strict standards set out in the the Geneva protocol as a super power we arbitrarily made it easier for people like Syria to produce and stockpile chemical weapons.

        ”The reason the US invaded Iraq is that the Bush administration was concerned that Saddam Hussein would transfer WMD to terrorist confederates like al Qaeda…”

        With all due respect Sean I have to say bullshit to this explanation. That was the lame excuse the Bush administration gave us then but time has shown that there was never any real connection between Hussein and al-qaeda. To the contrary, Hussein and al-qaeda were at odds with each other.

        ”Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people before, and Obama did nothing. Why is it suddenly an issue now?”

        I would say timing has a lot to do with it. Opportunity exist now where it didn’t earlier with the rebellion at hand today. No?

        ”In regards to Libya, Obama shot all US credibility regarding the veritable “carrot” of convincing countries to declare and destroy their WMD. Qaddafi got rid of his WMD program in response to American assurances that he would be rewarded for his behavior.”

        Please Sean. This is why I accused you of not thinking things through completely. With the uprising in Libya following similar events in Tunisia and Egypt, it was clear that the political dynamics had changed here that nullifies any agreement that previously existed in Libya. Had we locked ourselves into the status quo of that agreement we would have been on the wrong side of history and Obama knew that, as did most other thinking people did at the time. And to suggest that what North Korea felt were reasons not to trust America is like John Wayne Gacy telling everyone to beware of Jeffrey Dahmer.

        ”You’ve failed to establish how this a weak argument. Experts have claimed that the al Qaeda factions are the strongest ones among the insurgents, and are therefore the ones most likely to benefit from such a strike.”

        ??? It appears you totally missed my point on this. Let me repeat it. If we knew that it was only members of al-qaeda fighting and dying in the resistance to overthrow the Assad regime, the U.S. would not only NOT be intervening but would be throwing their support behind the Assad regime.
        The point I was trying to make is that al-qaeda deaths are not a factor for military intervention, should we go that route, but to stop the genocide occurring with other Syrians, especially women and children.

        ”Egypt used “mustard gas and possibly nerve agents during the North Yemen Civil War” and the United States ignored it.”

        That’s it? That’s your long standing precedent? Besides, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to substantiate this incident, at least to the level that one would think the U.S. should intervene. Egypt invited the UN to investigate the matter in February of 1967. “On March 1, U Thant said he was “powerless” to deal with the matter.”

        ”Again, we return to the credibility argument. Before the August 21st use of chemical munitions, the Syrian War had already killed 100,000 people. Why is President Obama suddenly concerned about stopping this killing. He had three years to do something, and now he decides to intervene.”

        Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press had a perfect political cartoon today for Republicans like you who are always hitting Obama for either doing to little in Syria or attempting to do too much. I’ll let it suffice for my response on this here

        ”But when 91% of voters are opposed to it, you can bet your ass that Congress in total will be hesitant to support it.”

        Hesitant maybe, but likely to support it anyway if their war profiteer donors tell them to. Much like the gun lobby told Congress to disregard the strong majority of Americans who support universal gun background checks by 91% to 8%, including 88% – 11% percent among voters in households with guns. Other polls showed the same response.

        ”If we set such a stupid precedent, we will be inclined to intervene when and if China uses chemical weapons on its people or when and if Burundi uses chemical weapons on its people.”

        Yes Sean, we all know we can’t bully China if they decide to use chemical weapons on their people. But does China even have chemical weapons? Supposedly what little capabilities they had were destroyed by the time they signed the CWC in 1993. And your revelation that Burundi has chemical weapons must come as surprise to them as well as the rest of the world since nothing has been documented to validate this claim.

        I don’t want to the see the U.S. go into Syria but neither do i want us to sit on our hands if the Assad regime is gassing their own people. We may not have done the right thing in the past and depending on the leadership in Washington, we may not do the right thing again some time in the future. But here and now, we need to send a message that says if you use chemical weapons to kill innocent children, there’s a price to pay.
        Curse Obama all you want but had Romney made it into the White House he would likely have done little different. It’s easy for everyone else to sit back and judge what needs to be done without the advantage of having all the vital intel and expertise at our disposal.

        • “That’s debatable. There are moral grounds to intervene here even if we don’t gain everything we want.”

          But lb, we don’t gain anything we want by intervening. We, instead, further destabilize a regime that could potentially lose control of its chemical weapons stockpile. Moreover, we risk broader conflict with Iran and Russia. Lastly, we would provide support to an enemy who wouldn’t hesitate to use chemical weapons against US targets.

          “Again, a specious claim. Trying to save lives with no regard about how we will profit from it will always gain us the support of the world community at large. That has benefits that remain unrevealed at this time.”

          But it’s not a species claim. It is a well-reasoned one. These things tend to spiral out of control, and before the US takes action, it should seriously weigh the consequences. It doesn’t seem like this administration has done that.

          And trying to save lives with no regard about how well will profit from it will not always gain us support. Most Muslims have no idea the US intervened on behalf of the mostly-Muslim community in Kosovo, but they sure as heck remember how the Iranians fondly supplied the Kosovars with weapons. The Russians won’t give us credit and neither will the Chinese. We are basically choosing between a greater evil and a lesser evil. In my opinion, Obama is choosing the greater evil from a US perspective, and the Islamic world will still hate us. We give the Palestinians billions of dollars of aid every year and they still hate us.

          “Why is it automatically and either/or situation? Does our intervention have to allow for the transfer of weapons to unknown elements on the rebel side? How was what we did in Libya connected to what occurred in Mali. I haven’t seen any report that shows any “heavy weaponry” out of Libya that came from American sources.”

          By weakening the Assad regime, the US increases the probability that the al Qaeda-affiliated rebels win, in which case they control Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. Alternatively, if Assad’s regime starts to crumble, the Syrians may seek to transfer them to Hezbollah. Either scenario is a nightmare. There’s no reason the US should precipitate something so stupid.

          Regarding Mali, here’s the full article at Reuters. It turns out it wasn’t just Mali, but 11 other countries including Syria.

          “When we essentially gave our stamp of approval to Hussein in the 1980’s to gas the Kurds and use chemical weapons on the Iranians, what was our focus then? By not sticking with the strict standards set out in the the Geneva protocol as a super power we arbitrarily made it easier for people like Syria to produce and stockpile chemical weapons.”

          Our focus was on our core national interests and weakening Iran advanced those interests.

          “With all due respect Sean I have to say bullshit to this explanation. That was the lame excuse the Bush administration gave us then but time has shown that there was never any real connection between Hussein and al-qaeda. To the contrary, Hussein and al-qaeda were at odds with each other.”

          With all due respect, LB, take a look at Operation Viking Hammer. Hussein had ties to al Qaeda. While I doubt Hussein had a hand in 9/11, he certainly cooperated with Ansar al Islam as a counterbalance against the Kurds in the north. I know Special Forces operatives who participated in the operation. If you think this is a “lame” excuse, you are ignoring reality.

          “I would say timing has a lot to do with it. Opportunity exist now where it didn’t earlier with the rebellion at hand today. No?”

          No, timing has nothing to do with it. This is all about optics. People saw upsetting images on television. That’s it. That’s the only difference, and that is neither a necessary nor sufficient reason for war. Intervention earlier on would have been preferable to intervention now because the rebels had more moderate elements. Now al Qaeda is running the show.

          “??? It appears you totally missed my point on this. Let me repeat it. If we knew that it was only members of al-qaeda fighting and dying in the resistance to overthrow the Assad regime, the U.S. would not only NOT be intervening but would be throwing their support behind the Assad regime.
          The point I was trying to make is that al-qaeda deaths are not a factor for military intervention, should we go that route, but to stop the genocide occurring with other Syrians, especially women and children.”

          But you cannot separate the two. You cannot prevent the killing of civilians in this instance without strengthening al Qaeda’s hand. Moreover, how do you think al Qaeda will treat Assad-allied civilians once the rebels get their hands on them. The US wouldn’t be preventing genocide, it would be hastening it. You are aware that the Assad regime represents the minority Alawite population, which has always ruled with a firm hand, precisely because the Sunnis would slaughter them if the Sunnis took power. Again, this policy is ill-conceived with the noblest of intentions, but with the least analytical consideration. We will simply be help the Sunnis conduct genocide in reverse.

          “Please Sean. This is why I accused you of not thinking things through completely. With the uprising in Libya following similar events in Tunisia and Egypt, it was clear that the political dynamics had changed here that nullifies any agreement that previously existed in Libya. Had we locked ourselves into the status quo of that agreement we would have been on the wrong side of history and Obama knew that, as did most other thinking people did at the time. And to suggest that what North Korea felt were reasons not to trust America is like John Wayne Gacy telling everyone to beware of Jeffrey Dahmer.”

          For an insecure country developing WMD, your distinction is meaningless. The fact is that Libya cooperated and then the US bombed the country several years later. Do you honestly believe the US would have gone into that conflict as quickly as it did if Libya had WMD?

          “That’s it? That’s your long standing precedent? Besides, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to substantiate this incident, at least to the level that one would think the U.S. should intervene. Egypt invited the UN to investigate the matter in February of 1967.”

          What is that level then? How many people have to be gassed for the US to intervene? Do you see my point? Do you see how this argument becomes a slippery slope and how easy it is to temporize in this incident, but not it that incident? Do you see how it sets a precedent for unlimited commitment of US armed forces anywhere in the world for reasons that sometimes may be against US interests (like in Syria)?

          “Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press had a perfect political cartoon today for Republicans like you who are always hitting Obama for either doing to little in Syria or attempting to do too much. I’ll let it suffice for my response on this here”

          But I’m not hitting Obama for doing too little in Syria. I don’t think he should have ever gotten involved. My only critique is that if he were to make the mistake of intervention, it would have been better for him to have done it sooner rather than later. That’s all.

          “Yes Sean, we all know we can’t bully China if they decide to use chemical weapons on their people. But does China even have chemical weapons? Supposedly what little capabilities they had were destroyed by the time they signed the CWC in 1993. And your revelation that Burundi has chemical weapons must come as surprise to them as well as the rest of the world since nothing has been documented to validate this claim.

          “I don’t want to the see the U.S. go into Syria but neither do i want us to sit on our hands if the Assad regime is gassing their own people. We may not have done the right thing in the past and depending on the leadership in Washington, we may not do the right thing again some time in the future. But here and now, we need to send a message that says if you use chemical weapons to kill innocent children, there’s a price to pay.
          Curse Obama all you want but had Romney made it into the White House he would likely have done little different. It’s easy for everyone else to sit back and judge what needs to be done without the advantage of having all the vital intel and expertise at our disposal.”

          I pulled Burundi out of a hat to make the case that we shouldn’t intervene in every hypothetical instance of chemical weapons use. I picked on Burundi because it was a random African country where the US has zero vital interests. I don’t know if they have chemical weapons or not.

          If we want to send Syria a message, then fine. Put diplomatic and political pressure on them. Don’t start a war that helps America’s enemies.

          • lbwoodgate says:

            You know Sean, I don’t mind admitting that when someone does their homework and makes a strong case as you have here, I am willing to concede that on balance you make the better argument here. Good job my friend. We will spar on other issues I’m sure in the future. Best wishes

            • Thanks, LB.

              I know I was a bit harsh on the president in this piece, and was a bit unfair regarding his motivations, but I think the rest of the argument stands.

              I also think what the president did today was smart. He is now seeking Congressional authorization, which gives him an easy out of this situation. Now, let’s just hope Congress makes it easy for the president to turn back.

              • lbwoodgate says:

                “I also think what the president did today was smart. He is now seeking Congressional authorization, which gives him an easy out of this situation.”

                I don’t know about an easy out but we will see how those in Congress who have offered nothing but bluster so far can now tap dance around a complex issue. Already those who would support military intervention in Syria, Like McCain and his sidekick Lindsey Graham are thrashing at this dilemma by saying Obama’s action are too limited and labeling regime change as “the president’s stated goal”, as if he and the other members of Congress wanted anything less. Peter King of New York is already behaving like Pontius Pilate, declaring that “The president doesn’t need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own red line.”

                Now that they have the power to act they expect the president to “convince” them, as if they haven’t sufficiently been in the loop the entire time. Some I’m sure haven’t been as thoroughly as others but what we are seeing here are a bunch of canary asses with alligators mouths trying to distance themselves from something they have brought on themselves

                • Yeah, the problem with McCain is there isn’t a war he doesn’t like and he always wants to put boots on the ground (he even wanted them on the ground in Kosovo). He is wrong on Syria, but at least he is consistent. Pelosi on the other hand is suddenly a hawk, but then at least she’s consistently partisan. I just hope the majority of Senators and Representatives vote, “no”.

                  Either way, the president made the right move on putting it before Congress. It gives him an out (provided Congress votes against action). My hope is that Republicans vote on partisan lines (and not only traditional lines – i.e., more bellicose than Dems), and that Democrats vote on traditional lines (i.e., generally anti-war). Unfortunately, it looks like the big guns of both parties are doing the reverse, which is not a promising development.

      • lbwoodgate says:

        The link for the Chattanooga Times Free Press didn’t go through for some reason so check it out here at Dr. Chuq’s In Saner Thought blog

  2. lbwoodgate says:

    Well sh–! All the links I supplied you have been nullified somehow and wound up linking to your blog with an apology that the link could not be found. What gives??

  3. Couldn’t have said any of what you wrote better myself. I agree wholeheartedly! Bee

  4. BTW, I hope you don’t mind but I sent this article around to my friends.

  5. Pingback: Sense and Syria | Observations and Opinions of a Middle Aged Housewife

  6. Moe says:

    Damn – I just posted a comment and WP came on and said “sorry, can’t post that comment’. Never saw that before.

    Sean, I’ll disagree with some of yourd points but mostly agree with you that we should not be anywhere near Syria. Obama backed himself – and us – into a corner with all that talk of red lines and ‘assad must go’. And now it’s just awful and dangerous as can be, especially if the restiveness spills over into Turkey – that hardly bears thinking about.

  7. oncebefore12 says:

    A little late with my comments and question. I agree with most of your reasoning, although I disagree with your position about Humanitarian Intervention as Casus Belli. Isn’t there ever any moral obligation for a strong, democratically-principled nation to try to prevent genocide? Let’s imagine this is 75 years ago and US Intelligence says it’s just learned that Hitler is building death camps and has begun experimenting with his ideas about ethnic cleansing on a mass scale. Would the US have any moral obligation try to intervene, take out the camps before they’re fully operational to send a message that extermination of civilians is not going to be tolerated? Or should we (have) wrung our hands and said, “It’s too messy, and maybe Hitler will kill lots off lots of Jewish communists and help squash the Red Menace? I’m as wary as you about getting involved in yet another Middle Eastern quagmire, especially without clear goals or strategy and lack of other nation’s support. But, what bothers me (and I address this as much to the Liberal Establishment, which seems the most bent out of shape about intervening in Syria) is that if Obama were trying to prevent the massacre of Jews would there be protests and condemnation or would he be hailed as a courageous leader?

  8. Hellstrom says:

    Sean, you wrote: “a Sunni Caliphate run by al Qaeda in Syria is about the worst conceivable scenario, and a US attack on Assad would push the region closer to its realization.”

    But that scenario is exactly what the US wants. Chaos is good. Our government, both Democrats and Republicans, don’t care how many innocents are killed. Ideally, what they want is a US puppet in power. What they don’t want is any country in the ME with a strong leader who aligns himself with our adversaries, such as Assad. The US’s unstated policy in Syria is to remove Assad at any cost. The fact that innocent Syrian men, women and children will die as a result of this policy is the last thing on their minds.

    • Hellstrom,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I’m pretty sure the US doesn’t want a Sunni Caliphate in Syria, but Saudi Arabia likely does. However, I do agree that the US would prefer a puppet to Assad. Frankly, the best thing for US interests is continued instability in Syria with America’s enemies on both sides perpetually fighting one another. It distracts the Iranians and the Russians, and it draws al Qaeda into another meat grinder. It is, however, the US’s unstated policy of removing Assad that I actually think is harmful to US interests. The status quo is ideal: America’s enemies destroy each other.

      I also generally agree with your assessment that the death of innocents is the very last thing that influences US policy decisions, nor should it. As crass as it sounds, the United States has limited resources. Any intervention the United States makes should further its interests. Intervention in this conflict simply wouldn’t do that.

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