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Briefly on Syria…

[ 81 ] August 27, 2013 |

Some not well organized thoughts on Syria (twitter has ruined me):

  • I don’t expect that the military action that’s likely about to happen will have any meaningful effect on the course of the Syrian civil war.
  • I do suspect that the U.S. will strike a variety of targets (most likely with TLAMs) that are associated in some way with the deployment and control of chemical weapons.
  • I think that the move of other air assets into the region (both by U.S. and U.K.) is largely a precaution against Syrian government reprisal.
  • Given Syria’s lack of response to recent Israeli airstrikes, I doubt we’ll see much beyond a rhetorical condemnation from the Syrians.
  • I worry that the Syrian rebels will over-interpret these strikes as support for their position, and begin to engage in risk-acceptant behaviors intended to provoke the government.
  • Beyond upholding the taboo against chemical weapons use (which I think has some value), it’s not easy for me to sort out the connection between means and ends.
  • I think the Obama administration made its “red line” commitment in the belief that there was virtually no chance that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons (or, indeed, survive this long). The administration seems to be struggling to escape a trap of its own making.
  • I hope that the reluctance to become directly engaged on the part of the administration will limit the dangers of entanglement.  However, such dangers always exist.
  • On balance, I think it’s a bad idea to engage.  But I also doubt that it’s a mistake of any significant or enduring consequence.

 

Comments (81)

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  1. Derelict says:

    On balance, I think it’s a bad idea to engage. But I also doubt that it’s a mistake of any significant or enduring consequence.

    I have to disagree strongly here. The US is engaging with no clear idea of what it intends to achieve either long- or short-term. It has no idea who might actually benefit from these strikes. It has no clear or compelling interest in the outcome of Syria’s civil war beyond the president placating a small (chronically wrong) group of neo-cons in US domestic politics–a group that will continue to declare his every move wrong no matter what he does or how it plays out.

    All of this tells me that the US will engage, then escalate (because having started with no clear objective, America will have no choice but to redouble its efforts). No good will come of any of this.

    • Bruce Vail says:

      Easy for you to say, Robert, you’re not one of innocent bystanders that’ll get a Hellfire missile up the ass.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Nor are you one of the people who will get gassed.

        • EH says:

          People are getting gassed? Says who, Facebook?

          • steve says:

            I am pretty sure people were gased. The problem is whether the United States can intervene militarily in such a way that:

            1. They hurt Asad severely enough to make him think twice about using such weapons again (assuming the regime is responsible) and to scare governments involved in future wars.
            2.Not severe enough to cause Asad’s regime to collapse and leave a power-vacuum with no one (or at least no one preferrable to Asad) to fill it.

            Obama is clearly worried about what comes after Asad hence the hesitance to get involved sooner. But if we don’t hit hard enough to really threaten Asad militarily then we won’t have actually “sent a message” effectively. Then we’ll have just killed a bunch of grunts and bystanders with little gain.

            So the exact balance is very difficult. Then you have the risks that things spiral out of control, which saves future potential victims of a gas attack in exchange for potentially even more killed in the chaos. And getting the balance right doesn’t necessarily mean a net gain in lives saved either. Asad has plenty of other non-chemical weapons (incendiary bombs and so forth) with which to kill people and those can be just as effective.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            People are getting gassed? Says who, Facebook?

            Try Doctors Without Borders.

          • Ed says:

            People are getting gassed? Says who, Facebook?

            John Kerry. He said he saw pictures on the internet and they made him sad and he knows only Assad could have done it and now he wants to drop some bombs so the sad will go away.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Medicins Sans Frontieres:

              According to the latest update from Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, three hospitals in Syria’s Damascus governorate that are supplied by Doctors Without Borders reported that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms such as convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress, in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, 21 August.

              These patients were treated using Doctors Without Borders-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms. So far 355 of those patients reportedly displaying neurotoxic symptoms have died.

              Due to security concerns, no Doctors Without Borders staff have been able to visit the hospitals who reported these symptoms, but the accounts come from medical facilities with which Doctors Without Borders has had effective and reliable collaborative relationships. DWB are neither able to confirm the cause of the illnesses and deaths nor establish who may be responsible, but the reported symptoms, the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, and several other factors, strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.

              Unfortunately, when medical personnel treat patients exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they too are at risk of becoming ill. Sadly, the doctors in one of the hospitals reported that 70 out of 100 volunteers suffered symptoms after direct contact with patients and that one person has died.

              Ha ha ha John Kerry is sad, what a chump.

              • Ed says:

                You left something out:

                “MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr. Janssens.

                Dr. Janssens is no dummy.

                Not that it matters in any case. My hunch is the die is cast, and that smirk on Bush II’s face will shortly be a very wide grin.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Nope, the guy who has people in-country is no dummy. That’s for sure.

                  So, I see we’ve dropped the “Who said anyone was gassed?” line.

                  But, yes, I’m sure George Bush will be thrilled at the thought of punitive air strikes and no ground attack in response to a chemical weapons attack, which might benefit a popular rebellion that includes Sunni Islamists elements, because that’s just like…um…you know…that time under George Bush…in…uhhhhhhh…

                • Ed says:

                  So, I see we’ve dropped the “Who said anyone was gassed?” line.

                  Not my line. But a bombing campaign under these circumstances is just as dumb (and wrong) if it can be proved and if Assad is to blame. Nice dodge, though.

        • Ronan says:

          Lets get serious Joe, its (1)reactive (2) an opportunity to attack some of the Syrian regimes military installations, its not going to make a huge difference to whats going on on the ground

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Let’s get serious indeed: this is the third episode in which the Assad regime has been charged with launching a chemical weapons attack. The previous two (June 2012 and December 2012) were knocked down by the Obama administration itself. They’ve spent two years pushing back against efforts to get us to intervene in the civil war, and have spent their entire presidency taking the issue of proliferation very seriously, including Nunn-Lugar and the NEW START accords with Russia.

            Yes, let’s get serious: the charge that the Obama administration is merely looking for a pretext to get involved in the war, and doesn’t really take the reemergence of chemical warfare seriously, makes no sense.

            I do agree that it’s reactive – they are reacting to the chemical weapons attack. And I even agree that what they are likely to do will not make any great different in the fight between the regime and the rebels.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Knocked down the drive to war that surrounded those earlier charges, I should have said.

                • Happy Jack says:

                  If they claimed to have positive proof that the previous incidents were instigated by Assad, why wouldn’t they make an example of him then? He would have already crossed a “redline”. I’m not aware that they turned any of this evidence over to the UN. This latest incident is a quite bit weaker as far as evidence.

                  The only thing offered up is a secondhand account through DWB. I don’t see any link to someone with any expertise in chemical weapons or physical evidence, unless DWB has their own facilities and personnel to verify what their partners are alleging. The prior incident depended on a Syrian doctor, and his video only verified the use of the deadly chemical agent Barbasol.

                • Blowhard from Lowell says:

                  Time to put a lid on the sanctimony pal.

            • Ronan says:

              Aye, I agree

              • Ronan says:

                Although I do think there are some in the admin looking to intervene, and more looking to arm the rebels..whatever the rights and wrongs of either position (I don’t think this is a pretext for either)

            • Ed says:

              Certainly the Administration’s decisionmaking process has been muddled and confused, with deep divisions evident.

              I doubt that anyone set on using chemical weapons in future will be deterred. In fact if Assad hasn’t already done so, a bombing campaign that might actually hurt him sounds like a splendid reason to get started. Hanged for a sheep as a lamb, you know, and I’m sure he’s noted how Gaddafi ended up.

              • fka AWS says:

                Certainly the Administration’s decisionmaking process has been muddled and confused, with deep divisions evident.

                Can you blame them? The entire situation is muddled and confused, with deep divisions evident.

              • Johnny Sack says:

                Right. If Assad loses, he dies. He has nothing to lose by using chemical weapons. A future dictator in a similar position will not be deterred if in a similar position.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      well, we do have a clear objective – to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. I have my doubts about 1) whether that will really serve as a deterrent for any future use of chemical warfare and 2) remain our only, limited objective. Things like war have a way of getting away from the people who run them.

      • Derelict says:

        If the objective is to “punish Assad for using chemical weapons,” then the only way that objective can be realized is by either killing Assad or capturing him to haul him before the Hague.

        In the absence of any actual intelligence on his minute-to-minute movements, I’d say we cannot expect either of those things to occur. So, that leaves us with flinging some bombs at some military installations and then, well, nobody knows what. In all probability, those initial strikes will be followed by more howls from the likes of Senator ClosetCase and President McCain for yet more bombing. Slaughter, rinse, repeat.

        I can’t see US interests being advanced in any way by this. I can, however, see the US further radicalizing whole new generations of people who will hate us for having killed their father/mother/brother/sister/cousin.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          You don’t think blowing up a bunch of Assad’s very favorite things, like his air force, chemical weapons launching equipment, air defense, ministries, etc. would count as a punishment?

          • Kurzleg says:

            You mean acts of war?

            • jim, some guy in iowa says:

              that is what I mean by “things getting away” from the planners. I think being the ‘optimistic’ definition of sanguine now is going to lead to being the ‘blood-red’ version later

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Yep.

              I was not aware there was any confusion about whether a bombing campaign was an act of war. Glad I could clear that up.

              Any other Very Strong Words you’d care to use?

              • ajay says:

                Any other Very Strong Words you’d care to use?

                A few:

                To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

      • Rarely Posts says:

        Things like war have a way of getting away from the people who run them.

        This is precisely why one should avoid starting a war unless the reasons are very, very good.

        Use of chemical weapons is wrong and illegal. But, first, how certain are we (and can we be) that chemical weapons were used by Assad as opposed to rebels seeking to draw us into the war on their side? I suspect the former is more plausible (mostly because Juan Cole thinks so), but I’d like to see very solid evidence. None has been made public. And, yes, the Iraq War does mean that the administration faces a heightened burden of proof, even though the Obama Administration is generally much better than the Bush II Administration.

        Second, and more importantly, is penalizing the limited use of chemical weapons against one’s own population a good reason to enter a war that, as you admit, may well “get away from us”? I seriously doubt it. The outcome of the war has the potential to be very messy and expensive for the United States, and it’s not at all clear that we can make things better off for the Syrian people — the rebels don’t seem that great either.

        Third, it’s very unlikely that it will be a significant deterrent to use of chemical weapons by others in the future. Most of the American neoconservative movement has been pushing for us to enter Syria for a long time, Syria has historically been aligned against us and our allies and with our strategic opponents, and we’ve often ignored (or engaged in) violations of International law ourselves. As a result, most foreign leaders who see us intervene here will doubt it such intervention is routed in a principled position against chemical weapons or violations of international law. Instead, they will likely see it as motivated by other interests — general alignment against the Syrian regime, domestic politics, etc. As a consequence, the deterrent effect is limited, even if the real motivator is to penalize the use of chemical weapons.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          I’m a bit bothered by you saying I “admit” an intervention in Syria might get away from us as if my initial comment was a sales pitch for intervention. My second and third sentences should have made it clear that I have grave doubts as to the ultimate success that the Administration no doubt hopes for and joe from Lowell obviously expects.

          • Rarely Posts says:

            Sorry about that – I think I got confused about who was saying what overall, and I thought you still came down on the side of intervention. Certainly no offense intended.

  2. Bruce Vail says:

    Can’t wait for our president-in-wiating, genius Secy-o-State to weigh in on this.

    Lord, help us.

  3. max says:

    (twitter has ruined me)

    Twitter is still stupid.

    I don’t expect that the military action that’s likely about to happen will have any meaningful effect on the course of the Syrian civil war.

    The only courses of action likely to produce meaningful effects appears to me to be a all-out air war or ground attack. And given the layout out of the territory, a blitzkrieg (followed by an immediate departure) is likely to be most effective (and least deadly option for Syrian civilians).

    I do suspect that the U.S. will strike a variety of targets (most likely with TLAMs) that are associated in some way with the deployment and control of chemical weapons.

    Pound the government ministries – big fat targets that aren’t going anywhere and house the folks in charge of this crap. Chasing the lower level types responsible for the actual deployment of chemical weapons at the point of attack is chasing ghosts. We don’t know where those guys are.

    I think that the move of other air assets into the region (both by U.S. and U.K.) is largely a precaution against Syrian government reprisal.

    Not enough planes involved to do much else.

    Given Syria’s lack of response to recent Israeli airstrikes, I doubt we’ll see much beyond a rhetorical condemnation from the Syrians.

    If we keep it small, yes.

    I worry that the Syrian rebels will over-interpret these strikes as support for their position, and begin to engage in risk-acceptant behaviors intended to provoke the government.

    They already have. They appear to have hooked up with the usual neo-con suspects to push for American intervention. (And the Saudis are no doubt pushing for it as well.) I have no problem ignoring them.

    Beyond upholding the taboo against chemical weapons use (which I think has some value), it’s not easy for me to sort out the connection between means and ends.

    I don’t think it looks worth doing yet for that reason, but if they must, then they should limit it to that.

    The administration seems to be struggling to escape a trap of its own making.

    A Reagan-Libya ’85 style raid is about the only thing worth the trouble. They can then withdraw the red line remarks (by dropping them entirely). If they can resist cutting aid to Egypt, they drop the rhetorical gestures.

    I hope that the reluctance to become directly engaged on the part of the administration will limit the dangers of entanglement. However, such dangers always exist.

    Goes without saying.

    On balance, I think it’s a bad idea to engage. But I also doubt that it’s a mistake of any significant or enduring consequence.

    If they keep it small, yes. Cameron seems to be pushing this from the UK (guess the economy is not a strong point) and I don’t see any reason to help bail him out of his jam. Erdogan wants to fight, but the Turks do not.

    Roughly, everyone is keen for us to do something and it seems to me if they want to bother they can lead on this.

    max
    ['We really don't have to be in charge.']

    • max says:

      Pound the government ministries – big fat targets that aren’t going anywhere and house the folks in charge of this crap.

      Unloading 50 cruise missiles destined for Damascus (or a hundred, if we must) unloaded from the latitude of Tel Aviv and then a planned scoot seems like the best play. Loitering in the ‘Cilician corner’ with a similar number of Russian ships in the area, waiting to get shot at by Syrian anti-ship missiles and torpedo boats seems like a very bad idea. (Bad replay of the Tanker War it seems like. Or the Szent István.)

      max
      ['Couldn't remember the name.']

  4. TT says:

    Getting involved in any way, shape, or form in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian civil war is a fool’s errand of the highest order. With the exception of Lebanon Syria’s neighbors are all either as or more powerful, so the danger of the war spreading beyond Syrian borders is negligible. And any attempt to “enforce” existing prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons is a mighty slim reed with which to justify a large operation. (Chemical weapons are not WMD, and frankly I do not see how their tactical deployment against civilians is any more objectionable morally than missiles, cluster bombs, IEDs, land mines, machetes, etc.)

    US national interests are not served in the slightest by intervention. And, as always, kudos to the US Congress for asserting its war powers in the ferociously jealous manner to which we have all grown accustomed these past 63 years.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      (Chemical weapons are not WMD, and frankly I do not see how their tactical deployment against civilians is any more objectionable morally than missiles, cluster bombs, IEDs, land mines, machetes, etc.)

      At the end of World War One, with all of the horrors of industrialized warfare – aerial bombardment, huge artillery pieces, machine guns, fire weapons, etc.) demonstrated before their eyes for years – the entire world responded with such fear and revulsion to chemical weapons as to isolate them in a separate category and subject them to unique bans. Chemical weapons caused about 1% of all the deaths in the war.

      Do you think the people who lived through chemical warfare reacted that way for no good reason?

      • rea says:

        Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
        Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
        Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
        And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
        Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
        But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
        Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
        Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

        GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
        Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
        But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
        And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
        Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
        As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

        In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
        He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

        If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
        Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
        And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
        His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
        If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
        Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
        Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
        Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
        My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
        To children ardent for some desperate glory,
        The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
        Pro patria mori.

      • TT says:

        From a moral perspective, explain to me why killing civilians with chemical weapons is worse than killing them via “conventional” means.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          See Ronan’s link, below.

          • Anonymous says:

            From Ronan’s link, below:

            More generally, it is not so obvious what makes chemical weapons different from other weaponry that can be used for gruesome ends.

            and

            Yet it is difficult to make the case based on human suffering alone. There has been so much carnage in Syria already. Surely, this should have triggered a response already if this were the sole basis for our outrage.

            So unfortunately, Ronan’s link doesn’t really answer the question of why, from a moral perspective, killing a bunch of civilians with chemical weapons is worse than killing a bunch of civilians by conducting bombings and missile strikes on urban areas. It does suggest a possible historical perspective, based on “poison is repulsive and cowardly.” But that sounds a little too macho for actual humanitarianism.

  5. wengler says:

    I don’t quite understand why chemical weapons are more severely punished than other weapons designed to kill people in a large radius. Cluster bombs and dispersant blast ordinance bombs do the exact same thing without the moral outrage and without the risk to non-enemy populations.Even as a terror weapon, chemical weapons have performed poorly as Aum Shinrikyo proved.

    Frankly, there is only one ‘game-changing’ weapon out there and it is nuclear. To create policy with chemical weapons as one of your lines in the sand is foolish and plays on people’s ignorance and fear.

  6. LeeEsq says:

    I do not think that the U.S. or U.K should intervene in any manner. Any intervention is probably going to make matters worse. Missle strikes are just going to be symbolic chest thumping. The Israeli air strikes served a valid purpose, remainding Assad not to take any actions that would lead Israel into full intervention in the Syrian Civil War. They seem to be working.

  7. Davis X. Machina says:

    We’re only doing it because of the oil.

  8. Ed says:

    So very decent of Assad to clarify the situation by using chemical weapons (on civilians, natch) and invite Western intervention at the very moment when he’s regained much of the initiative on the ground and UN inspectors are in the country to….assess the evidence on his alleged use of chemical weapons.

    Well, after this and our adventure in Libya, somewhere Bush II is smiling. On the other hand, as Michael Crowley says, American “credibility” is at stake. Obama said “Assad must go,” even as responsible reporters were already noting that he was unlikely to go anywhere soon, and so the impertinent fellow must go.

    • Anon21 says:

      bama said “Assad must go,” even as responsible reporters were already noting that he was unlikely to go anywhere soon, and so the impertinent fellow must go.

      Yeah, he said that two years ago, and hasn’t exactly seemed chomping at the bit to put bombs behind those words in the interim. This is like eleven-dimensional-chess the opposite way: Obama is such a crafty warmongering hegemon that he manages to make it look like he has no interest in intervening in Syria, even as he plays out a two-year-string to 100% justify his secret desire to intervene.

  9. shah8 says:

    And we’re so sure of the circumstances…What it is, who did it, did it even happen…

  10. tucker says:

    America, F**k Yeah!!!!

    The whole thing about chemical weapons and morality is nausea inducing. We jail whistle blowers and celebrate war criminals. We gave Saddam instructions and satellite photos so he could gas Iranians. Who really knows who’s responsible for what. I have a dream and it’s that we could have justice, peace and jobs.

    (Ok deep breath, emotional rant over.)

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Everything that’s happened in the last five days, and what really pisses you off is “the whole thing about chemicals weapons and morality.”

      • tucker says:

        Yes, because it’s supremely hypocritical and until we bring the war criminals who sat in the White House and plotted the deaths of the innocents to justice because and prove that we stand for something other than you know oil, I don’t want to hear about supposed superiority of American ideals/morality and why it’s important that we do this. Nope, not in my name.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          355 people, including secondarily-exposed medical personnel, and over 3000 injured. Many women and children.

          But, “Yes,” what really pisses you off is objecting to that, because hypocrisy.

          • lawguy says:

            Isn’t the real issue that it is possible that it isn’t Assad? That if what I’ve been reading recently is correct, that he has been getting the upper hand, isn’t it possible that one of the opposition did this?

          • wengler says:

            Don’t worry Joe. There is no better support for humanitarian efforts than tomahawk missiles.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              I’m afraid I worry quite a bit, but I am very proud of the US for being the world’s biggest donor to the Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan.

              Because as it turns out, false dilemma fallacy is fallacious.

          • Dave says:

            Got a figure for how many people were killed and injured with non-chemical weapons this week?

            Srsly, joe, why do you HAVE to have such a raging hard-on for whatever the Precipitate Intervention Community wants to do this week?

  11. [...] 6. Political scientist Robert Farley has some good bullet points on Syria. [...]

  12. J says:

    I’m inclined to think that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, but it probably isn’t worth doing well, so it isn’t worth doing at all. Or if that’s too cynical, if it is to be done at all, it had better be done well as half-measures will accomplish nothing good and very likely do some harm. As none of the parties planning to punish Assad are contemplating anything other than feeble half measures, inaction would be better. Mind you, I have no idea whether, and rather doubt, that it could be done well.

  13. DocAmazing says:

    Remember, depleted uranium and white phosphorus aren’t chemical weapons, because…well, they aren’t.

    • wengler says:

      Neither is napalm or any aerial dispersant.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Neither is napalm, but chemicals weapons often come in the form of aerial dispersants.

        I think you’re using big words you don’t understand again.

        • wengler says:

          Yes, Joe please school me on things I don’t understand. Why don’t you give me definitive proof that the Syrian government is behind a chemical weapons attack while you are at it?

    • joe from Lowell says:

      From the Geneva Protocol of 1925:

      Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices

      From the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993:

      1. “Chemical Weapons” means the following, together or separately:
      (a) Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;
      (b) Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in subparagraph (a), which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices;
      (c) Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices specified in subparagraph (b).

      Remember, depleted uranium and white phosphorus aren’t chemical weapons, because…they aren’t asphyxiating or poison gases or liquids? Because the DU isn’t a toxic chemical, and white phosphorus isn’t used for a purpose prohibited under the Convention? Because neither is designed to cause death or harm through their toxic properties?

      Do you ever bother to find out anything about the subjects you talk about? Or do you just assume that your medical degree makes you an all-purpose expert, such that any answer you don’t already know can’t possibly exist?

      • DocAmazing says:

        Actually, pulverized depleted uranium is functionally a poison gas. It is inhaled–that’s the main avanue by which it does its damage. (You could look it up.) Its stated purpose is anti-armor. Therefore, any DU munitions fired deliberately at anything other than an armored vehicle (and there were thousands of such rounds) does not fall under any protected class of the Convention of 1993. It’s a toxic chemical being used to bring about death due to its toxic properties.

        White phosphorus is frequently used as an asphyxiant–in tunnel warfare and in flush out bunkers, it is used to consume all of the oxygen so that the inhabitants of said tunnels or bunkers are suffocated (or asphyxiated, if you prefer).

        When it comes to toxins and asphyxia, a medical degree is useful. Stick to school uniforms, joe.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Doc,

          Just stop talking.

          Its stated purpose is anti-armor. Therefore, any DU munitions fired deliberately at anything other than an armored vehicle (and there were thousands of such rounds) does not fall under any protected class of the Convention of 1993. It’s a toxic chemical being used to bring about death due to its toxic properties.

          This is embarrassingly bad.

          Just. Stop. Talking.

          You’re going to be all pissed off when you click on that link and see what happened.

          That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good idea for you to keep talking.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          White phosphorus is frequently used as an asphyxiant–in tunnel warfare and in flush out bunkers, it is used to consume all of the oxygen so that the inhabitants of said tunnels or bunkers are suffocated (or asphyxiated, if you prefer).

          This is still wrong, but it’s at least not embarrassingly garbled, like above.

          As you can see in the 1993 convention, the definition is clarified. The definition of chemical weapon depends on toxic chemicals. Pumping tunnels full of water, for instance, would not violate the Chemical Weapons Protocol. Nor would the use of a fuel air explosive, which also can eliminate the oxygen in an enclosed space.

          If WP was, somehow, used in a manner that poisoned people, it would meet the definition of a chemical weapon, but consuming all the oxygen is not a toxic effect.

          But good try. That one at least comes close.

          • Emma in Sydney says:

            Joe, do you get a hangover after one of these rage benders? Do you have to go and eat fairycakes or something to settle your stomach? Doing this on a regular basis can’t be good for you.

          • lawguy says:

            Isn’t that a little “legalistic” Joe? Kind of like trying to split hairs, to coin a phrase?

        • heckblazer says:

          Those are not the primary purposes of those weapons though. White phosphorous rounds are designed to be used for battlefield illumination, something that generally does not cause toxic effects to non-vampires. Depleted uranium is used for anti-armor penetrators because it is extremely dense and we have have loads of it lying around thanks to our nuclear weapons program. A desirable secondary property of DU is that it’s pyrophoric, so it can set fire to the target vehicle’s fuel, ammunition or crew. If someone is firing DU shells at you and your only problem is heavy metal exposure you are very, very lucky.

  14. Simple mInd says:

    Apparently the word is out that Syria will be bombed for 3 days starting Thursday by France, the UK and the US. Reshuffled coalition of the willing.

  15. Dave says:

    Is it wrong to point out that NONE of the Western interventions in the region in the past decade have actually worked out? That the Iraq bloodbath speaks for itself, along with its trillion-dollar cost; that Afghanistan turned into a ten-year war which is going to end with the Taliban sitting very close to power? That Libya is currently divided between rival militias, some of which are very close to AQ levels of anti-Western hostility?

    What kind of purblind optimist do you have to be to think that the sneaky monsters running the Assad regime definitely won’t be able to twist any kind of onslaught into a tactical advantage, and possibly even a strategic one?

    And even if it goes the ‘right way’, what kind of a fool do you have to be to think it will be a good thing if Assad does lose to the kind of people currently making the running in the opposition camp?

  16. PG says:

    Hi all,

    I don’t believe I will get much positive answer, but here goes anyway: how about putting due process first, in international law as well as domestic law?

    Among the many advantages of such an approach:
    - enhanced credibility: U.S.-haters in the Middle-East can easily refer to a whole range of behaviors on the part of the U.S. which put into question its commitment to legal approaches (Iraq and the withewashing of the torturers, NSA shaningans, Guantanamo, extrajudicial killings in foreign countries come to mind). At this point even a well-meaning position, which for my money opposing the use of chemical weapons is, is undermined by these behaviors, which come at a much higher price than commonly thought, as some of us keep arguing;
    - due process gives legitimacy to the final decision: here, going through the U.N. would end with a veto in the Security Council. As a result, there would be no international collective action, not because the U.S. would decide unilaterally not to intervene, but because it could point to U.N inaction, thus giving political cover to its own misgivings;
    - a clear playing field on which to deal with the aftermath of the decision: more people would be convinced (including in the Middle East) that something should be done on Syria, less people would be able to turn Putin’s and China’s support for Assad into a righteous opposition to American power, and the obvious next step, politically (significant proxy military help to at least some of Assad’s opponents, on the scale of what is done by Russia for Assad) would be easier to achieve. With no guaranteed results, but the impossibility to do nothing would at least mean that a bad outcome (islamist regime in Syria) could be dealt with along the lines of “so what were we supposed to do, nothing?”.

    More generally: following due process, rules, the law, etc;, in spirit first and foremost, is much more important than what I would call (cribbing from Krugman) the Very Serious People in foreign policy tend to think. It is not a matter of convenience, or of idealistic well-wishing: it is a matter of legitimacy, and thus of efficiency. Being apparently efficient with drones and ennemy combatants and GWOT is not being efficient at all when legitimacy is lost whereby.

    PG

    PS to Emma: don’t feed the trolls.

  17. Tucker says:

    This morning, The Guardian reports that Isreali intelligence has electronic evidence of Syrians discussing use of gas. Britain will go to the UN for a resolution authorizing strikes to protect civilians. Irony is not dead.

    • mds says:

      Irony is not dead.

      Are you sure? Because Tony Blair popping up to declare that we must attack Assad now, now, now might have finally finished irony off completely.

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