1979a.

I will grant that Presidenting is not the world’s easiest job, and that you can’t possibly know what it’s like unless you’ve sat in that chair, but…

In a time of crisis, there are tough calls to be made. Sometimes the most you can do is act with wisdom and resolve, and then hope and pray that you’re making the right move.

If leading a reluctant nation into battle is the right thing to do, I hope the President does it.

If doing nothing is the right course of action even though his countrymen call for war, then I hope the President does nothing.

If the President genuinely believes that he needs Congressional permission to strike at an enemy, then I hope he would ask for a Congressional vote on the matter and then abide by that vote.

And if the President genuinely believes that he doesn’t need congressional permission to strike at an enemy, then I hope the President would act as his wisdom would dictate, and that he would act with courage and resolve even as Congressmen denounce him for not seeking their approval. Furthermore, I hope that he wouldn’t draw a line in the sand regarding WMD, then, after Tyrant X steps over that line (possibly; remember that Terrorist Group Y is among the opponents of Tyrant X and may have false-flagged the whole thing), say that he might do something about it tomorrow or maybe in a few weeks, or a month or so because not following through would, like, totally make him look bad, and then remind everybody that he can use military force against Tyrant X without Congressional permission, and then audaciously ask for Congress to rubber stamp the military actions he plans on taking anyways even though he doesn’t really need them to, and then announce that he’s merely proposing a very limited action that would somehow degrade Tyrant X’s ability to use WMD, but not actually involve any American boots on the ground, and etc., etc., etc.

Does anybody have any sense that in this crisis, President Obama is acting with resolve or wisdom? I hope he is, but the optics suggest otherwise.

13 comments

  1. I’m with the minority on this one. Tyrant X is using chemical weapons on civilians, and civilians are asking for outside (US) intervention. I can hardly see how it’s even a question.

    Much of the criticism on US “moral” intervention is that we only participate when large material interests can be secured through it. Not acting when a regime leader authorizes chemical weapons attacks on civilian populations, particularly when there isn’t much material self-interest to be had in Syria, would only solidify and reinforce those criticisms.

    I’ve come across several explanations for why we shouldn’t intervene, and I haven’t been persuaded by any of them. Here are some.

    1. It’s too expensive. We should participate in “nonmilitary intervention.” Most people who say this cannot elaborate on what they mean by nonmilitary intervention. Some say “evacuate the Syrians, aid in refugee camps and rehabilitation.” All of which is bull. As if an evacuation of a country isn’t expensive (or unrealistic at all or anything), or as if it’s in a region not already saturated by refugees from other Arab-spring states, or as if the entire international refugee system isn’t a failure and/or sham.

    2. “We would be aligning ourself with Al-Qaeda!” The U.S. has a historical record with falling beside the organization (and many others) when it suits our interests. This shouldn’t be a shock.

    3. “We would be committing to another long war!” I’m not sure if anyone understands the definition of “limited,” or if they haven’t been keeping up with congressional or Presidential decisions/plans, like limiting the strike to 60 days. Eliminating regime military targets is not the same thing as aligning with any one rebel faction or sticking around to see them take power. Additionally, any faction which does come to power in the future may be more favorable to the US for having intervened; whether we like their politics or not. Assad is going to fall one way or another, and an entire Arab population that’s vulnerable to Islamic extremism will remember our decision. This course of action is also being much more meticulously thought-out than say, Iraq or Afghanistan. We’re not rushing into it because of a societal-emotional trauma.

    4. “It could start a world war with China and Russia! Iran would bomb us! Syria would strike against us!” This one is especially funny. China has no interest in foreign politics. They’ve never intervened before. The chance they would now is extremely low, because it would threaten their own economic power. While they have motivation to continue their Security Council veto in the UN because of energy assets and security, they would hardly see a limited strike against the Assad regime as cause to endanger further economic relations with the West, and they definitely wouldn’t choose to do that militarily. Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and even then they didn’t dare to provoke actual war against the US. Additionally, they face serious internal problems, and will probably remember the last time they attempted war when un-united. Iran does not have the military power to threaten the US; at least not currently. Syria does not have nuclear weapons, nor do they have long-range missiles. While the US is a threat to Syria, it doesn’t work the other way around. Further, the current political and economic situation is much different than it was fifty years ago. Living in a globalized society, the majority of states on this planet are economically dependent on one another. Financial ruin is too great of a risk for any state that could potentially match our military might.

    5. “It’s hypocritical because the US used chemical weapons in Vietnam.” This one is the worst. We also enslaved a race, barred a gender from voting, and killed Native Americans. Are we hypocrites when we call out other countries for doing the same? It’s like saying that because I’m German, and my great-grandfathers served as SS soldiers, with my grandparents in Hitler-youth, that I can’t practice human rights laws because, well, the Holocaust. Suddenly any progression and evolution of civilization is hypocrisy.

    6. “When even Russia says it’s a bad idea and won’t work, then you know it’s a bad idea and it won’t work.” I take back #5 being the worst. This one is the worst. People are dumb. I give up on humanity.

    7. “It’s illegal because the UN did not give approval.” You know what else is illegal? Using chemical weapons on your civilians. I love the UN more than the next person, especially the realists, but it’s laws are only enforceable when they’re, well, enforced. The Security Council is inhibiting international law from being enforced.

    The only concern that I can actually understand is the fear of retaliation by Assad-aligned terrorist organizations. But really, which one doesn’t already hate us? Intervene, don’t intervene, you’re going to piss off at least one of the very many. The decision should be made based on what the President (and the Congress, I guess) believe is the right thing to do. The majority of Americans do not understand the first thing about Middle Eastern politics. They should stop pretending that they know better than the President.

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  2. As an addendum, I think action is still called for even if Syria agrees to hand over their chemical weapons to the international community. Because

    1) There’s no way Assad is going to actually hand over all the goods.

    2) Handing over the weapons cache after using them on civilians is a littttttle late.

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  3. I hope Mr. Obama never has to deal with a beehive near his house. He will likely just swing at it with a long stick. Sure, he’ll probably kill a few bees, maybe even knock the hive down. -But the remaining bees will be mightily pissed.

    I believe the wise course of action is to either completely destroy the hive, or leave it alone.

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  4. “This course of action is also being much more meticulously thought-out than say, Iraq or Afghanistan.”

    If this is meticulous, I’d hate to see Obama wing it.

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  5. Volleyed, are you seriously suggesting that we either watch idly while Assad defies international law and kills innocent people, or we, what, nuke the place?…. and kill innocent people? All or nothing is rarely a real-world solution, especially in state-relations.

    And VDV, Anon was on point. I was using Iraq as the standard. Action in Syria is being thought-out, especially comparably.

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  6. I’m willing to entertain an argument that Obama’s (Putin’s?) Syria planning has been more meticulous than Bush’s Iraq planning. I doubt it’s going to be a good one, but let’s hear it.

    From a buddy of mine who was in Iraq, and who hopefully won’t mind being quoted: “The Iraq war was well planned for phase 1 and 2, loosely for phase 3 and not at all for phase 4. So as a whole maybe but not in parts, if you get my drift… Seems like [Obama] is thinking through every step and anticipating the wrong things and then rinse and repeat.”

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  7. Excellent. For starters, the planning for Syria is much less complex than the planning for Iraq, and so the probability that it’s done more thoroughly (and ‘correctly’, whatever measurement of correct you want to use) increases. Iraq was an enormous undertaking, an invasion which required military and civilian planning for both short term and long term efforts.

    (http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/28/us-britain-iraq-inquiry-idUSTRE64R2P620100528) This reuters article highlights some of the serious flaws in the planning for Iraq.

    (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92022118) This NPR article draws from the Army’s official report on poor planning and the devastating toll it took in Iraq.

    Etc, etc. We can safely assert that Iraq was poorly conceived and carried out. A lot of the failure can be contributed to the sheer magnitude of the invasion and the enormity of problems facing military forces which were unaddressed by preparation. It can also be contributed to how quickly we jumped in bed with the idea of going to war, and how quickly we committed. There was a lot of societal-trauma and anger that created a bubble of pressure to act first and think later.

    I see Syria much differently. The scope of action is much smaller and presents a much more realistic opportunity to plan accordingly. In fact, making the decision to participate in limited military action as opposed to another invasion and/or more forceful, present warfare was the first step taken in properly thinking through the situation. There is also the hesitancy of the entire nation in acting this time around. There isn’t that pressure to act first and think later, but rather the opposite. In order to convince a weary public, the administration is having to plan more thoroughly and outline courses of action prior to engagement (which would have come in handy in Iraq).

    The President has been dreading this day for three years. He has tried his damnedest to avoid any intervention in Syria despite a steady trend of escalation of violence and systemic human rights violations by the Assad regime. He ignored it when it was a popular mainstream cause. He tried the “leave the beehive alone” method for three years. He’s learning the lesson that inaction can be just as powerful of a f*#$-up as the wrong action. You can’t just let chemical gassing of civilians slide on the word of Putin (CAN EVERYONE PLZ STOP PRETENDING THAT PUTIN IS JUST SOME COOL HONEST WELL INTENDING SHIRTLESS DUDE?!) and Assad that it won’t happen again. We tried that with Hitler, remember?

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  8. This warrants a fuller response, coming soon. For the record, I do not believe that Godwinning an argument invalidates it. In the meantime, any idea what the military or NPR have to say about Obama’s plans for Syria?

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  9. I can provide other sources detailing how Iraq was poorly planned, if you’d like. I assumed that was a commonly accepted observation, and threw in the articles for specifics instead of just copy pasta.

    Also how can you not godwin Syria? I couldn’t resist. Crazy tyrant kills a bunch of people and gets away with it. Says “we’re cool, guyz” to the IC. Then comes the gas.

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  10. Blonde: That is absolutely what I am suggesting. The US will not and can not win a war with half measures. The Allies defeated the Axis by demonstrating resolve. Dropping bombs on two Japanese cities killed 200,000 people, and ended a war that had up to that point killed over 50,000,000. Fast forward 70 years, and I’m okay with killing a few million if it saves a billion.

    Watch the greatest film of all time*, and say it with me: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

    If you believe Mr. Obama’s claim he will never have “boots on the ground” in Syria, you are… well, not being honest with yourself.
    For the record, I would prefer Mr. Obama had an international press conference stating we will no longer involve ourselves in any conflict that doesn’t directly concern us. Sucks to be you, Israel, et. al., but American soldiers should not die to protect other countries’ interests. Ever.

    *VDV’s mostly-correct opinion

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  11. Sorry for the tardy response! I got busy with transplant things.

    V&T, I still hold the opinion that limited intervention in Syria would be the correct course of action, if not for humanitarian efforts then for the sakes of realist ideology that US credibility is undermined without.

    BUT, I can respect an isolationist approach if it’s truly isolationist, and just by including Israel in your little list you gained credibility in my perception. I understand the desire for cleaning up our foreign affairs by strictly dealing with foreign affairs that simply and directly relate to our state. I might disagree because of my conceptualization of an increasingly interconnected and globalized international community, but I respect and understand it nonetheless.

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