Father captures my thoughts on the situation with Syria.

My father wrote a post on facebook the other day that pretty much echoes exactly my position on the growing situation in Syria:

The question keeps coming up: There have been 100,000 killed in Syria and another 7 million displaced. Why get all worked up now because 1,000 people were killed by poison gas?

The Geneva Convention in 1925 banned chemical weapons because even though they aren’t a great battleground tool, they’re a weapon of terror that does a great job of killing civilians and have a terrible propensity for huge collateral damage to the innocents.

So, I understand why a message about the use of this WMD kind of needs to be sent. If Assad can get away with it, who will try it next: North Korea, Iran, Hezbollah, who?

But, why should that message be sent by us? The Geneva Convention signatories cover most of the world, so why is it up to us to unilaterally do something about it having been broken? Part of the excuse for the Iraq War was that Saddam had broken some United Nations sanction. I had the same question then: If it is a U.N. sanction, then the U.N. should be taking care of it. We have no right to designate ourselves as the enforcement arm for the U.N. Similarly, we shouldn’t designate ourselves as the sole enforcer of the Geneva Convention. If sending a message about use of WMDs isn’t that important to the rest of the world, then maybe we should ride along with them. It is their world just as much as it is ours.

He’s right.  Joe Biden has said that the US is ready to act regardless of what the UN investigation team finds.  Biden says we are certain that the chemical attacks were carried out by Assad and his regime.  While I think it’s highly likely that this is true, why not wait for the UN investigation to confirm it?  They’re going to be there a few more days.  We were certain that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but because we acted on our *ahem* certainty, we wound up looking like buffoons to the rest of the civilized world.

And if we’re ready to act on our certainty, regardless of what the UN finds, then we must have some knowledge they don’t.  Why do we not communicate that to the UN and get them on board?  This whole situation stinks, and I say this as a person who doesn’t think was is never necessary (though I think the times when it’s required are very, very rare).  For me, if Assad is guilty, it’s a cost benefit analysis.  Innocent people will die if nobody intervenes.  However, if we intervene, innocent people will die on account of our bombs and such.  Either way innocent people are going to die, and there’s no perfect solution.  We should be reticent to have the blood of the innocent on our hands, and only do so if it will lessen the amount of blood shed on the whole.  But in order to make sure that’s the case we need to be careful, and we need to approach it as a global community.  If we fail to do that, I think the USA will have failed morally and in the deepest conceivable fashion.

And it will mean we would not have learned our lesson from transgressions past.

If you want to know more about what’s going on in Syria, but are afraid of sounding uninformed, it’s cool: the Washington Post has you covered with the basics.

  • I have gelato

    “I had the same question then: If it is a U.N. sanction, then the U.N. should be taking care of it. We have no right to designate ourselves as the enforcement arm for the U.N. Similarly, we shouldn’t designate ourselves as the sole enforcer of the Geneva Convention.”

    1) The UN doesn’t have a standing army/air force.

    2) Name the countries besides the US that have the capability to do so.

    “Why do we not communicate that to the UN and get them on board? This whole situation stinks, and I say this as a person who doesn’t think was is never necessary (though I think the times when it’s required are very, very rare).”

    The articles you link answer that question

    “And it will mean we would not have learned our lesson from transgressions past.”

    Although Iraq was a giant fuckup, the UN has showed it can fuckup with the best of them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srebrenica_massacre

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide

    • 23cal

      “1) The UN doesn’t have a standing army/air force.” Its members do. And we DO know the U.N. calls on the forces of its member nations, as shown in your own links.

      “2) Name the countries besides the US that have the capability to do so.” As a group, let’s start with all of them involved in the first Iraq war under Bush 1.

      “Although Iraq was a giant fuckup, the UN has showed it can fuckup with the best of them.” No one hits a home run every time. Having U.N. sanction and participation disperses the blame in the event it is a bad decision..

      • I have gelato

        “Its members do. And we DO know the U.N. calls on the forces of its member nations, as shown in your own links.”

        The links clearly show that the member states didn’t act and horrible things followed.

        “As a group, let’s start with all of them involved in the first Iraq war under Bush 1.”

        They took forever to assemble as was dependent on a Middle East country letting them in. Also if it is just going to be a bombing war then the US really is the best equipped country to carry it out,

        “No one hits a home run every time. Having U.N. sanction and participation disperses the blame in the event it is a bad decision”

        Having plenty of countries to share the blame with would make it better for the Syrian people how?

        • 23cal

          “Its members do. And we DO know the U.N. calls on the forces of its member nations, as shown in your own links.”
          “The links clearly show that the member states didn’t act and horrible things followed.”

          You have moved the goal posts from whether or not the U.N. calls on the forces of its member nations to whether or not their actions in a specific instance are effective. From your link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srebrenica_massacre:
          “However, in July 1995, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), represented on the ground by a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers….”
          and from your second link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide#United_Nations:
          “The UN-mandated French-led force, under Opération Turquoise, established and maintained a “safe zone” for Hutu refugees to flee to in the southwest.”

          Obviously your own links show, as I claimed, that the U.N. calls up forces of its member nations. Korea, Belgian Congo, Egypt-Israeli conflicts, and a host of other conflicts also serve as examples of U.N. forces being called up from its member nations.

          “As a group, let’s start with all of them involved in the first Iraq war under Bush 1.”
          “They took forever to assemble as was dependent on a Middle East country letting them in.” Again, you move the goal posts. You asked who else had the capability. I told you. Whether they got their stuff together quickly some other time is an entirely different question.

          “Having plenty of countries to share the blame with would make it better for the Syrian people how?” Did I claim that sharing the blame would make it better for the Syrian people? NO. Not even close. I think it is easily clear how it is better for the U.S.

          You’ve moved the goal posts twice and provided a non sequitur, and I don’t really have any more time to devote to such nonsense. Have a nice day.

          • I have gelato

            “You have moved the goal posts from whether or not the U.N. calls on the forces of its member nations to whether or not their actions in a specific instance are effective.”

            No goal posts have been moved. If the military requirement is substantial and the US is not involved its guaranteed the UN will drag its feet indefinitely.

            And again no goal posts have been moved.

            “As a group, let’s start with all of them involved in the first Iraq war under Bush 1.”
            “They took forever to assemble as was dependent on a Middle East country letting them in.” “Again, you move the goal posts. You asked who else had the capability. I told you. Whether they got their stuff together quickly some other time is an entirely different question.”

            No goal posts have been moved you simply stated something without the ability to show how its going to be relevant this time around. If you can’t move rapidly, don’t have the US Navy under your ownership, and don’t have a middle east country willing to let you in………

            Then you don’t have the capability.

            But if I’m wrong feel free to name out all those countries that do have the capability

            “Having plenty of countries to share the blame with would make it better for the Syrian people how?” “Did I claim that sharing the blame would make it better for the Syrian people? NO. Not even close. I think it is easily clear how it is better for the U.S.”

            No you didn’t, I simply pointed out how stupid your comment was, and why the focus should be on whats best for the Syrian people not on who gets to share the blame if not all goes well. But good to see you let that one Woosh by your head.

            “As I can’t backup any of my random statements with facts I’ll just declare victory and leave. Have a nice day.”

            Catcha Buddy,

  • unbound55

    The Washington Post analysis seems incomplete overall. I would recommend a more thorough article in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/your-labor-day-syria-reader-part-2-william-polk/279255/).

    Trying to look at the situation from a non-US view, it seems that the biggest problem isn’t that we are trying to be the worldwide police force (although that is one that most people outside of the US will quickly state why they resent the US); the biggest problem is that the US appears rather hypocritical by enforcing weapons of mass destruction as the reason for finally doing something. Considering that we are one of the few countries that use mines rather heavily (which also has a very heavy toll on civilians and produces general fear…the same reasons the common weapons of mass destruction are banned), it is very easy to see that the US is simply trying to remind the world that no one better be using weapons of mass destruction that we can’t easily detect (gas-based weapons).

    So many non-violent things that could have been (and potentially still can be) done. Of course, this is ‘merica, and we reach for guns to solve our problems.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Land mines are banned by treaty for most nations, in fact, for that very reason. The treaty (Ottawa Convention) originated through Canadian effort and has as signatories 161 states. One nation has signed but not ratified the treaty (the Marshall Islands). The US impeded and tried to squash the treaty as best as it was able when it was being negotiated, and of course is not a signatory.

  • Rachel Warner

    Well spoken sir !

    • John

      I wish JT’s father was blogging at FTB.

  • Duane McCormick

    Syria is not a signatory to the ban on chemical weapons. The U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. To Attack another country is a violation of international law. Syria, even if it did use chemical weapons, did not violate international law. The U.S. slaughters using nasty weapons exceed anything Syria ever did. Obama is a thug.

    • Grotoff

      Obama is thug? And yet you defend Assad?

      • Duane McCormick

        Defend Assad? What are you talking about?

  • Neil Schmidt

    The real travesty here is that even if our government decides to do this against the will of the people, said people will most likely just change channels and distract themselves with whatever shiny object the networks choose to distract them with this time. Worse than any aggressive action our leaders can take is the passive indifference the citizens of the US have come to be known for.

  • Grotoff

    Nothing we communicate to Russia or China will get them on board. They are more interested in doing whatever they can to stymie the United States than in preserving their people from normalized chemical weapons.

    • Compuholic

      Right, because the U.S. (aka the Good Guys(tm)) is the arbiter of what is true and right and always has the interests of the weak and underprivileged people at heart. And the first priority of the rest of the world (aka the Bad Guys(tm)) is to make life as difficult for the U.S. as possible.

      Why is the government in such a hurry to drop bombs? What is wrong with waiting for confirmation and a UN mandate? For the past 2 years nobody could be bothered to do anything but suddenly they cannot even wait a few weeks? If they really have such solid evidence then it shouldn’t be a problem to get everyone on board.

      And what is bombing going to solve? What are you going to target? There are certainly smarter and probably even cheaper ways to go about this. Like supplying the rebels with gear. Of course it doesn’t have quite the same drama than dropping bombs.

      • Grotoff

        What are you talking about? It’s about acting in self-interest. It is in the interest of the United States to (1) preserve the norm against chemical weapons use and (2) prevent either Assad or the jihadis from winning a decisive victory in Syria.

        There is not going to be a UN mandate. The inspectors will not say who they think deployed Sarin, only that it was deployed. If you read the accounts those in the area then it is clear that the inspectors did a shoddy job anyway, not taking samples or thoroughly interviewing victims. In any case, both Russia and China will veto any Security Council resolution.

        The purpose of bombing is to change Assad’s calculus on the risk-to-benefit ratio of chemical weapons use. The target is Assad, his leaders, and their infrastructure.

        • Compuholic

          the inspectors did a shoddy job anyway, not taking samples or thoroughly interviewing victims.

          Again: Everyone else is incompetent but the U.S. government has the good information (but somehow is unable to share it)? So if they did not take any samples I guess the samples mentioned here mysteriously materialized at the UN?

          The inspectors will not say who they think deployed Sarin, only that it was deployed.

          That is probably because there is no solid evidence who released it. Some of us actually prefer evidence to gut feelings.

          There is not going to be a UN mandate [...] In any case, both Russia and China will veto any Security Council resolution.

          And you know this how? Are only the U.S. concerned to preserve the norm against chemical weapons?

          Again you didn’t answer the central question: Why the hurry? Let the labs analyse the stuff bring it before the security council and try to get a response there. If everything fails the option to act alone is still there.

          The purpose of bombing is to change Assad’s calculus on the risk-to-benefit ratio of chemical weapons use.

          Right, because when Obama said that chemical weapons would be a red line, Assad thought: “Hmm, so far nobody really cared what I do here: Hey, let’s use chemical weapons. That ought to get everyones attention”. And after we bomb whatever we are going to bomb he will say “I’m so sorry. It was a mistake to use chem. Weapons”?

          The target is Assad, his leaders, and their infrastructure.

          Ok, got it: Assad, leaders, infrastructure. Sounds like a concrete plan.

          • Grotoff

            There is no hurry, obviously. That’s one of the reasons why Obama has taken it to the Congress. They get all the classified briefings and can take their time to consider the issue.

            Assad can dissemble however he wants, but that doesn’t change the inherent calculus. He pushed the envelope as far as he could, trying to win victories not granted by Hezbollah against the resurgent Jordanian trained rebels in the south. He stepped over the line, so now there will be strikes that will cripple much of his air power and threaten his regime. Lesson learned.

          • KenBrowning

            In a democracy, sovereignty ultimately lies with the voters. I, as a voter, am no longer willing to give my consent to military aggression without fully adequate disclosure of evidence for such action. No more “trust us”. If non-disclosure is more important to our politicians and bureaucrats than waging war then they won’t receive my support for war. Period.

            So, for me, there’s no reason to even consider the value of a strike until I can know that the motivation has objective evidence.


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