Home / General / No Open-Ended Authorization For Syria

No Open-Ended Authorization For Syria


Given the relative feebleness of the case for attacking Syria, if I were a member of Congress I would vote against an AUMF. Since it’s likely that this will be a minority permission, at a minimum any AUMF shouldn’t provide open-ended authority but should be very narrowly tailored to authorize the actions that Obama is proposing.

…if the Senate version is narrow enough to lose John McCain’s support it has to be considered a substantial improvement over the initial proposal.

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  • brad

    I don’t disagree at all, but I can’t help but note the bitter irony of looking to goddamn Congress to keep the Obama Admin in check.


    • Uncle Kvetch

      What he said.

    • joe from Lowell

      Well, no.

      Not only did Obama go to Congress against the wishes of Congress, but as McCain’s reaction shows, much of Congress thinks that Obama is keeping himself too much in check.

      • brad

        That… what?
        How is that contradictory with hoping, along with SL, that said Congress produce an authorization from its chaotic mess of a self that holds the Admin back as much as possible?
        McCain isn’t going to get the Teahadists in the House to trust a black man with the nation’s gun, as it were. He’s a Senator, but beyond his vote and his seat on the sunday morning shows he has no real impact anymore. I’m not entirely confident anything will pass the House, really.

        • joe from Lowell

          I was assuming that this “hope” had some connection to anything that was happening, or might plausibly happen, in Congress.

          You’re right; just hoping isn’t contradictory at all.

          • brad

            You have a lot of misplaced aggression here lately.

            Your view of Congress as guaranteed to endorse McCain’s wet dream seems to depend on a lot of evidence that doesn’t exist. They’re not going to whip the House on this at all, which is to say Boehner already knows he’d fall on his face if he tried. The ball is very much in the air.

      • DocAmazing

        That one might just qualify as 11-dimensional chess. It’s being played against an opponent who can’t handle two-dimensional tiddlywinks.

        • joe from Lowell

          I’m not sure I understand.

          What is it that Obama would be covertly trying to accomplish, that isn’t his openly-stated goal (to have the support of the legislative branch and not act unilaterally)?

          Maybe you’re using the chess metaphor differently than I’m used to seeing it.

        • GoDeep

          The Congressional AUMF needs just 4 lines: “See the War Powers Act”

          24hrs ago I was wondering what the hell BO was doing. Now I stand amazed at him appearing to be pulling a rabbit out of his hat. Yes it was brilliant. 50% brilliant & 50% theater.

          The resolution I’ve heard described is nothing more than a reiteration of the War Powers Act. And that is its genius. On one hand it allows BO to demonstrate national resolve to Syria, Iran and Russia; on the other hand it keeps POTUS entirely reined in by the WPA. Sure its sheer theater, but its Tony-worthy!

  • Kurzleg

    Sad state of affairs when the sole issue on which our two parties can agree involves blowing stuff up and killing foreigners. I had hopes that actions against Syria were unpopular enough amongst the electorate that politicians would vote down any actions, but I have to admit that isn’t likely to be the case.

    • Where do you see “our two parties” agreeing on this in the House? Seems pretty split in both caucuses.

      • Anna in PDX

        If he/she changed the sentence to “our two parties’ leadership” it would be true.

        • Supposedly none of the four caucuses are whipping members. So their statements of support don’t have particularly sharp teeth.

          And incidentally, I’m not entirely sure McConnell is on board. I think there’s been reporting saying he’s on board, but I don’t recall seeing any public statement.

  • Murc

    Can I make an attempt to argue that we not use euphemisms? (I’m going to try and do this without sounding like an ass.)

    An “AUMF” is a declaration of war. If it’s going to be legally construed to give the Executive Branch all the powers it usually assumes during wartime (and it has been) then that’s what it is; a war declaration. We refer to the Korean and Vietnam Wars as wars despite the fact that Congress weaseled out of declaring them, because we’re not idiots and know when war is in the offing.

    We should speak plainly on this; Obama has asked Congress to declare war on Syria. Using a sanitized term is not helpful.

    • UserGoogol

      We call the Vietnam War a war, but we don’t call Grenada one. Although large military conflicts are de facto wars even if they aren’t formally described as such, small military conflicts have been able to get away with not being called wars for a very long time. (And there have been quite a lot of “small military conflicts” in American history.) And I don’t think there’s anything duplicitious about that, large military conflicts and small military conflicts are different in ways which deserve different terminology, and using “use of military force” as a catch-all term seems fine.

      Which side of large or small Syria will end up falling on is a bit in the air, and our involvement in Syria could easily become a “war war” if we’re not careful, but I don’t think we have to call it a war right away.

      • Murc

        We call the Vietnam War a war, but we don’t call Grenada one.

        Nor Panama, either. And I find that disingenuous in both cases. In the case of both Grenada and Panama, we actually invaded. How can you invade a country and not be engaged in a war? Just because you can roll over them without noticing doesn’t make it less a war. And the military conflict was not “small” to the people involved.

        Which side of large or small Syria will end up falling on is a bit in the air, and our involvement in Syria could easily become a “war war” if we’re not careful, but I don’t think we have to call it a war right away.

        I would submit that if one nation is hurling ordinance into another, those two nations are at war. Based simply on the principle of “if someone did this to us, would we consider it an act of war?” if nothing else.

        • elm

          The standard (though by no means noncontroversial) academic definition of a war is when there are a 1000 battle deaths. Anything less than that (from threats to use force to conflict with 999 deaths) are considered militarized interstate disputes.

          Historians, political scientists, politicians, journalists, etc etc. have never referred to all militarized disputes as ‘wars’ even when invasion occurred. Considering limited military actions with minimal loss of life as something less than war is the convention going back as far as I can tell.

          You’re the one, here, asking for a change in accepted terminology, not those using AUMF instead of war declaration.

          • Murc

            Anything less than that (from threats to use force to conflict with 999 deaths) are considered militarized interstate disputes.

            … isn’t “militarized interstate dispute” another word for “war?”

            Also, I’m curious as to what the precise definition of “battle deaths” means. If a thousand deaths are caused by long-range missile strikes, do those count and we suddenly start calling the circumstances we’re involved in a war?

            You’re the one, here, asking for a change in accepted terminology, not those using AUMF instead of war declaration.

            Well, let me ask you; if a situation for which we have an AUMF but not a war declaration turns into one in which we have more than a thousand battle deaths, does the AUMF cease to apply? If it does, then it is functionally different from a war declaration and I’d agree with you. If it continues to apply no matter the size and scope of the conflict, AND it grants all warmaking powers a war declaration does, then it is no different from a war declaration except that it lets people pretend we aren’t declaring war, and should be referred to as such.

            • mpowell

              Dude, you can’t just decide that the word war means something other than the way everyone else uses it. I understand what you’re trying to accomplish by making the point that violence is violence, but in fact people, over time, have chosen to use the word to refer to military engagements of a certain scale. Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So it is really up to you to establish why this is a bad idea (defining terms this way), not just insist that, in fact, all inter-state military engagements are ‘actually wars’. Because they are not. By the definition of the term.

              • Murc

                Dude, you can’t just decide that the word war means something other than the way everyone else uses it.

                It seems to me that’s already been done by the people attempting to deploy euphemisms instead of calling a spade a spade. Korea was a war. So was Vietnam. So were both Gulf Wars, as was Afghanistan.

                But not officially. Officially, we haven’t been to “war” since World War II.

                That’s bullshit. If it quacks like a war and walks like a war, it is a war, and should be referred to as such. I’m not the one who is trying to change the definition here.

                • joe from Lowell

                  If it quacks like a war and walks like a war, it is a war, and should be referred to as such.

                  Yes, and that’s why everyone refers to the Korean Ware, Iraq War, and Vietnam War – because they quack and walk like a war. The difference between an AUMF, no declaration, or a war declaration is meaningless.

                  But that’s exactly why people don’t refer to the 1986 bombing of Libya as the Libya War; because there is a big, meaningful difference between that and the invasion of Iraq. It’s also why the 2011 conflict is called the Libyan Civil War – because what was going on between the two sides in Libya walked and quacked like a war – and nobody refers to the NATO air campaign as the Libya War.

                • I’m not following this. Are you implying there’s a binary state of affairs, there’s “bad” and “absence of bad’ regarding military actions, and if there isn’t a clear overlap between “war” and “bad” that military actions that are less than wars can’t be defined and opposed as bad?

                  I don’t think we were ever at war in Sudan. China and the USSR weren’t really at war in NE Asia those 3 or 4 times they came close to war. I don’t think we’re at war with Pakistan or Yemen. But those were/are all military actions, and understanding and trying to define them doesn’t cede the possibility that they can be something other than war but can still be opposed for many of the reasons one might oppose a war.

              • John F

                When is conflict a “war?”
                When is an orbiting rock a “planet?”
                When is an island a “continent?”
                Why is Australia a continent but Greenland isn’t?

                Semantics, we’re arguing over terms for concepts, and I don’t think thee really is or could be a bright line definitional rule.

          • SIS

            Then the invasion of Panama in 1989 was a war because certainly more than 1000 Panamanians died.

        • UserGoogol

          It’s hard to analogize with the United States because (1) the United States is a strong enough country that it can push back against even minor altercations and (2) the United States is not currently engaged in a civil war. But from my perspective, if a country bombs us, sometimes the best option is to just turn the other cheek.

          And semantically speaking I’m not sure if an “act of war” is the same thing as being “at war.” An act of war is something that might justify war, but it doesn’t mean you’re there yet.

    • joe from Lowell

      Obama has asked Congress to declare war on Syria.

      Against the Assad government. Are they “Syria?” The opposition is not “Syria?”

      • Murc

        Well, generally speaking, one often uses the name of a country as shorthand for that countries political apparatus, does one not?

        I mean, Saddam Hussein and his government weren’t the same as “Iraq”; they were people, not, you know, a country. But people still say we went to war with Iraq. Do you think that’s improper terminology? Likewise, Prime Minister Erdogan isn’t the same as Turkey, and Prime Minister Cameron isn’t the same as the United Kingdom, but we still say things like “the United Kingdom will not be taking action against Syria” and “what position will Turkey take on the matter?”

        It kinda works the other way around as well. Chechnya didn’t really have a government worthy of the name in 2000, but we still say “Russia went to war with Chechnya.”

        Let’s dig even further back into history. If Britain had intervened in the American Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy, would people say “Britain declared war on the Lincoln Government” or “Britain declared war on the United States of America?” I would submit it would be the former.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          move ahead in history: would retaliation for bombing Syria be referred to as an attack on the Obama Administration or would it be an attack on America?

          some hairs are too fine to split, especially in a time of battle

          • joe from Lowell

            See above: there is no other government challenging the status of the existing federal government, and none has been recognized as such by anyone else.

            The existence of the SNC and its recognition by numerous world powers is not a hair that is being split, but a meaningful difference.

            • What’s the list of countries and how far do they go towards saying the SNC is the operative government of Syria?

              • joe from Lowell

                More than I thought.

                At this point, the question becomes, “Are the Assad forces waging war against Syria?” The answer is still, “No,” though.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              point taken.

            • Murc

              The existence of the SNC and its recognition by numerous world powers is not a hair that is being split, but a meaningful difference.

              Well, I mean, this is true, I guess. Given the ongoing civil war, I suppose it is in fact a colorable point that Syria now has two governments fighting it out for control, and we’d like to declare war on one of them.

              But we’re still talking about a war here, yes? I mean, that was kind of my original point.

              • joe from Lowell

                Yes, there is definitely a war going on between the two factions in Syria.

                I can look at what is going on there, compare it to a proposed aerial campaign, and see some pretty meaningful differences.

                I don’t think you’re arguing for clarity here. I think you’re working to obscure meaningful distinctions.

                • joe from Lowell

                  we’d like to declare war on one of them.

                  A legal state of war would exist, yes.

                  But we’re still talking about a war here, yes?

                  No, not unless the operations expanded a great deal beyond what is proposed.

                  The analogy of a divorce is useful here. A legal state of marriage exists until the judge signs off on the papers, but the actual marriage ended well before that – the continuing presence of some small amount of the incidentals of marriage notwithstanding. Someone who says, “My marriage ended a year ago” isn’t lying if the agreement is still in the courts.

                • Murc

                  Yes, there is definitely a war going on between the two factions in Syria.

                  I’m sorry, I meant “we’re still talking about going to war ourselves here, right?” I wasn’t clear.

                  I don’t think you’re arguing for clarity here. I think you’re working to obscure meaningful distinctions.

                  Well, I mean, it seems like the Obama Administration would like to send ships and airplanes to fire missiles and drop bombs on locations inside Syria. Possible a lot of missiles and bombs as part of an extended campaign.

                  Sounds like going to war to me.

                  I mean, let’s flip this around, joe. If a country were to launch a series of air strikes against the US, would you say they hadn’t basically declared war on the US?

                • Murc

                  A legal state of war would exist, yes.

                  Then it should be called that. If the proposal before Congress is going to result in a legal state of war, it should be referred to in terms that make it crystal clear that’s what is happening here.

                • joe from Lowell

                  If a country were to launch a series of air strikes against the US, would you say they hadn’t basically declared war on the US?

                  I would certainly say they declared war. If we were unable to do anything about it, and they went away after a few days, I wouldn’t say it was a war; I’d say it was an attack.

                  Look at the 9/11 attacks. If we’d “turned the other cheek,” it wouldn’t have been a war. It was their attacks plus our reaction that resulted in there being an ongoing period of fighting that made it a war.

                  Then it should be called that.

                  It is called “a state of war.” Who are you arguing with?

                  I think you’re eliding the difference between the legal state of war, and the substantive existence of a war. See my divorce example.

            • joe from Lowell

              Or, below.

        • St. Francis Hospital Nurse’s Aides

          Except that the Assad government is not longer Syria’s political apparatus. They are no longer recognized as such by much of the world, have lost control of much of the country, and a competitor government structure has been recognized by much of the world.

          In Iraq, the Saddam government actually was the sole sovereign power in the country.

          In the Civil War, the opposition didn’t claim to be the government of the United States, and nobody recognized it as such.

          • SIS

            Actually, the Assad government is the government of Syria as recognized by most of the world, if by most of the world you mean the majority of UN member states, which seems the only worthwhile definition.

            And the opposition most certainly does NOT have a competing governing structure in place. The rebels in Syria and the exiles outside of Syria are not one happy government. Hell, the Syrian rebels in Syria lack a unified military command.

            • joe from Lowell


              And the opposition most certainly does NOT have a competing governing structure in place.

              He says, before going into his explanation about how the competing structure just isn’t good enough.

              • SIS


                I was wrong about the US and who they recognize in an earlier reply to you, but that press release does not actually name the states that supposedly recognize the opposition as the government. In this situation, I trust Wikipedia more than a US government press release sans any further documentation.

                So the list is Western European countries, and Sunni Arab states. I don’t see any Asian states, Latin American state, African states outside the Arab League, or Eastern European States.

        • John F

          Let’s dig even further back into history. If Britain had intervened in the American Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy, would people say “Britain declared war on the Lincoln Government” or “Britain declared war on the United States of America?” I would submit it would be the former.

          I suspect that had that happened, after the War the newly independent Confederacy would have written in their history books that Britain declared war on the Linclon Despotism

      • Barry

        “Against the Assad government. Are they “Syria?” The opposition is not “Syria?””

        I watched in the last decades as our war to remove WMD’s and liberate the Iraqi people turned into waging war against Al Qaida in Iraq (so that we didn’t have to fight Al Qaida here!) and ‘more rubble, less trouble’.

      • SIS

        Not according to the UN, since the Assad regime is still the one sitting at the table. They also happen to be the ones with control of the airspace, seaways, the Capital, and the Central Bank.

        Heck, we haven’t recognized the opposition coalition as the legitimate government in Syria, which is why we refer to President Assad.

        • joe from Lowell

          Yes, the Assad regime, being the incumbent, still has structural posts.

          Heck, we haven’t recognized the opposition coalition as the legitimate government in Syria


    • bob mcmanus

      According to my understanding, an official congressional declaration of war automatically triggers multiple mutual defense treaties. It is a far step up from officially asking for help.

      The only vote Italy gets to take is to leave NATO. They’re in when we declare WAR.

      • bob mcmanus

        I mean think about it, the treaties were drawn up in the Cold War.

        If we were battling the Soviets on the plains of Poland, the US did not want Italy to have the option to say “Wait a minute, no basing or supplies from us, thank you. We decided we don’t want to be a target.”

        In NATO, if the US was committed to defending Italy to our nuclear death, Italy could not change its mind when the missiles started flying. They were in.

        So we don’t declare war anymore.

      • Murc

        According to my understanding, an official congressional declaration of war automatically triggers multiple mutual defense treaties.

        … that’s lunacy on the part of both our Congress and the legislatures of the other countries that agreed to it. If what you say is true, that should be changed post-haste.

        I mean, my god. Outsourcing the ability of your country to declare war to a third party that may or may not actually give a shit about the priorities of your country and the safety of its citizens? That’s madness.

        • John F

          From Wikipedia, on the 1902 Venezuelan “crisis”:

          On 11 November, at a visit of Kaiser Wilhelm’s to his uncle King Edward VII at Sandringham House, an “iron-clad” agreement was signed, albeit leaving key details unresolved beyond the first step of seizing Venezuela’s gunboats.[17] The agreement specified that matters with Venezuela should be resolved to the satisfaction of both countries, precluding the possibility of Venezuela making a deal with just one.[17] The agreement was motivated not least by German fears that Britain might withdraw from action, and leave Germany exposed to US anger.[20] The British press reaction to the deal was highly negative, with the Daily Mail declaring that Britain was now “bound by a pledge to follow Germany in any wild enterprise which the German Government may think it proper to undertake.”

          Yes, Countries have been known to do things like that, and people generally react badly.

      • joe from Lowell

        An attack on a NATO country triggers the mutual defense obligations.

        NATO Charter Article 5:

        The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

        • joe from Lowell

          IOW, a war declaration by one party does not trigger the other NATO allies. Only an armed attack in Europe or North America.

      • Joe

        Doesn’t a “war” change in various things legally, changing the state of affairs that an “authorization of military force” does not? Back in the 1790s, e.g., we were not at “war” with France. Congress authorized force in certain ways. A ‘war’ would legally be much broader, wouldn’t it?

        The Constitution also has different terms — “war,” “public safety,” “reprisal,” etc. The use of military force, e.g., for reprisal purposes wouldn’t be an “act of war,” perhaps, because it is an agreed upon punishment for breaking the rules.

  • Meanwhile, I am sick of hearing liberal hawks claiming how great our murders of Libyans have turned out:


    • Ben


    • joe from Lowell

      No no war for oil!

      You know what I’m sick of? The disingenuous grasping at principles you don’t care about.

      Libyan oil exports matter, but chemical weapons are no different than any other weapons.

      • Barry

        “You know what I’m sick of? The disingenuous grasping at principles you don’t care about.”

        Please link to your several thousand comments here demanding an attack on Egypt.

        • joe from Lowell

          When did I ever declare a military coup to be good reason for an attack?

          Look, if you want to argue that chemical warfare is no big thang, that doesn’t warrant any response beyond ordinary warfare, go right ahead.

          But no, you do not get to insist that I secretly agree with you, and am just pretending.

          It’s the gas bombs, stupid.

        • rea

          Use of military force has to meet two tests: (1)it has to serve US interests in a principled, long-term manner, and (2) it has to be doable.

          Note: “blood for oil” isn’t really in the long-term, principled interests of the US.

          Note also: humanitarian interventions are frequently in our long-term principled interests as properly understood, but are often not doable. Getting rid of Saddam, regime change in N. Korea, saving the Rwandans–all in our interests, none doable at price we can afford to pay.

          • Murc

            Getting rid of Saddam, regime change in N. Korea, saving the Rwandans–all in our interests, none doable at price we can afford to pay.

            I would change that “afford” to “willing” or perhaps “able.”

            Regime change in North Korea probably can’t be achieved via force of arms in a way that doesn’t result in Seoul and a lot of other urban areas in South Korea turning into a smoking ruin. But Iraq and Rwanda were different animals; I still believe we could have intervened productively in both those places with acceptable damage to both ourselves, our allies, and the people we would be putatively be trying to help.

            We just choose not to. Going to war on a shoestring in Iraq was a deliberate choice on our part, as was mismanaging the occupation. We were completely unwilling to execute properly.

            (I’m aware that this leaves me open to charges of “Incompetence dodge!”. I’m pretty okay with this.)

            • steve

              I can imagine the countries of the world uniting to depose Saddam Hussein. And then U.N. peace keeping force would stay in the country to provide security and help shepherd in elections, a new government, etc. Even then there would be potential for the whole thing to go FUBAR but it would at least be possible (perhaps even probable) that the intervention could succeed.

              I doubt any unilateral intervention on the part of the US could have succeeded, even if it wasn’t run by the retarded monkeys in the Bush administration that “planned” the invasion/aftermath. With no international backing our motives would always be suspect and we would be accused of “occupying” in the aftermath; we don’t exactly have a good track record over the last 60 years. American troops sitting in the middle east are also a giant target for Al Qaeda types. And Iraq would still have been used as a battleground for the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia unless they were on board and placated as part of an international coalition.

              • steve

                Basically no intervention that actually had a chance of succeeding was in the cards.

          • Slight nitpick, but saving the Rwandans was absolutely doable – jamming/knocking out the radio towers would have done the job at a minimal price.

      • steve

        Unless you are refering to something the OP once said that I am unaware of, I think the point is that Libya is held up as an example of a “good” humanitarian intervention: protect civillians, uphold inetrnational norms (i.e. don’t drop bombs on your own civillians) contribute to unseating of awful dictator, lose no American lives and spend little money. Hurray!

        But then we left a mess and stopped talking about it. Meanwhile it became clear that there wasn’t a central authority to take charge, to build the institutions of civil society and get a republic underway. Now you have warlords fighting over oil and turf and this has crippled the country’s oil production: inconvinient for the world economy but quite terrible for Libyans given the extent to which the Libyan economy relies on oil export revenue.

        So it is not the clear cut “success” that some claim it is and that (among other failures of detail) undermines its use as an analogy and justification for a Syrian intervention. Of course it isn’t an Iraq-level disaster/failure either yet but it could head that way.

        So bomb and leave doesn’t necessarily work. And invade and occupy is fraught with dangers as well. I can imagine scenarios where we do just the right amount of bombing and just the right amount of post-war involvement…maybe get a UN peacekeeping force like in Kosovo. But: I don’t trust the people to carry out the war they claim they are carrying out; there are myriad ways even a completely honest and well-meaning intervention can go awry; we tend to get bored and wander off after the bombing part and leave chaos in our wake.

        • joe from Lowell

          This long after the beginning of the Revolutionary War, that was still a shooting war. Years later, there was Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. It would be thirteen entire years until there was a stable constitutional system in place to prevent us from being a failed state.

          So no, I’m not going to accept “the political system in the post-revolutionary country isn’t stable or strong enough yet” as a reason why the Libyan people’s overthrow of their tyrant, and our support for their cause, was not successful.

          • steve

            The revolutionary war involved a colony with a strong tradition of self-governance and the institutions of government and civil society already in place breaking away from a king thousands of miles away. Support or opposition of our rebellion was not a matter of tribal or ethnic identity and as such there were no classes of people to single out and slaughter in retribution at the end of the conflict. The articles of confederation were inadequate and there were isolated “rebellions” but overall “we” thought of ourselves as a nation, as a “we” and, for all the political wrangling, things were basically stable.

            Libya is not a nation state or a state founded on common principles. It is composed of a variety of tribes and clans that have no loyalty or affinity toward other tribes. It was held together by a strongman who slaughtered anyone who upset his precious order.

            The rebellion against the Libyan government was not orchestrated by a united organization representing the peoples of Libya. It was fought by a variety of groups, some of which (in the east, for example) would like to secede and create their own country. Once Gaddafi was out of the picture they turned on each other because they had little else in common besides their justifiable hatred of a dictator. There was no consensus as to who should rule or how or even as to whether Libya should remain an entity.

            So there is a power vacuum: chaos, warlordism, retribution against the tribes that supported Gadadfi, and so forth. This is a scenario that some warned against, as in, “Gadaffi is bad and should be stopped but if we care about reducing human misery we should probably have a plan for what comes afterward.” And apparently we didn’t.

            This is the conundrum of humanitarian intervention (assuming motivations are true). We intervene and save 10k or 100k lives from the sorts of deaths that are highly visible (tanks, bombs, etc.)but then we accidentally create or contribute to conditions that generate 10k or 100k deaths that are not highly visible (one-off killings, disease, hunger, etc.)

            • steve

              In terms of Syria I think what I said can be translated into some points/questions:

              1. The Syrian rebels are not unified or even particularly friendly with each other; they are primarily members of a particular religious sect and some have openly called for retribution against sects that support Assad. So McCain’s idea that we should waltz in there, decapitate the regime and then everything will be ok is quite crazy. Obama rightly fears the chaos that will come if the regime falls before some sort of stable alternative is produced (I wish this consideration was part of the Libya intervention).

              2. Obama has to bomb enough to “hurt” otherwise it will look like a slap on the wrist and will not deter anything (and actually might encourage more savage attacks against civillians). But, simultaneously we has to avoid bombing enough to inadvertently cause the regime to suddenly collapse. He wants to force Assad to the bargaining table but he doesn’t want to accidentally convince the rebels that the can now win militarily and no longer need to consider a negotiation. So, what is the probability that US actions get the balance right? (I have no idea)

              3. What are some of the unintended potential effects of this bombing campaign and how likely and how dangerous are each? What will Iran, Israel, Hezbollah, etc. do? What if some missiles go astray and blow up an orphanage (or the Chinese embassy)?

              4. What do we do if chemical weapons are used again regardless of our actions?

              5. What prevents mission creep? Libya started out as the imposition of a no fly zone. Then it expanded to destroying columns of tanks heading toward cities (to protect cities). Then it expanded to destroying the entire Libyan military and handing a victory to the rebels.

              6. If we miscalculate and accidentally destroy the regime and chaos takes hold, are we willing to do what is necessary to protect civilians or are we going to say “mission accomplished” and then ignore the carnage we unleashed?

        • GoDeep

          How much “help” did we get after the American Revolution? The Libyans can figure this out if they want to.

          Is the rule that if we help you overthrow your oppressors we then have to help you police your new country??? In for a dime, in for a HUNDRED dollars? Seriously?

          Say for instance I give my neighbor dinner money b/cs he’s between paychecks, I then have to buy his dinner every night for the rest of his life? Gimme a break.

          • steve

            Well, The French didn’t intervene in the American Revolution as a humanitarian gesture; they were trying to weaken the British and they obviously didn’t care what happened to us afterward because, as you said, they left.

            The whole point of the Libyan intervention was ostensibly humanitarian: save lives. We destroyed one danger to civilians (the Ghadaffi regime)but in doing so left a power vacuum that continues to endanger lives. People who die as a result of crippling poverty or disease (or random as opposed to structured violence) caused by chaos and destruction precipitated by our efforts to prevent death matter too.

            That doesn’t mean that the US needs to provide a ground force for the next decade but the international community, if it really cares about protecting Libyan civilians, should be pumping in money to rebuild the country, should be providing help developing the government, and should be working to mediate conflicts between the various rival groups. Otherwise our crowing about what a good thing we did is rather empty.

            • GoDeep

              Yeah I would love to see the int’l comm’y providing humanitarian assistance to Libya.

              • steve

                Me too but Libya is probably going to be ignored. And that has to be factored into decisions to intervene. Like, “If we kill the dictator can we count on the world not to drop the ball in the aftermath?” And if we can’t, the implications of that should be weighed during the debate over whether our actions will lead to a net good.

                • GoDeep

                  So, let’s go back to Libya. In light of the world not acting since then would you argue that NATO shouldn’t have acted? If I can’t give my neighbor a loaf of bread tomorrow, should I not give him one today?

                  If our military action leads to more deaths AND injustice than would otherwise happen I think you can make the argument to forego force, but absent that determination I think we have to deal with the evil in front of us, not the one we might face tomorrow. Just my 2 cents…

    • Njorl

      It would be so much better if they were still lobbing artillery at each other.

    • witless chum

      Dilan, the situation we intervened in was, at least on the surface, Quadaffi about to slaughter the rebels and a bunch of civilians caught in the middle. The fact that post-Quadaffi Libya has problems that the Libyans are trying to sort out isn’t an argument that we should have allowed a massacre.

      None of which is an argument for getting involved in the Syrian Civil War or not.

      • Dilan, the situation we intervened in was, at least on the surface, Quadaffi about to slaughter the rebels and a bunch of civilians caught in the middle. The fact that post-Quadaffi Libya has problems that the Libyans are trying to sort out isn’t an argument that we should have allowed a massacre.

        It is an argument that our decision to murder Lybians should not be trumpeted as “successful”.

        Having said that, I basically don’t think ANY arguments that are based on “foreigners are slaughtering other foreigners” are sufficient to justify the US using its weapons to murder people. The reality is foreigners have slaughtered other foreigners since the founding of this country, they still do it now, and 90 percent of the time there is no call for US involvement whatsoever. When we choose to intervene, it is because we have reasons we want to dominate the region. In Libya, those reasons involved the oil industry, and the fact that we have in fact fucked up the oil supply by doing it are rather directly relevant.

        But meanwhile, thousands are slaughtered in African civil wars every year, and not only do we not do anything, but nobody really thinks we should. “Responsibility to protect” is a lie that people who get a thrill out of bombing or invading other countries tell themselves.

    • joe from Lowell

      Dilan’s right: those people need to firm hand to keep them under control.

      We never should have provided support for their effort to overthrow the dictator they turned against. I mean, he really kept the oil flowing.

    • I guess the Civil War proves France’s intervention in the American Revolution was a failure.

      • Given the fact there was 80 years of peace before it happened, um, no.

        But nice try.

    • Joe

      Unless the deaths in Libya were illegal, which is far from a clear question, it wasn’t “murder.”

  • Ben

    What’s needed is a progressive-libertarian alliance against the NeoCons and LeoLibs and their lust for endless war.

    • Ben


      • There was a little push for “liberaltarianism” by Brink Lindsay of the Cato Institute back in 2008, but it didn’t go anywhere. And even though I bash on the glibertarians every now and then myself, I certainly see the possible common ground. I’m increasingly thinking the problem is a form of political tribalism– libertarians have for so long seen themselves as part of “team right” that they aren’t really willing to try to make common cause with the left.

        But if any issue can get us some fusion, it’s warmaking. Certainly you are going to see opposition to the Syria AUMF from both the left and the right.

        • mpowell

          For 90% of those folks, lower taxes and less social security are much more important issues. There really isn’t any common ground there.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            it’s like letting a scorpion hitch a ride while you swim across a river. it might work, but probably not.

          • TribalistMeathead

            Lower taxes, less SS, and the right to be an asshole would probably cover close to 100% of libertarians.

            And what with Reason recently running to the defense of a) George Zimmermann and b) the Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the common ground is close to nonexistent.

          • Not only are those more important issues, they’re inextricably linked. They view almost every function or act of the federal gov’t as unnecessary and/or illegitimate. They don’t want to prevent certain kinds of military action, they want to not have to pay for any military action other than protecting the soil of the US.

            • The thing is, the moral case against US hawkishness and the economic case are related.

              They SHOULDN’T have to pay taxes so that we can be a dominant power that constantly murders foreigners. It’s a double insult.

              • If, as it appears you do, only see US hegemony only as us murdering foreigners, I suppose you could be sympathetic to some of their arguments. Because, you know, it’s really the murdering (mostly brown) people that upsets libertarians, they would never see it as their money being stolen from them and spent on trying to keep (mostly brown) people from killing each other.

                • According to Paul Waldman of the Center for American Progress, we have engaged in offensive military operations an average of every 2 1/2 years over the last 40 years.

                  So I think I am rational in seeing this issue as about us murdering foreigners to maintain world dominance.

        • Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq.

          Wasn’t Lindsey “let go” because of this, together with Will Wilkinson?

    • Sly

      The Progressive/Libertarian Alliance: Because why cause suffering abroad when there’s so much suffering to be had at home?

    • God no. Not unless you’re down for abolishing the U.N, zeroing out foreign aid, etc.

  • David W.

    All I glean from McCain is the desire to cover his own ass and position himself to blame Obama no matter what Obama does.

    • And it looks like the Senate just approved some McCain sponsored amendment. So Scott better hold off in declaring victory.

      • John McCaim (R-AZ)

        bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran Syria.

        Hehe. My friends heh, heh, I may have lost, heh, but my foreign policy is being carried out anyway.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        And it looks like the Senate just approved some McCain sponsored amendment.

        Yep. Co-sponsored by a Democrat, no less.

        And away we go.

        • JKTHs

          It’s almost like that Iraq thing never happened.

          • Ben

            You don’t say!

        • Edmund

          Let’s all remember that the permission to bomb is what you’re discussing.

          The actual decision will be OBAMA’S. And he has already decided, and has “Lurch” pushing congress hard to bomb the shit out of Syria.

    • joe from Lowell

      It’s tempting to view his actions that way, but I don’t think that’s true. McCain has been trying to get the administration to enter the Syrian Civil War on the side of the FSA for years now. I read his actions here as an extension of that substantive disagreement.

      • Yes, in other words, the gas has nothing to do with it. Its just the current casus belli for a bellicose guy.

        • Njorl

          Yes. McCain has never opposed any use of force as far as I can remember.

    • Yup.

  • James E. Powell

    But putting any limit on the president’s freedom of action is treasonous, objectively pro-terrorist. Oh wait, we have a Democrat president? Never mind. The best thing to do, then, is whatever will hurt the president the most.

    And I love, just love, the fact that no matter what, not matter how much stroking Obama gives him, McCain will never forgive That One from kicking his ass in 2008. He will always always always do something/anything to harm Obama. See, e.g., Susan Rice.

  • joe from Lowell

    That Yoo quote is something.

    From Napoleon’s “nation of shopkeepers” quote to Hitler’s dismissiveness of the US, militaristic authoritarians have always made the mistake of thinking that democratic cultures and governance renders a nation militarily weak.

    And now John Yoo comes along (along with the Israeli right, which had the same reaction to the news Obama was seeking an AUMF) and shows his rather brown colors.

    • Ben

      Hitler wasn’t dismissive of the US by the early 40s. In fact, he much “admired” our racial policies towards blacks and especially Native Americans (he saw our genocidal “winning of the west” not unreasonably as a blueprint for his own genocidal ideas for eastern Europe).

      • joe from Lowell

        He was dismissive of us militarily.

        There is just no topic that isn’t just a window for “random bad stuff ’bout America” for you, is there?

        Heaven forbid we stay on the subject of democracy and war.

      • John F

        Yes he was, he wasn’t dismissive of the US in the 1920s, by the time he wrote his [then unpublished] follow-up to Mein Kampf in the 1930s he was very dismissive.

        He also failed to see the impact his declaration of war would have- he basically thought that the US was against him and was arming his enemies, declaring war would allow him to attempt to forcibly interrupt that supply stream. He really didn’t see a downside, because he simply failed to see that the US would put its entire economy on a war footing (he didn’t think we could send any more material to UK/USSR than we already were, but oh boy could we) and actually put boots on the ground (I mean sure we’d put plenty on the ground in WWI, but we weren’t gonna do that again just like France wasn’t gonna fight like it had in WWI, because we had become a bunch of mongrelized Jazz listening fancy boys or something like that)

    • Ben

      But at least the Nazis had the decency not to name their weapons “Jew” or “Gypsy”.

  • wengler

    I guess we need Wikileaks to tell us what that ‘classified briefing’ says. You know, the super secret proof that Syria is ready and willing to destroy most of the world if the US doesn’t boldly step up and send some tomahawks into government buildings.

    • I think Kevin Drum basically gets this exactly right. It’s about upholding the norm that regimes that the US doesn’t like anyway and who don’t have the ability to fight back don’t get to use chemical weapons:


      • Ben

        Exactly. Does anyone think we’d bomb Israel if they gassed Palestinians? Anybody? Yeah I thought not.

        • wengler

          No, but Congress would pass a resolution praising the brave Israeli forces that did it.

          • Ben

            I was going to go with minor finger wagging at least but depressingly your scenario is more likely…

        • simple mind

          Um, Israel has not signed the 1992 CWC.

      • steve

        And even if they don’t actually have chemical weapons we are happy to use them as an excuse to invade and destroy the country anyway. Hmm I wonder why Iran is so intent on getting a nuclear weapon?

        • Ben

          At this point a nuclear Iran would, at the end of the day, be a force for peace. Sad, but true.

          • Long term, all of our hawkery has created a HUGE incentive for countries to get nuclear weapons. Which is sadly ironic given the amount of time hawks spend bloviating about weapons of mass destruction.

            • wengler

              I don’t think the hawks actually care. They just feel better when the US is conquering places and killing people. It’s all about stomping the boot on those that refuse to play Washington’s game.

              • That’s basically my conclusion.

                We aren’t that far removed from very primitive ancestors and instincts. It’s the same way that some people are hotheads in interpresonal activities and resort to threatening or starting a fight at the first sign of potential conflict, rather than attempting to resolve it. There’s just an adrenaline rush that accompanies violence.

                For that type of a person, it’s enjoyable to dominate people, to push them around, to bomb them until they do what we want. And we have amassed an arsenal of weapons and defenses that allow us to do that sort of thing with little worry about a direct retaliation (we do pay the cost in the form of INDIRECT retaliation, such as 9/11, of course– but the hawk is always able to convince him- or herself that this sort of thing happens because “they hate our freedom” and not because of our imperial role in the world).

          • wengler

            No. It would be another country with nuclear weapons. What it wouldn’t be is a target for ‘regime change’.

            • Ben

              Exactly. Which would make it a force for peace.

              A nuclear Iran is not a problem. It would be an unmitigated blessing. At least we know for sure we will never have an invasion of Iran then. Which is why the thought of Iran having nukes makes NeoCons and NeoLibs shit their underwear.

  • I can’t stand to have this conversation, its so depressing. But I will throw out there that when I went to call my congressman to remind him to vote against this I discovered that my congressman is now the Senator and we haven’t filled his seat yet. I used to be in Capuano’s district and barely had time to get used to Markey. But the seat is temporarily vacant so there was no one to call since I’d already called Markey and Warren.

  • kindness

    Anyone been over to Sully’s today? The poor man is a mess wrt to the whole Syria thing. Of course being over the top is part of his persona. Still, I expect more contemplative awareness from a Brit.

    Maybe he should have gone to Burning Man.

  • simple mind

    Over at History Unfolding, David Kaiser says

    The White House has made clear that the President wants the Congressional resolution in part to lay the foundation for later action against Iran.

    • joe from Lowell

      I assumed there would be some link or quote to back up such an implausible assertion.

      I assumed incorrectly.

      And then there’s this gem:

      Today’s stories, to begin with, confirm that Obama holds to the Bush doctrine just as firmly as Eisenhower held to the Truman doctrine. The United States, he believes, has a right to punish any nation that uses “weapons of mass destruction,”

      The Bush Doctrine was about pre-pre-emptive war to head of non-imminent threats to the United States. Responding to an actual chemical attack is not pre-emptive. Taking action for reasons not related at all to a speculative attack on the United States is not the Bush Doctrine.

      • GoDeep

        Yeah, there isn’t really a “Obama Doctrine”, per se, unless you mean that any military exercise is a case-by-case decision grounded in a great deal of skepticism that our arms can affect much…That’s probably a good thing, probably a great thing.

        Doesn’t give the pundits & historians as much to talk abt, tho, that’s for sure.

      • wengler

        There is no such thing as pre-pre-emptive war. There is preventive war which was an idea treated pretty harshly at the Nuremberg trials.

        Taking unilateral action or teaming up with the French to punish an old colony is just part of the very old game of nations. Though claiming to enforce international treaties without international sanction is very much a Bush move.

        • GoDeep

          Swords are double sided by their nature. Used by Bush a sword is a bad thing; wielded by Obama, IMO, a good thing.

          Clinton intervened in Kosovo, thankfully, and saved untold thousands. But he only acted ‘cuz he learned a painful lesson by not acting in Rwanda.

          Inaction can be as costly as action.

  • Murc

    I would, in what is perhaps a dick move, like to take this moment to call out Senator Markey for extreme political cowardice.

    “Present” is how chickenshits vote, Senator. You were elected to govern.

    • GoDeep

      Agreed. If he can take a vote over war & peace what good is he? But I suppose he has to run again in, what, a year or so? Can’t afford to piss off anyone, anywhere…

  • FlipYrWhig

    I really don’t understand the quantity of Sturm und Drang about this. From my perspective, it is extremely encouraging that Congress is hashing out a policy for the goals of a military operation. Whatever can galvanize a majority of the Congress should probably be what the country does vis-a-vis military force. Isn’t that kind of what the Constitution envisions? Win your argument, win your vote, get your war on your terms. The people can lobby their representatives as they see fit, and the politicians who represent them can act for or against those wishes. What’s the problem?

    Obama went “meta.” “Here’s what I would do, but it’s not entirely up to me. Let’s have a debate about what to do, and let the chips fall where they may.” Good! No? Why are people acting troubled? I’m not troubled until, or unless, Obama acts in defiance of the recommendation established by a majority of Congress.

    • Murc

      As a matter of procedural legitimacy, you are basically correct.

      Most of the objections I see to action in Syria around here are either somewhat tangential to the issue at hand (such as my own was) or are about policy, not procedural legitimacy.

      That is why I am troubled. As far as Obama going to Congress goes, this encourages me. I would prefer for the norm to be “Presidents who even think about committing acts of war without explicit Congressional authorization pay heinous political, social, and legal prices” but, you know. Baby steps.

      • FlipYrWhig

        I guess I feel like haven’t seen enough to indicate that I should be worried that it will go too far, or that Team Obama doesn’t understand the slipperiness of slopes or the Sunk Costs Fallacy. I don’t see their getting dragged more deeply into war regardless of how well or poorly this goes. I don’t see that they’re swayed by psychosexual concerns about showing force and projecting toughness, the way Bush appeared to be. I suppose we’ll all know soon enough.

        • Ed

          As far as Obama going to Congress goes, this encourages me.

          It would encourage me as well, save for the thought that it would probably not be happening if the the Administration hadn’t been stunned by the defeat of Cameron. Thank you, Mother of Parliaments.

          Why are people acting troubled?

          I’m “acting troubled” at the prospect of my country going into a war that appears to be, in no particular order, illegal, wrong, and stupid. I am also unable to share your simple faith in the judgment of Team Obama, given the flatfooted responses and reversals of recent days.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        Most of the objections I see to action in Syria around here are either somewhat tangential to the issue at hand (such as my own was) or are about policy, not procedural legitimacy.

        I’m in the same camp as Murc — I think taking it to Congress is a positive in and of itself, but it does nothing to assuage me on the wisdom of intervention.

        • GoDeep

          Military actions UNAuthorized by Congress since the passing of the WPA: 1) Grenada; 2) Libya (under Reagan); 3) Panama; 4) Kosovo; 5) Libya (under BO). I think all of these worked out well.

          Military actions AUTHORIZED by Congress since the passing of the WPA: 1) Afghanistan; 2) Iraq.

          There’s the data, you be the judge of what Congress’ imprimatur means.

          As far as I’m concerned though their vote on Iraq 2 proved they were too feckless to do anything other than politicize the vote.

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