Some Thoughts on Syria

Back a little over a decade ago, I was one of the people who did not support the Bush Administration’s determination to attack Iraq.  Why?  Well, yes, Saddam Hussein had at one time used chemical weapons against his own people, but had by numerous accounts gotten rid of them after Desert Storm.  There were a lot of questionable assertions being made, and most notably, that it was principally the Bush administration who was making them.  Most of our allies, and other interested players were saying “No, no sign of them now.”  Add in that it would take the focus off of Afghanistan, that Iraq was “contained” and not a serious factor in the Middle East, and it was – at least to me – a “bad idea.”

Which is not the case now with regards to Syria.  Multiple sources, many of whom don’t really like us, have stated that there were chemical weapons used.  There is some argument over the number of actual casualties, but not that they weren’t caused by a chemical attack.  Beside our own agencies’ assessments, a number of other countries intelligence agencies  have come out with statements saying that they are placing “high confidence” that it was a chemical attack, and it was the forces of President Assad that used them.  “High confidence,” in case you don’t get it, means “We’re more than 95% sure, but since they’re not admitting it, and we didn’t have our people filming and sampling during during the attack, we won’t say “certain.”

What is also different is that no one in this Administration is proposing a “boots on the ground” invasion, capture and overthrow the evil dictator, and “install a democracy.”  It is not “intervention,” which carries the connotation that we’re choosing sides, and doing this to help “our side” win or put a stop to the civil war.   What is being proposed is the equivalent of a good slap for using chemical weaponry, a reminder to President Assad that there are limits to what he can do.   It won’t force him to surrender, it won’t make him step down, and it won’t stop the civil war.  It’d be nice if it did all those things, but no one thinks that.   About the only thing it hopes to accomplish is to prevent him from using them again, and even that isn’t a certainty.

20 years ago, I went through an intense course on nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.  Part of that training was learning what each and every one of the chemical warfare agents could do, and yes, we got examples like this:

If I had to pick a really, really nasty way to kill someone, nerve agents would be at or near the top of the list.  Looking at the recent videos from Syria?  Yes, that’s nerve agent.  It’s hard to fake all that.  Equally hard is having the capability to make enough and put it on target, which is something that a government has, not “random rebel alliance.”  It is being used, and deflecting, conspiracy theories, and anything else to avoid doing anything about it is just condoning it.

What I have become certain of is that most of the hand-wringing “anti-war” sentiments are mainly based on “Iraq derangement syndrome,” to coin a phrase.  Everyone is bound and determined that the government is somehow lying, that there is a move to start a war for little gain, and somehow, the administration is of the belief that this will “solve the Syrians problem.”  None of which is true.  What is true is that the many of the anti-war people are perfectly willing to come up with excuses to not do anything.  Because, after all, they’re “not going to be fooled again.”  No, they’re just going to be fools in a different way.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Some Thoughts on Syria

  1. Excellent post, Norbrook, though I cannot bring myself to watch the video. I don’t fully understand the argument that the U.S. can’t take the moral high ground on this given that we send drones over to Afghanistan, which result in civilians being killed. Isn’t there a difference? Or does there need to be a difference? Being war weary isn’t a good reason for not sending this tyrant and others a message that poisoning your citizens who oppose the government won’t be acceptable under any circumstances. Would we all accept a second Hitler so easily?

    • There is a difference, and even a moral one. We are not sending drones in to randomly kill civilians, just “because we can,” or carpet bombing areas simply because there might be some Taliban insurgents there. Yes, sometimes innocents get killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s regrettable, and we do everything to minimize or prevent that. So it’s a false equivalence in comparison.

      What the actual message they’re sending is “Hey, it’s only brown people dying, it’s cool.”

  2. Norbrook,

    there’s a lot of assumptions you make here and one of them is that anyone who opposes a strike against the Assad regime is guilty of having “hand-wringing ‘anti-war’ sentiments [that] are mainly based on ‘Iraq derangement syndrome,’ to coin a phrase.”

    Statements like this automatically send up a red flag to me that when used, such people often fail to take a deeper, more objective look at their own convictions. Painting perceived enemies in a negative light is an ugly tactic that doesn’t serve to answer questions about a complex issue.

    We can both agree that chemical weapons were indeed used on Syrian men, women and children and that likely someone within the Assad regime probably is responsible for this. We can also be equally outraged and determined to see that such evil, pernicious acts are swiftly dealt with. But what you are supporting has more ramifications than you are willing to concede.

    Let me suggest an article for you to read that I think addresses most of your concerns and in so doing should give you pause to reconsider your position. If you really take the time to read Peter Certo’s piece On the Fence About Syria? Read This!, and still think we need to take the action that Obama is calling for, then there is little else I could say personally to convince you.

    I’m mad as hell too about this atrocity but cooler heads need to prevail in how we respond to this lest we find ourselves in a something no one wants or bargained for.

    • I’ve read it, and basically what it comes down to is “Oh, we should do nothing at all because it’ll lead to other bad things.” Sorry, but it’s the same crap that pisses me off constantly. Let the UN investigate “again” as if Assad is actually going to let them anywhere near where they need to be, and also as if somehow Russia and China will do a 180 on their current support and allow a strong resolution to pass through the Security Council. There’s also calls for “further negotiations,” which also assumes that the Assad regime is willing to sit down and negotiate, which would be a remarkable turn-around for them.

      Seriously, there are no good solutions that haven’t been suggested and that stand a chance of getting implemented, and that article is just another one of them, in addition to misrepresenting the President’s position in the first place.

      I’d much rather that the President didn’t have to make this choice in the first place, and I don’t think he has any “good options.” What I do think is that the people who are coming up with blue sky ideas need to either have a realistic ability to implement them, or just admit that it’s not a big deal that chemical weapons were used in Syria. And after that, STFU about any further uses of them.

      • Well you may not like what you call blue sky ideas but do you seriously think that the prospects that this could come back to bite us on the butt is highly unlikely?

        Believe what you want but getting angry about what happened and shooting a few missals into Syria isn’t going to change things for the better and will likely do more harm than good. These people don’t forget and revenge is something that is part of their DNA.

        • Doing nothing will also come around to bite us as well, and “they stood by and did nothing” will also be cause for revenge. Welcome to “which is the least bad choice?”

          • “Doing nothing will also come around to bite us as well,”

            Pardon me? I never said “do nothing”. Are you suggesting that only the military option offered up here is the only “something” that can be done?

            And for the record, Assad offered to allow the UN inspectors “to extend chemical weapons inspections” but the U.S. government rejected it claiming it was delaying tactic. Doesn’t this sound eerily like something we experienced with Bush in Iraq?

          • And for the record, Assad offered to allow the UN inspectors “to extend chemical weapons inspections” but the U.S. government rejected it claiming it was delaying tactic. Doesn’t this sound eerily like something we experienced with Bush in Iraq?

            No, actually it doesn’t. Bush was claiming that there existed massive stockpiles of chemical weapons in Iraq, and that he was actively trying to acquire nuclear materials as a justification to invade. That despite there being no credible evidence internationally from not only the UN inspectors, but also other countries intelligence assessments.

            What we have here is a country which does have chemical weapons, has just admitted (along with Russia) that they do, and overwhelming evidence that they are actively using them. Not only are our intelligence agencies saying this, it’s countries that didn’t back us about Iraq (like France) saying it.

          • Underlying all of this Norbrook is a likely effort by a few pro-Isreali military hawks to further the mission they started with Bush jr. which is to transform the middle east into a more American-friendly, and by de fault, a more Jewish friendly set of countries. This of course would benefit us but would never be accepted by Islamic leaders, especially the Shiites who are currently our more visible enemy. We still are viewed by them as the great Satan and will be for some time.

            So when we try to take military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons they don’t see this as one time form of exacting justice. They see it and portray to their followers as a continuance by the west to eradicate their culture. And they wouldn’t be totally wrong.

            Tell me too, when we shoot our missals into Syria for using chemical weapons, will they kill those responsible for ordering the firing of those missals? Without enabling the Assad regime to see that efforts to settle things peaceably is the best they can do to stop the killing and sustain their hold in power to a large degree, failing to knock out other sources of chemical weapons or those who would use them with our missals will only ensure that this will happen again and then we will likely have to up the ante. Especially if they choose retaliatory action against our political ally, Israel.

            I too would like to believe that this singular strike will have the desired affect and the capability Obama claims it will by striking pertinent targets without the death of innocent civilians. But even Obama conceded last night to news reporters that there are no real guarantees that if Syria does retaliate in ways that can draw us into to further involvement, that expectation of a one-time action disappears. That was the premise Bush and his administration fostered on us back in 2003. The belief that this would be a relatively cheap and quick action in Iraq.

  3. see above

    Since I have never supported war of any kind, have been unable to convince myself that it’s ever ok to retaliate, cannot believe you get results with violence I am on the side that says isn’t there another way. Seeing what happened to those people in Syria brought tears to my eyes but short of blowing Syria off the map what good can an air strike do and won’t we just kill more people? Help me understand how it can help?

    • Whether or not we use violence, it shouldn’t be taken off the table right off the bat, and that is what is being done. There has been an international consensus for decades now that chemical weapons are not to be used. There are numerous treaties (which we signed), conventions, and “laws of war” which ban their use. Their military application is not great, believe it or not. They’re at best “area denial weapons” and only serve to encumber both sides. However, against civilian populations, they’re “terror weapons.” They’re meant to cow the opposition, remove a potential support group, and do it in a way that is particularly terrible.

      More people are going to die regardless. That is the sad reality there in Syria. The current Assad’s father dealt with an insurrection by surrounding the town, shelling it to rubble over several days, and then sending his troops in to kill any survivors. We may not be able to stop them from doing that, but if we can stop them from using chemical weapons, we should. Because if he feels he can get away with it, he’ll do it again.

      • The bottom line here I think Norbrook is that lasting effects to achieve peace are more successful with legal consensus and persistence, not through military bravado. Might really doesn’t always make right even when it’s disguised as such.

        • I’m not disagreeing with you but first you have to get people to the table. Right now, the issue is that there’s a pretty solid international consensus that the Syrian government not only has chemical weapons, they have used them. The problem is that the Syrian government and its allies have not shown a willingness to enter talks until there was a credible threat.

          • Perhaps we are seeing that change now as the news yesterday has Russia agreeing to Kerry’s suggesting of allowing international control of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

            I can understand naysayers thinking this won’t happen and its only being used as a delaying tactic but until we show that that is the case, we will be on the wrong side of this tragedy if we don’t at least allow this effort to be played out.

          • You might want to check out Smartypants take on this from yesterday’s interviews.

  4. Churchlady

    What was needed was Russia. What the president just got was Russia, and Putin admitted that the intervention came as a result of serious pressure from the U.S. The Syrian foreign minister just agreed to place chem weapons under international control. There may also be a movement toward removing Assad from power. All of that was what this president desired all along and used the threat of intervention to hold as a bargaining chip. With Russian support, Assad has very little choice. That is the mater strategy of diplomacy. That has long been this president’s way to move forward.

  5. Dancer

    And, today the president is potentially looking again like the “smartest kid in class”…guess you were right about “fools in a different way”…let’s hope there can be a non-military solution to the “current” crisis!