Filed in National by on August 30, 2013

I find it very interesting that both political parties are pulled in two different directions (and sometimes three) on the issue of Syria.

On the Democratic side, you have the peace movement, the adherents to which believe the use of any military action anywhere is wrong and should never be pursued, even for humanitarian reasons. And then you have the Liberal Do-Gooders, who sometimes want to be the world’s policemen to stop atrocities like what happened in Yugoslavia and the Rwanda in the 1990’s, and what is happening now in Syria. And then you have those Liberal Warhawks who believe, just as most Republicans do, that the military option is generally preferable as the first tool of our foreign policy, not the last resort. The difference between them and the Neocons on the Republican side who believe the same is that Liberal Warhawks are generally followers, scared and scarred into sounding and acting tough on foreign policy through the experience of Vietnam and Republican attacks on “Democratic weakness” that followed.

On the Republican side, you have the aforementioned Neocons, who literally are war pigs. They want to be at war all the time. This is not hyperbole. They wanted to invade Baghdad in 1991. And again in 1998. They truly want the American flag flying over the capitals of all the world, but most importantly, in the Middle East. There is not a war they will not fight, or a fight that they will not turn into a war. They dominate the Republican Party, and they have scared many Democrats into acting the same way as well. This group was born during World War II, got high off American superiority then and during the Cold War, and now believe that if America is not leading the fight and winning a war everywhere, it is losing everywhere.

Making more noise recently is the other force at work in the Republican Party: the libertarians, which I think includes the former isolationists or non-interventionists. I will let Steve Newton take it away:

Let’s assume [the Government] are telling the truth. Let’s assume that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in a desperate attempt to win its civil war.

So what?

Somebody’s got to say it, and it might as well be me.

It’s not the specific morality of a horrible weapon that’s at issue. As the only nation to use atomic weapons, as the nation that used napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam, as the nation that still refuses to abide by international sanctions against cluster bombs, as the nation that employed fuel-air explosives against Iraq in 1991, and as the nation that continues the indiscriminate drone killings of innocent men, women, and children in the hopes that an Al Qaeda target might be standing next to them in Pakistan, Yemen, and across Africa, we’ve precious little room to talk about the morality of weapons.

Besides, why are 1,000 dead people from chemical weapons somehow more significant than the 100,000 Assad has already killed in just this war? Now, suddenly, for the US it is not good enough to be murdered, you have to be murdered by precisely the right weapon for it to matter?

Reality check: the Middle East has already entered the conflagration stage. There is no “Arab Spring.” There is a steady descent back into chaos.

Nor can a utilitarian argument be made for war in Syria.

If we help defeat Assad we can hope for no gratitude (nor any regional stability) from the installation of another Islamist regime in Damascus.

It is past time to instruct (yes, “instruct”–they work for us) Carper, Coons, and Carney not to vote their consciences, but to vote ours.

A vote for war in Syria is to spend the blood of Americans for no great cause, for no great gain, and for a guarantee that more flag-draped coffins will arrive at Dover Air Force Base, about which distraught moms, dads, husbands, wives, and children will sob and ask, “Tell me again, why was this death necessary?”

After reading this, and then reading Markos Moulitsas’ take (which I will post in a second), I am struck about how much they agree with each other. And how much I agree with them as well. Steve Newton, Delaware Libertarian. Markos, the evil Kos of Daily Kos, progressive champion. Myself, perhaps a former Liberal Do-Gooder.

Here is Markos’s post:

I’ve already noted that I don’t care about whether government forces used chemical weapons or not. Bashar al-Assad is a monster who has massacred hundreds of thousands of his own people.
I am persuaded by those who call for intervention to try and stop this mass-murderer.

But I am even more persuaded by those who oppose such intervention.

1. We are overstretched.–I would be very sympathetic to engaging, much like we did over Serbia in the 90s and Libya last year, if we weren’t coming off a decade of perpetual war, at a cost of over a trillion dollars and thousands of (our own) lives lost. Humanitarian gestures take the kind of resources that we simply lack at this time. If America wants to be the world’s humanitarian police, it should stop pissing away money, lives, and goodwill on military adventurism. So absent Iraq and Afghanistan, I would be all-in. But we can’t erase Bush’s legacy. Our men and women in uniform have sacrificed enough.

2. Someone else can step up–Europeans are nervous about an escalated refugee crisis on their doorstep, and they have every reason to be concerned. […] Now obviously the EU is a cauldron of competing interests masquerading as a “union”, but their inability to manage their own national interests shouldn’t be reason enough for the United States to expend limited resources. If Syria poses a threat to European interests, let Europe handle the situation. It’s not our problem.

3. What about the long term?–If Egypt looks bad today, a post-Assad Syria could be infinitely worse, with Islamists seemingly making up the strongest elements of the opposition, a pro-Western secular Syria is a pipe dream. Heck, an anti-Western secular Syria appears out of reach.[…]

4. And what about the rest of the world?–Syria isn’t the only place where people are dying. The billions we will spend killing people with bombs could be better spent in every other corner of the world in development projects. We, as Americans, get outraged when we spend a few billions in humanitarian aid, yet don’t have the same visceral opposition to even more billions in military ordinance.

I, like Markos, am a liberal do-gooder who has been scarred by the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Neocons. If Al Gore was actually allowed to serve as President after being elected to office in 2000 [;)], and the Iraq War never occurred and a smaller less horrible version of Afghanistan happened (assuming 9/11 still occurred, which would have required some response towards the Taliban), then I would be all for intervening in Syria.

But, as much as I want to forget it, Bush happened. And it’s ironic, for Bush turned me into a liberaltarian on foreign policy, where I am much more likely to support not intervening than I am to support intervening. Because, really, America has done enough. For good or for ill, we have done enough. And I do not give two shits about America leading the world anymore, or us always being #1. If Arabs and Muslims want the atrocities to stop in Syria, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey can work together. If Europe is worried about it, then France and Germany can get off the couch.

Now, John McCain may have a heart attack, but that might just be a good thing. The less Neocons around, the better.

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  1. Dorian Gray says:

    I am neither a liberal do-gooder nor an isolationist. My view is military action should be about one thing – completely and totally eliminating an existential threat. The US Civil War, WWI, WWII… All this nation-building, spreading freedom, upholding credibility, enforcing some capricious “red-line” – it’s all bullshit.

    We train Marines to be killing machines to be used very, very sparingly. I have never been able to pin point the exact root cause of this “Team America World Police” idea, but it needs to stop now, because it’s applicable to everything!

    Should we over throw Kim in North Korea. He has hundreds of thousands of policitcal prisoners in Gulags. (Maybe he should change the names of the camp to Guantánamo, Bagram and Abu Grahib). We already drone Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan on a semi-regular basis. We deliver palets of cash to Egypt and Israel for a bizarre mix of conflicting reasons. (Eygpt won’t attack Israel vai the Sinai and Israel… well I guess we just fund the Apartheid. Which is OK because those citizens with no rights are Muslim Arabs!)

    Professor Newton is correct. I’ll tell you my red-line… this. This needs to end. And not on isolationist grounds, on common sense grounds. Militaries fight. I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been in my share of scraps, and the one thing I’ve never done is fight a half a fight or 10% of one. If we need to fight we should go in to totally fuck up somebody’s day, not to give them a spanking and a time out. It’s ridiculous.

  2. jason330 says:

    The Steve Newton/Kos/DD stance is the more naturally American perspective. As you point out, WWII and the cold war did a number on this American sensibility – but GWB’s incompetence allowed it to make a come back.

  3. Dana says:

    I am one of those evil neoconservatives, one who thought that the elder George Bush made a terrible mistake by not finishing the job in 1991, but I’ve already said that we ought not attack installations in Syria unless the President can specify a reasonable and obtainable goal by doing so, and thus far, he has not. As far as I have read, no one else has, either, unless that goal is to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad, something the Administration has already said is not the goal.

  4. cassandra m says:

    One of the things I haven’t seen anyone discuss yet is how the British voting down support for a Syrian action points to the lack of credibility the US already has in various quarters largely due to the Iraq War lies and delusions. People get puffed up around the idea that the US not delivering on a price to be paid for crossing a line in the sand really ought to be grappling with the fact that the rest of the world not only understands the extent of the lies told to other nations to get their support for Iraq, but isn’t willing to just say GO only on our say so any more.

  5. Delaware Dem says:

    Indeed. Bush has destroyed US credibility for a couple generations at least (I think everyone alive today will have to have died off before American assertions on intelligence are taken at face value, so come back to see us in 2110).

  6. jason330 says:

    I agree. If only the world (Brittan in particular) had more skepticism regarding to American assertions when Bush was so obviously full of shit.

    For me Tony Blair is right up there with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld when putting together a list of evil douchebags.

  7. socialistic ben says:

    The rest of the world isnt going to “step up”. Even countries that claim to resent it, have come to depend on America’s willingness to spend our blood and treasure policing the planet. If France is interested in Syrian peace, let them deal with it. I have to steel myself and shut off the bleeding-heart to understand we WILL NOT bring “peace” to the middle east. This isnt Israel VS everyone else anymore. It is literally EVERY SINGLE GROUP against every single group.
    So we topple a dictator…. the various factions vying for power will spill the same amount of blood (see, Egypt, Lybia, Pakistan). Where does it end? This is one of the coldest, most inhumane conclusions I’ve ever come to, and i am NOT proud of it, but the entire region is a loss that simply must be cut.

  8. Jason330 says:

    I’ve come to the same conclusion about the middle east. Why do we need to support the religious zealots who want to turn the clock back to 650 ad? So that a the other blood thirsty despots (the ones we liked a little while ago) don’t come to power?

    None of it makes sense. No more money for Israel either.

  9. Delaware Dem says:

    Someone recently said that we should cancel all aid to the region (Israel, Egypt, everyone), and evacuate all Americans and other non-natives and basically write the region off, and keep the nastyness in check with a blockade. Kinda like an insanity quarantine zone.

    Of course, the reason the Middle East is important at all is their oil, so that would never happen.

    But I have reached the same conclusion, Ben.

  10. Andy says:

    I thought we were now self sufficient energy wise due to fracking and mountain top removal coal mining tar sands oil and what ever else. Why should we worry about mid east oil

  11. Falcor says:

    What I’m most baffled about is the number of people who support firing missiles into the country. What exactly is that going to accomplish? That’s not how they are killing the majority of the people, and the only potential you have is the potential to piss people off if you miss.

  12. Jason330 says:

    That’s actually the most likely outcome given our history of bombing weddings and funerals

  13. Tom Hawk says:

    Steve Newton and Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida seem to be in agreement. Assad denies responsibility for the use of a chemical weapon. He has not been bashful in the past in regard to his actions. To my knowledge, the chemical weapon has not yet been publicly identified. If the agent is Sarin, there is a lot of questioning to be done. Sarin is easily fabricated with comparatively easy chemistry as evidenced by several attacks such as the one on the Tokyo subways a few years ago.

    So who is provably responsible for the recent attack? Assad though he denies such? Rogue elements of the Syrian military? Or the rebels in an attempt to create international outrage and attacks on Assad? Until there is indisputable evidence for a responsible party, any action is premature.

  14. Liberal Elite says:

    @J “That’s actually the most likely outcome given our history of bombing weddings and funerals”

    More likely the Chinese have vacated their embassy while the CIA works on targeting.

  15. Tom McKenney says:

    I don’t think there is much question that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. The real question should be do we respond or not and, if so how.

  16. fightingbluehen says:

    I’m guessing that whoever decided to put the “red line” statement on Obama’s teleprompter, is probably on their way out the door post-haste.

  17. Here’s an idea. Instead of dropping bombs somehow rationalized as a deterrent to future violence from whomever the perpetrators were, Pres. Obama should convene an international tribunal, consisting of Arab and Euro allies with us. The purpose, first to sort out the evidence of who did the gassing. If clear evidence identifies a perpetrator, off to the World Court for a war crimes trial. Also, Pres. Obama should make a demand that Assad turn over his chemical weapons arsenal to a UN overseer for removal from Syria and security. And we should ramp up an international effort and funding of aid the refugees escaping to Jordan and other countries. Then we might look like a leader and could call for peace talks/cease fire between the parties vying for political leadership in Syria.

  18. Dana Garrett says:

    I haven’t made up my mind about the US taking action against Syria. Steve Newton is a friend, but I think two of his arguments are non sequiturs. First, consider his argument that because the USA has used horrible weapons in the past, it has no standing to stop a nation to from using chemical weapons on it citizens . That doesn’t follow. If I have assaulted people in the past, it doesn’t follow that I have no moral obligation to intervene and stop an egregious assault from one person on another. That might make me a hypocrite, but so what? Sometimes morality can require me to act hypocritically. What’s important is that I do the right thing in a given situation and not whether I have done right thing in every situation heretofore.

    Second, consider his argument that because the USA did not intervene to stop the killing of 100,000 Syrian citizens, it has lost any standing to intervene when the Syrian government uses chemical weapons on its citizens. There are many problems with this argument. The first problem is that there is almost no way to satisfy its rationale. The person making the argument could just as easily argue that we have lost standing stop a government from killing more than 2 of its citizens because we didn’t stop it after it killed one of its citizens. Of course, this argument is a trap because it would be reprehensible to stop a government before it killed a. citizen since it hasn’t yet committed the deed. Second, just because I have neglected my moral duties heretofore, it doesn’t follow that I have a free ticket to neglect them from this point forward. Third, this argument neglects the kind of attack involved. I am allowed to find some forms of attack out of bounds without moral contradiction. I can consistently happen upon a contest of fisticuffs and think that I have no right to intervene as long as fists are involved in the contest but feel I have a right to intervene if one of the contestants starts to use acid on the other person. I might think w/o inconsistency that such an action makes the fight an unfair one.

    I do think that Steve’s argument about taking actions that might allow an even more radical regime to emerge in Syria is a good one.

  19. Dana says:

    It looks like President Obama has decided not to go out on the limb all by himself:

    Obama Will Seek Syria Vote in Congress
    By Peter Baker

    WASHINGTON — President Obama stunned the world and paused his march to war on Saturday by asking Congress to give him authorization before he launches a limited military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.

    In an afternoon appearance in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said he had decided that the United States should use force but would wait for a vote from lawmakers, who are not due to return to town until Sept. 9. Mr. Obama said he believed he had the authority to act on his own, but he did not say whether he would if Congress rejects his plan.

    “I’m prepared to give that order,” Mr. Obama said. “But having made my decision as commander in chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interest, I’m also mindful that I’m president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

    Going to war with the support of the people’s representatives, he added, “I know the country will be stronger.”

    The president’s announcement effectively dared Congress to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children. By asking lawmakers to weigh in, he is trying to break out of his box of isolation of the last week, in the face of deep skepticism at home and around the world about the strike. His decision indicates he does not want to go forward without Congress and the American public.

    But it represents a major political gamble for a president with marginal command of Congress. Officials said he is likely to win support in the Senate, where leading Republicans quickly issued statements welcoming his decision, but the House is more of an open question given its strong current of antiwar sentiment in both parties.

    More at the link.

    The Congress does not reconvene until September 9th, and the article made no mention of the President asking the Congress to return early. That means at least ten days — unless the President is using this request as a cover, to lull the Syrians off their guard, and strikes before the vote — in which the Syrians can disperse their forces and get the Russians to station a squad of technicians at every reasonable target, so that the United States can’t attack without risking killing some Russians.

    I wonder if he’s looking for the David Cameron way out, hoping that the Congress denies the authorization, so he can blame it all on the Congress, specifically the Republicans.

  20. Dana says:

    Mr Merriman wrote:

    Here’s an idea. Instead of dropping bombs somehow rationalized as a deterrent to future violence from whomever the perpetrators were, Pres. Obama should convene an international tribunal, consisting of Arab and Euro allies with us. The purpose, first to sort out the evidence of who did the gassing. If clear evidence identifies a perpetrator, off to the World Court for a war crimes trial.

    Uhhh, you have to actually depose President Assad before you can drag him off to a war crimes trial. And if he’s deposed, the rebels will wind up taking care of him themselves.

    Also, Pres. Obama should make a demand that Assad turn over his chemical weapons arsenal to a UN overseer for removal from Syria and security. And we should ramp up an international effort and funding of aid the refugees escaping to Jordan and other countries. Then we might look like a leader and could call for peace talks/cease fire between the parties vying for political leadership in Syria.

    These people aren’t interested in peace talks or cease fires; they are interested in fighting through to victory. You’ll get peace talks or a cease fire only when both parties are getting exhausted and see a prolonged stalemate looming, and any peace talks are going to leave President Assad in power, though limiting his power; no war crimes trial there, either.

    Sometimes, wars have to be fought until somebody wins.

  21. fightingbluehen says:

    Obama drew a line (red line)in the sand. Now he is in a pickle.
    If I were him I would try to cut a deal to stage some sort of bombing of an empty building somewhere, and call it a day.

  22. Dana, I suggest you read my post more carefully. I said a tribunal should sort our who did the gassing. As for your insight on civil wars and the parties involved in Syria, I’d love to know who your on the ground contacts are who give you such an inside track on their thinking or your own personal experience with civil wars which gives you such insight on their psychology?

  23. Dana says:

    Mr Merriman, I’m looking at history, and what happened to the other Middle Eastern dictators who were recently deposed.

    That’s why Bashar al-Assad can’t negotiate a peace which makes him vulnerable, or afford to lose the civil war; all that awaits him is a jail cell or a noose . . . assuming they don’t just beat him to death the way Muammar Gadafi was. And the rebels cannot negotiate a peace which leaves Mr Assad in power, because they’ll all wind up dead, over time.

    You are thinking in Western terms, in which moderation is seen as a key, and people approve of negotiated settlements. But civil wars are not fought by moderates; they are fought by deeply committed people, people who have voluntarily chosen to put their lives on the line to achieve some goal. Sometimes they will agree to a cease-fire, in the hope that they can turn that cease-fire to their advantage — look at the Paris Peace Accords which “ended” the Vietnam War — but, in the end, someone has to win and someone has to lose.

  24. jason330 says:

    Mr Talking Out Your Ass Yet Again,

    If Assad was a student of history, he’d be the first person looking for a brokered settlement.

  25. Dana says:

    Mr 330: Why? Unless you have a 1980s-style asylum in comfort for him, like France offered Jean Claude Duvalier or Saudi Arabia offered Idi Amin, he can’t risk anything which subjects him to loss of power, now or in the future. He loses power, then he gets arrested and thrown in jail, at the very least.

    And right now, he seems to be winning. He’s getting support from Russia and Iran. You don’t offer a brokered settlement or negotiations when you are winning.

  26. Jason330 says:

    I not saying he would dummy. I’m saying if he were guided by history – he’d take a deal no matter what it looks like right now. Assad is no Castro.

  27. Falcor says:

    Ehhhh, not sure I agree with that. Middle Eastern dictators don’t exactly ride off into the sunset when they take deals, they tend to get sentenced to life in prison or executed.

  28. Dana says:

    Why would he take a deal when he’s winning?

  29. Falcor says:

    Nobody is winning anything, he can’t clear or hold rebel neighborhoods with any real significance. He can kill a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean you are winning when it isn’t tied to any specific objective and he has never been more reliant of Iran or Russia.