Friday, August 30, 2013

Worthwhile reading about raining death on the Syrian people

I have nothing original to say about President Obama's seemingly imminent decision to send Tomahawk missiles hurtling into Syria, which will add carnage to carnage, any way you track the shrapnel. But I've been reading, and decided I might do a bit of good by posting links to and excerpts from authors whose thinking on the topic is my favorite color (for thinking): clear.

From a blogger named Sean who writes a blog called the human province, here's some bits from Thursday's post (29 Aug 2013), An open letter on Syria to Western narcissists (with thanks to KR for the link):
I have so little patience for some of the rhetoric I’ve been seeing from Western leftist circles, where this conflict seems like nothing more than a rhetorical bludgeon for scoring ideological points. This has been illustrated by the passing around of an article by Robert Fisk, who asks, “Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?” This lazy and facile opinion piece assures us that if the US attacks Syria, then “the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.” It is the flip side of the rhetoric that was so evident in the run-up to war in Iraq that equated any opposition to an idiotic war with support for Saddam Hussein. Well, guess what? There are lots of perfectly fine opinions that might put you on the same side as al-Qa’ida. Just to name one: if you’re against drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, as I am, then you’re also “on the same side as al-Qa’ida” according to this logic.
On the same date, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite published Syria and the ‘moral obscenity’ of war on the Washington Post's web site (thanks to AB for the link, which I personally forwarded to the PoTUS just in case he missed it):
Then there is also the crucial question, would bombing accomplish anything positive? The military uses terms like “surgical strike” which give a false impression of precision in the use of violence. But bombs exploding are never “surgical,” they are huge explosions. More civilians can be killed, adding to the suffering of the Syrian population. The use of force in retaliation will surely have widespread and likely unintended consequences, perhaps even setting off further chemical attacks by the Assad regime. Predicting what dictators will do in response to the use of force against them is notoriously unreliable. Rather than “deterring” the Syrian regime, it may provoke them.

It is totally understandable that people around the world, horrified as they are by the widespread and horrible deaths of Syrian civilians, would want to “punish” the perpetrators. But for the last two years, a horrific civil war has raged in Syria and it has taken the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to United Nations experts. Millions more have become refugees, suffering themselves in camps that are undersupplied.

One hundred thousand deaths is an obscenity. Millions of suffering refugees is an obscenity. The point is, war is a moral obscenity itself. It is this war that must be stopped, and bombing campaigns do not end war.
And from James Joyner at the Atlantic, published Friday 30 August, Why Obama's Plan to Strike Syria Makes No Strategic Sense (thanks to Meteor Blades at Daily Kos for this link):
[...] Press secretary Jay Carney declared Tuesday that, "It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change" and that "there is no military solution available here, that the way to bring about a better future in Syria is through negotiation and a political resolution."

So, what then?

Carney declared "there must be a response" to the chemical attacks and other "administration officials" have said that the strikes would "send a message." Any message sent by launching military strikes explicitly not designed to achieve one's stated strategic goal would be cryptic, and should probably be accompanied by a decoder ring.

An editorial in the German business daily Handelsblatt, helpfully translated by Der Spiegel, puts the case brilliantly:
Humanitarian wars are also wars. Those who jump into them for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message and demonstrate conviction, but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. Neither can a "we'll see" bombardment. There has to be a strategic motivation behind the moral one, and it demands perseverance.

While Secretary of State Kerry's August 26 speech setting the stage for US response was eloquent and emotionally satisfying, its fundamental argument makes no strategic sense. Who could argue against the idea that "The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity”? As Fred Hof, President Obama's former special advisor for transition in Syria and my colleague at the Atlantic Council, rightly notes, "Such slaughter is, in fact, morally obscene and criminal irrespective of the weaponry employed."


As John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies professor and former State Department official Elliot Cohen rightly notes, "no one — friends, enemies or neutrals — would be fooled" by a token effort and therefore "A bout of therapeutic bombing is an even more feckless course of action than a principled refusal to act altogether."
President Obama is a smart, deliberate man. Please don't hesitate to drop him a line or give him a jingle, and encourage him not to act like a reactionary. Before it's too late. Again.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The controversy machine v the reality machine
Human are like rats and cockroaches: the coming feudalism
Facing things we'd rather weren't so

Thanks to the government of the U.K., via Wikimedia Commons, for the image of a British machine gun crew wearing anti-gas helmets, July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.

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