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Syria?

[ 213 ] April 6, 2017 |
Syrian BMP-1.png

Syrian Arab Army BMP-1 By Abkhazian Network News Agency – Освобождение Башуру сирийскими войсками at 6:01., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

In brief, why not:

  • It is a struggle to understand a way in which an attack on Syria is legal, barring an act of Congress.
  • It seems unlikely that airstrikes alone will be sufficient to unseat the Assad government.
  • The Assad government has sufficiently strengthened its position in the last year such that it seems unlikely that airstrikes will tip the balance in favor of Syrian rebels.
  • There is no reason to believe that President Trump has sufficient self-control to manage a limited air campaign that fails to destroy the Syrian government.
  • There is no reason to believe that a strong constituency exists in Syria for a prolonged American ground occupation.
  • The Syrian rebels are deeply factionalized, and have become increasingly radicalized; it is not obvious that the Assad government would be replaced by a central government at all, or that such a government would be meaningfully preferable to Assad.
  • While Russia is unlikely to directly oppose US strikes, the risks of accidental escalation are nevertheless present.

These are all issues that the Obama administration wrestled with for five years, to no particularly good resolution. They are issues that Hillary Clinton had no particularly good answer for.  They have not changed for the better since Trump’s inauguration.

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  1. Q.E.Dumbass says:

    Meaning to ask: Am I alone in thinking that foreign affairs attract more various and stronger flavors of wankery than other fields of policy?

    • Ezra says:

      Foreign *current* affairs. Rarely do you see anyone angrily bloviating about foreign affairs of the distant past (“The Treaty of Hunkiar Iskelessi is the biggest blunder in the history of the Russian Empire!”)

      • EvanHarper says:

        I think you’ll find the very recent hundredth anniversary of U.S. entry into World War One occasioned quite a lot of ill-founded bloviating.

      • Schadenboner says:

        The Treaty of Hunkiar Iskelessi is the biggest blunder in the history of the Russian Empire

        I will fite u, bro…

        • njorl says:

          First Miner: He started it.

          Second Miner: Oh, you bleeding pig, you started it.

          Foreman: I don’t care who bloody started it. What’s it about?

          Second Miner: Well, he said the bloody Treaty of Utrecht was 1713.

          First Miner: So it bloody is.

          Second Miner: No it bloody isn’t. It wasn’t ratified ’til February 1714.

          First Miner: He’s bluffing. Your mind’s gone, Jenkins. You’re rubbish.

          Foreman: He’s right, Jenkins. It was ratified September 1713. The whole bloody pit knows that. Look in Trevelyan, page 468.

          Third Miner (Michael Palin): He’s thinking of the Treaty of bloody Westphalia.

          Second Miner: Are you saying I don’t know the difference between the War of the bloody Spanish Succession and the Thirty bloody Years War?

          Third Miner: You don’t know the difference between the Battle of Borodino and a tiger’s bum.

      • Counterpoint Victor Davis Hanson has made a career out of doing just this. And then making tortured analogies to current events.

    • (((max))) says:

      Am I alone in thinking that foreign affairs attract more various and stronger flavors of wankery than other fields of policy?

      Among the people that count (and I like Farley but he doesn’t count this equation, unfortunately) articles arguing about decisions to go to war usually devolves after just a few sentences into a level of stupidity that even Donald Trump can understand.

      There have been people arguing that we should attack the Russian Navy to get rid of Assad, which is roughly equivalent to arguing we should spend 50 trillion dollars to save a million bucks.

      And ostensibly intelligent, very highly educated (best elite schools!) people take that shit seriously.

      max
      [‘Whatever stupid thing we do, we’ll do in retaliation for using a method of killing 50 people they were gonna kill anyways. ARGH!’]

  2. pillsy says:

    It was a bad idea to go after Assad militarily in 2013, and the case has substantially deteriorated in the intervening years.

  3. SteveM says:

    There is no reason to believe that President Trump has sufficient self-control to manage a limited air campaign that fails to destroy the Syrian government.

    But he might just approve one strike, see it on Fox, say, “Look! Splodey stuff!,” then get distracted by a Rosie O’Donnell tweet.

    He’ll have killed Russians in the meantime, but wev.

    • Shantanu Saha says:

      If he kills, Russians, I’ll bet that within a week there will be a Wikileaks dump of all Trump communications with his Russian handlers, to the point where the Republicans will be forced to start impeachment proceedings before the end of the year. And we’ll find out if the golden shower video is real.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

        to the point where the Republicans will be forced to start impeachment proceedings

        I’m less certain that any such point exists short of Republican Congress critters getting polling that says, “100% chance you’ll lose the election unless you impeach Trump, and poor, but better, chances that if you do you won’t lose your seat in the primary.”

      • rm says:

        I’d bet that Trump, in speaking to Russian handlers, is unaware that he’s being handled. Kind of like he misheard Rep. Cummings as praising him, when Cummings was son-ing him (as is “son, if you want to be a great president, you’ll have to ________”; Trump heard “you’re great!”).

      • Tehanu says:

        I don’t think Putin will reveal the Russian connection evidence until Dump’s done a whole lot of much worse stuff, not only to random Russians in Syria, but to (a) the U.S. and (b) something much more important to Russia than Bashir Assad, who I’m pretty sure Putin would shed only crocodile tears for. I don’t know what those much worse things would be; I just think Putin is betting on Dump to fuck up America to the point where we are no longer any threat to Russian hegemony. So, much though I would like to see Dump getting his just deserts less than 3 months into his presidency, I’m afraid it ain’t gonna happen.

      • cthulhu says:

        Wouldn’t Putin be more likely to try to leverage any Russian deaths into the lifting of sanctions and/or other more valuable concessions? He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who puts the interests of the Russian people over his own.

  4. andrew97 says:

    Fully agree. Also, I am very gratified to see that “who cares about chemical weapons” didn’t make this list.

    • MaxUtility says:

      That’s a pretty BS summary of Lemieux’s argument from the time. Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how killing people with one weapon over another immediately justifies a fundamental and all out reversal of our engagement in a civil war, particularly one with some many other risks/issues.

      • andrew97 says:

        I disagree, I think it accurately characterizes Lemieux’s position, in that he genuinely doesn’t care about chemical weapons. In the linked piece he mocks: “a dictator who would be perfectly willing to slaughter his own citizens (with CHEMICAL WEAPONS! Which is much worse than using bullets or bombs because something something)”

        And over here he characterizes concern about chemical weapons is a “massive con”:

        And, even more importantly, 2)the whole “WMD” argument was in itself a massive con. WMD is an umbrella term that conflates the genuinely unique threat of nuclear weapons with many more chemical and biological weapons that don’t have any more destructive capacity than weapons that can be assembled with materials you can purchase at any Home Depot.

        There were other examples but those are the two quickest that I could find on Google. I completely agree that attacking Syria would be insane, but you can believe that it’s insane without trying to pretend that chemical weapons — rightly banned by international agreement, making their use in itself a war crime — are nothing special.

        • wengler says:

          They’re special in that they can kill a lot of people in certain circumstances. They aren’t any more of a war crime than bombing civilians with barrel bombs though, which Assad’s government has been doing for awhile.

          • andrew97 says:

            Right, they are special in that they are really good at killing civilians, but not so good at killing trained and equipped military forces. Which is why they are often used in sectarian conflicts, and also why they are illegal.

            • (((max))) says:

              Which is why they are often used in sectarian conflicts, and also why they are illegal.

              They’re illegal because the Great Powers (in the 20’s and again in the 40’s) saw no advantage in keeping them, and distinct advantages in getting rid of them. They’re too messy to use on a large scale.

              But I will state that I’m on the Team Chemical Weapons Who Cares, because if we wind up killing 50k people in this escapade (that’s the opening bid!), 50 people will be a rounding error.

              Additional point: while DC is going bananas about the horrors of chemical weapons, no one is going bananas about mass starvation (presumably because there is nothing we want to bombg). I’d have to say that dying from starvation is a long, slow process and it might just be preferable to die via gas than to take months starving to death.

              max
              [‘Buy hey…’]

              • ajay says:

                They’re illegal because the Great Powers (in the 20’s and again in the 40’s) saw no advantage in keeping them, and distinct advantages in getting rid of them. They’re too messy to use on a large scale.

                This is a common belief, but it’s wrong.

                The Great Powers in the 1920s and 30s fully expected CW to be used in the next war. That’s why all their soldiers (and even civilians) had gas masks, and why they devoted major industrial resources to producing CW. Postwar, Soviet operational plans for fighting NATO relied on the massive use of CW. Again, all those armoured vehicles were gas-tight for a reason; because they expected to be driving through areas they had drenched in non-persistent CW. Persistent CW like mustard was for airfields and logistic sites. It wasn’t meant to kill – the Soviets knew very well that NATO had good protective kit – it was meant to slow down and impair efficiency. (Try maintaining a helicopter while wearing a noddy suit.)
                And of course CW was used after WW1. The British used it in Russia. The Spanish used it in Morocco. The Italians used it in Ethiopia. The Egyptians used it in Yemen. And so on.

                And of course the CW conventions didn’t actually make CW illegal (unlike BW); they made first use illegal.

        • Merkwürdigliebe says:

          without trying to pretend that chemical weapons — rightly banned by international agreement, making their use in itself a war crime — are nothing special.

          That’s begging the question a bit, no?

          I can imagine scenarios in which some creatively delivered highly lethal persistent agents cause destruction of a magnitude similar to that of nuclear weapons, but in practice there really isn’t anything considerably worse about chemical attacks than, say, thermobaric weapons.

          • rea says:

            in practice there really isn’t anything considerably worse about chemical attacks than, say, thermobaric weapons.

            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 gas-shells dropping softly 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 flound’ring 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.

            • Warren Terra says:

              It’s certainly worth noting that the infantrymen of WWI, who saw every conceivable type of mutilation and violent death and lived in horrible conditions with their feet rotting away and their friends being shredded, reserved a special horror for gas attacks.

              • Charlie S says:

                Interesting this would be forgotten on the 100th anniversary of the US entry into WWI.

              • Norrin Radd says:

                Take one look at those kids and you have to think there’s a special place in Hell for Assad. It makes your stomach wrench.

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  Norrin Radd

                  It’s a week or so too soon for resurrections, isn’t it?

                • Q.E.Dumbass says:

                  DJW noted that NR was never outright banned and that he’d be allowed on the site so long as he behaved himself (i.e. no sockpuppeting or meltdowns).

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  I had assumed that “Norrin Radd” was the sock-puppet and “ThrottleJockey” the genuine poster, and that therefore the reappearance of the former would be a formal violation of LGMTOS even if the latter didn’t reappear. But of course that assumption may not be well-founded (it certainly isn’t based on any actual evidence).

                • louislouis says:

                  Do we know Assad ordered this attack? Everything I’ve seen indicates the rebel factions had the incentive and motivation to do so; whereas Assad had none.

                • Origami Isopod says:

                  Hi, TeeJay! Got any anecdotes about your sister’s boyfriend’s handyman you wanna share with us?

              • (((max))) says:

                who saw every conceivable type of mutilation and violent death and lived in horrible conditions with their feet rotting away and their friends being shredded, reserved a special horror for gas attacks.

                Because they had to spend their lives with gas masks on because there was SO MUCH gas. And that’s why everyone was willing to get rid of them. Lots of trouble and not much return – they’re not efficient enough at killing.

                I don’t remember anyone going to war over their use. Just like, hypotheticals aside, no one has gone to war over the possession of nuclear weapons.

                max
                [‘C.f. Saddam Hussein, et al.’]

                • SIWOTI says:

                  That chemical weapons are not efficient enough at killing was one of their selling points. Combatants might survive the initial effects, but die after prolonged agony. It forced additional use of medical resources, and in some cases, like phosgene, people were exposed and didn’t figure out until it was too late, and they were already injured by it. Chemical weapons were weapons of fear. And most survived chemical weapon attacks. When people survived, they were often horribly maimed, with permanent lung, eye, and skin damage.

                  Lots of trouble, and not much return: after all, chemical weapons only killed 90,000 and wounded 1.2 million in World War I. Estimates vary, but as many as 2 to 3 times the initial fatalities were killed by after-effects or complications caused by the chemical weapon.

                  And despite this lack of efficacy, chemical and biological weapons were the only weapons of war that most nations agreed to ban after the war. And they did so because the public saw the results of their use, and they were horrified, as we are today with Syria. Chemical weapons weren’t banned because they were bad, chemical weapons were banned because they’re horrifying.

                  No one has gone to war over the use of chemical weapons because they haven’t been used much. Even after World War I, the use of chemical weapons was largely limited to colonial wars and putting down rebellions. Even in World War II, there were only isolated uses of chemical weapons against combatants in Europe, and some use by Japan in Asia. Until Iraq used chemical weapons again Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, no country had openly used them since World War II (although they were used in the North Yemen Civil War and probably used by Vietnam against Cambodia resistance fighters in the 1980s). And when Iraq used them, they killed 20,000 Iranians with nerve gas, responsible for anywhere between 3-10% of Iranian fatalities during the war, depending on the estimates you use.

                  Don’t minimize the very real problem chemical weapons and their use pose. The use of sarin in Syria is a war crime, and the Assad regime is the only group with ability to produce it. Whether the US should intervene is another question entirely.

                  But just watch the videos of people choking to death after being exposed, and tell us again how chemical weapons are not efficient enough at killing.

            • q-tip says:

              Such a beautiful poem. Owen’s dedication to Jessie Pope, pro-war poetess, is the bitter cherry on top of the sundae.

            • This is still one of my favourite poems of all time.

              • Mellano says:

                Yup.

                Also one that stays with you, if you ever spare some minutes to memorize. There are phrases in there that are my snap reaction to a lot of evil things people do, and on balance I think it’s not the worst response to have.

            • Merkwürdigliebe says:

              Thermobaric weapons are capable of doing something very similar to your lungs. And no gas mask will help you. So your point is…?

              • andrew97 says:

                The CWC is an amazing success of international arms control. What’s YOUR point — that if we can’t solve every single problem at once then it’s wrong to try to solve them one at a time?

  5. Yankee says:

    I think I read that the more recent MSC order specified that operational plans will be presented by the NSA to POTUS, not the other way around. You could read that as an accomplished military coup but in this case it furthers that cooler heads may prevail. We might no go to war in Korea also.

    • NBarnes says:

      Words cannot contain the contempt I feel for the Bush II administration and its feckless handling of NKorea’s nuclear weapons program. It baffles me that the GOP has any credibility (on multiple fronts, but this is one of them) on foreign policy after being solely responsible for NKorea’s nuclear breakout under a ‘toughness’ theory.

      • TopsyJane says:

        Words cannot contain the contempt I feel for the Bush II administration and its feckless handling of NKorea’s nuclear weapons program. It baffles me that the GOP has any credibility (on multiple fronts, but this is one of them) on foreign policy after being solely responsible for NKorea’s nuclear breakout under a ‘toughness’ theory.

        This. Just total mindless aggression.

        • rea says:

          It wasn’t even aggression. Just mindless posturing in service of Cleek’s Law We had an agreement; it was working; but it had to be broken, because Bill Clinton had a part in it.

      • Norrin Radd says:

        Would anything work on North Korea short of a bomb with KJU’s name on it? They cheat and lie at every turn. It’s not as if Obama fared any better with them. The best you can do with N. Korea is to manage the risk. If there’s a way to do that.

        • NBarnes says:

          NK’s been intractable with Obama in part because Bush II screwed the pooch so royally with them. Why bargain in good faith when the next GOP president that comes along is going to bone you just to prove how big his dick is? In the current environment, Iran has got to be worried about the same damn thing, and rightly so. Additionally, a 1997 NK has more incentive to bargain away nukes it doesn’t have than a 2011 NK does to bargain away nukes it does have; back to Bush II’s failures on this front.

        • Jean-Michel says:

          Clinton didn’t really fare better with them either. All the Agreed Framework did was return things to the status quo ante of the mid-’80s, when North Korea joined the NPT to buy time while its secret nuclear weapons program proceeded apace. The seriousness with which Pyongyang took the Agreed Framework is rather nicely illustrated by the fact that it declared itself a “military-first” state barely two months after signing on the dotted line, immediately ramped up its ballistic missile program, and waited just a year and a half to cut a deal with A. Q. Khan to trade Rodong missiles for uranium enrichment tech. It’s not like they halted weapons development and only restarted it when Bush/Cheney/Bolton et al. started spewing invective.

          Now, the Bush administration’s policies certainly prompted North Korea to assume a more bellicose posture and supplied a useful pretext to restart its plutonium-based program, which likely pushed up the timeline. But I can’t imagine a scenario where North Korea hasn’t already become a nuclear weapons state—the long-term survival of the North Korean regime is ultimately dependent on the subordination (if not outright conquest) of the fantastically wealthy and internationally respected Korean state to the south, and while it’s perfectly reasonable to doubt whether nuclear weapons could achieve that goal, from the North Korean perspective there’s no more plausible alternative. Sure, nukes are an invaluable deterrent against saber-rattling U.S. administrations like Bush and Trump, but there’s an entirely separate logic that I think is actually more important and it’s almost entirely unrelated to who sits in the White House. North Korea has a long game and a short game and deterrence is only part of the short one.

    • russiannavyblog says:

      At this point we have to choose between the uniformed military making policy, or, through a quirk in an outmoded electoral system, the contributers to Breitbart’s Big Peace section doing it.

      I know who I trust more in this scenario.

  6. nobody says:

    When it comes to foreign intervention, there’s three possibilities:

    1. All out invasion and occupation (See Iraq War)
    2. Act as the Air Force for rebels to help them win, then when they win hope for the best (See Libyan intervention)
    3. Do nothing or close to nothing. (Present course in Syria)

    Since option 1 and 2 are out, only option 3 is left.

    • NBarnes says:

      Option 4: Act as the rebel’s air force. Find that this is insufficient to make the rebels win. Choose between 4a and 4b.

      Option 4a: Air operations insufficient to dislodge Assad. Go to Option 1.
      Option 4b: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and call for a mulligan on Syrian intervention. Fail to pay any meaningful domestic political price for your fecklessness. (See North Korea, nuclear breakout of)

      • NBarnes says:

        Given Trump’s generally aggressive approach to life, the universe, and everything, I think bombing is the most likely outcome. Which won’t be enough to remove Assad. And Trump also has zero attention-span or follow-through on his big ideas. So I think 4b is the winner here.

      • Warren Terra says:

        I think this – and in particular the 4a option of escalation – is what Farley was getting at here:

        There is no reason to believe that President Trump has sufficient self-control to manage a limited air campaign that fails to destroy the Syrian government.

        I certainly interpreted that as meaning that once Trump intervenes with a limited air campaign, he won’t be satisfied when that campaign achieves nothing.

        The rosy scenario is that Putin arranges for him a hollow paper victory – rhetorical concessions from Assad, or (vastly less likely) the replacement of Assad with a different murderous Russian client from within his regime.

        • Norrin Radd says:

          A paper victory for Trump there in Syria risks making the Great White Lie more popular here at home. I’m rooting for his total failure.

        • NBarnes says:

          I think it depends on how central to Trump’s emotional life he makes deposing Assad. Trump is certainly capable of upping the ante in Syria to an insane degree just to get some ego satiation, but he’s also capable of rationalizing ‘I didn’t really want to depose Assad after all’, a la his laughable ‘I didn’t really want a vote’ claim post ACHA crash-and-burn.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

            ‘I didn’t really want a vote’ claim

            And today we learn that last night Priebus, Pence et all pulled in Ryan and selected House Republicans and demanded that a health care bill be passed before the House adjourns on Friday, and the fact that no bill even existed at the time was deemed immaterial. Further, failure to pass it would mean that Ryan and other unidentified House leaders would all lose their jobs.

            That doesn’t even come up to the standards of being delusional. Even in RWNJ-land you can’t pass something that doesn’t exist, plus the White House doesn’t have much leverage in getting rid of Ryan, et al. Only House members can do that, and I’m pretty sure Democrats are not going to vote either in Ryan’s favor or against him. So we’re left with the minority of RWNJs who are nowhere near controlling the House.

            • efgoldman says:

              the White House doesn’t have much leverage in getting rid of Ryan, et al. Only House members can do that

              And even the mouth breathing, drooling flying monkeys of the kkkrazy kkkaukus don’t like the executive trying to push the legislature around. The harder [anyone in] the WH pushes, the smaller chance Granny Starver gets pushed out.

      • Shantanu Saha says:

        Option 5: Act as the rebels’ air force. Accidentally (or intentionally) drop bombs on Russian air force units and/or advisors. Go immediately to DefCon 1.

    • Option 2bis is to act as the Air Force for the government against rebels. This is basically what the USA is doing in Iraq against ISIS, and it’s working, though liberated Mosul is in ruins. If course ISIS self-defines as the enemy of absolutely everybody else, from Wahhabis to Yazidis, so the local forces joining in the war are unusually diverse and enthusiastic.

      • Warren Terra says:

        This is what Russia did for Assad, except that they were careful to preserve ISIS and its equivalents as the last rebels left standing, in order to ensure that the choices are Assad or ISIS.

        • louislouis says:

          Was there ever actually a true “moderate rebel” faction?

          • Warren Terra says:

            1) There absolutely were moderate rebels.
            2) Whether there was a trustworthy, organized, consistently moderate rebel faction, I don’t know
            3) You, on the other hand, are a known quantity. You’re a Russian troll, or a willing tool of Russian trolls. You are invited to fnck right off.

            • louislouis says:

              Ok I think your 2) is at war (pun intended) with your 1). As for 3) please unfollow Louise Mensch on Twitter.

              • It appears you do not understand the purposes of modifying adjectives and noun phrases. It’s okay, you’ll get it someday. English grammar isn’t that similar to that of Slavic languages, but I have faith that you can eventually pick it up.

                • louislouis says:

                  Really hope this paranoid xenophobia thing works out well for the left. Then again, 100 years of history says it doesn’t.

                • It’s not “paranoid” if there is actual evidence of the thing we are accusing of happening, and whaddyaknow, there’s plenty of evidence of paid Russian trolls existing. Samantha Bee even interviewed some. And you apparently don’t understand English very well if you can’t figure out the difference between “There were moderate rebels” and “there was a trustworthy, organized, consistently moderate rebel faction“.

                • louislouis says:

                  I think the entire idea of the elusive “moderate rebels” has become a joke for good reasons. If they’re not even consistently organized, assuming they do exist, there’s no reason for the government to arm or fund them because they ain’t gonna topple the regime. And what is the evidence Assad did the gassing? That chemical weapons were used and therefore he’s responsible? I’ve yet to see any plausible explanation for Assad doing this. On the other hand the rebel factions were on the run and dependent on Western intervention to save them.

                • econoclast says:

                  I was a bit skeptical about the Russian troll idea, but “become a joke for good reasons”? That’s some unnatural English.

                  Being a called a paid Russian troll isn’t even the most insulting charge. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of for money. Now echoing Russian propaganda for free? That’s really embarrassing.

    • wengler says:

      2 simply won’t work in a lot of the west(aka the populated part) of the country. The ‘rebels’ there don’t have the command and control level of the Assad government or even the YPG/YPJ fighters in the northeast. Also AFAIK the Russian anti-air installations are still active, so lots of dead American pilots, blown up jets, and once again a direct conflict with a nuclear power.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        One thing worth pointing out is that the Kurds – both in Iraq and now in Syria – are not going away, but their refusal to cease to exist means that Kurds in Turkey are going to be able to use Iraq and Syria as bases for whatever operations they want to conduct against the Turkish government.

        Unless someone can talk Erdoğan into accepting a really-autonomous Kurdish entity within Turkey (at least as much autonomy as Catalonia in Spain), this is going to be a festering sore for a long time. And Turkey is both very powerful and right next door, and, under Erdoğan is quite prepared to intervene in Syria and possibly in Iraq.

    • Morbo says:

      Option 3 ought to include accepting a hell of a lot more refugees than we are, but of course that’s out the window.

    • alexceres says:

      You failed to consider (3b) bomb the crap out of Syria while accomplishing nothing, which apparently is the choice now underway because Orange Turd was offended today

  7. keta says:

    Look, Trump is certainly going to make the correct decisions regarding Syria and the use of US military forces.

    I mean, success follows success, and as Trump himself stated today, I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.

    Confidence like that tells me we all, and most importantly Syrian citizens, are in good hands.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Confidence like that tells me we all, and most importantly Syrian citizens, are in good hands.

      Small, but very, very good.

    • Warren Terra says:

      The incredible thing is that Trump made that boast at the end of his 11th week.

      On the other hand, maybe he has a point: the human species is estimated to be 200,000 years old – ten million weeks. Of those ten million weeks, Trump’s 11 (or 13) are easily in the top 1% for the US Presidency. Even in the top 0.1%!

    • Shantanu Saha says:

      I mean, success follows success, and as Trump himself stated today, I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.

      Trump has been president for 11 weeks. Considering what a disaster those 11 weeks were, Obama’s last two weeks must have been spectacular in order to balance out to be positive.

      It’s amazing how Trump reminds us every day how extraordinary his predecessor was.

  8. nemdam says:

    One thing I’ve been meaning to ask any foreign policy expert is what is the correct policy on Syria? I have read countless articles and commentary on how terrible Obama has been on Syria from the right, left, and center, yet I have never read a good solution that isn’t a repeat of a past mistake. My overriding conclusion in this affair is that there is simply that there is no good solution and that we have to accept, no matter how hard it is, that US power can’t really do anything here.

    Obama and Hillary have different approaches to this problem and neither of them are idiots. Not to put them up on a pedestal, both if the experts say neither of them have good answers to this problem, and it goes without saying the Republicans have no good answers, I just don’t know that there is a good answer.

    • Baron Von McArgleBargle says:

      +1

      I hardly know what my own opinion is. I am against:

      1. Gassing human beings.
      2. Dictators.
      3. Getting involved in someone else’s Civil War.
      4. Trying to win a war through air power alone, due to no troops or insufficient numbers of troops or incompetent troops. See #3.
      5. Trump
      6. Putin

      But I can’t quite get all of that to add up to something that makes sense to me. :(

    • efgoldman says:

      there is simply that there is no good solution and that we have to accept, no matter how hard it is, that US power can’t really do anything here.

      There was no good choice before, and there is no good choice now.
      The difference is, we could trust Obama carefully to consider every alternative, and try to choose the least harmful. We cannot trust Apricot Asswipe to find his desk in the middle of the office.

      • Chieroscuro says:

        If there was ever anything approaching a good choice, or the time for one, it would have been humanitarian intervention in getting refugees out of Aleppo before this time last year.

      • wengler says:

        I think Trump’s impulses are starting to look very clear- sign off on any military action presented to him.

        The only bright side appears to be that the only military options open to Trump appear to be the ones designed by the military. There aren’t going to be any Donald Rumsfeld type crazed plans of paratroopers gliding into Baghdad. But who knows? I’m sure Donnie would be intrigued by some crazier member of the NSC’s plan to spike Presidential approval ratings by winning using 3 guys wielding Trump-branded M249s.

    • nemdam says:

      ETA (very late): I am open to persuasion on this. My mind is far from set in stone. I just haven’t read anything that even remotely states any action will lead to a good outcome.

    • Alex.S says:

      Syria is in a civil war where the United States does not want to support either side. Therefore, there is no passable foreign policy solution.

      The best option would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and other Syrian government allies to apply pressure on Assad to limit civilian casualties.

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t really solve anything. And it also admits a limitation on the United States’ strength.

    • wengler says:

      Obama’s was the smartest, other than the slow-walking of anti-Assad options, because I’d rather that he just not have entertained US-imposed ‘regime change’. Limit your contact to destroying and degrading ISIS. Do it in both Iraq and Syria. Restrain Turkey. Oppose Assad and Putin’s gross violations of human rights in diplomatic fashion.

      Overall it’s not a great policy, but it’s the best policy we’ve got.

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      YES OF COURSE THERE IS A “GOOD ANSWER”!

      Here’s how it works:
      *massive* air campaign. Drop in Trump, Bannon, Pence, Ryan, McConnell, Bush the Stupider, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Yoo, plus a bunch of other Bushies and Trumpistas.

      Parachutes optional.

      WIN-WIN, PEOPLE!

  9. Miksa says:

    There’s also the problem that, with possible exception of the Kurds, I can’t see any of the rebel groups not turning on us in an instant. The anti-Soviet Afghan war should have taught us a lesson. I also agree totally with efgoldman (we pre-Boomers have to stick together) about Obama at least trying to select the least harmful alternative

    • Chetsky says:

      ETA: “Hillary Clinton calls on the US to take out Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s air fields http://cnn.it/2oG4ZuD

      • random says:

        Pursuing such a policy requires:

        – a working diplomatic corps
        – a strong military alliance backing you up
        – that you not minimize crazy adjustments in the existing command and intel structure from the previous admin
        – that you follow a woman’s advice

        So I dunno what that means.

        • random says:

          (above should read ‘that you minimize the number of’)

          Again, no clue what she’s up to here. I know she knows how to push his buttons, and here she is in front of the whole world telling Trump what to do.

          • jim, some guy in iowa says:

            I have the sinking feeling she means it, mainly because I don’t see her *trolling* trump about something this serious

            “skeptical” would be the nicest thing I could say about this if *she* was President, and the idea of trump actually trying to act on her advice is just mind-boggling

        • Lee Rudolph says:

          “That you follow a woman’s advice” is the key one.

          Clearly, Hillary is doing her best to make sure that Trump does not “take out Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s air fields”.

      • Chetsky says:

        To say I’m dismayed is …. an understatement.

        Open military action against Russia. Idiocy.

      • postmodulator says:

        Well, fucking shit.

        I’m not the biggest HRC basher round these parts but that is a completely idiotic statement on at least three separate levels:

        1) Wrong on the merits

        2) Gives Trump political cover. In the 2028 election we’ll have to hear about how Both Sides wanted a disastrous intervention in the Middle East.

        3) Assuming this actually is her preferred policy, publicly calling for it makes Trump less likely to do it, because now it’s Crooked Hillary’s idea.

        • jeer9 says:

          Look on the bright side. She could be diminishing the racism of WWC voters or deriding the influence of liberal elite opinion in the Dem party.

        • Chetsky says:

          I’m not the biggest HRC basher round these parts but that is a completely idiotic statement

          It is brutal, that even -with- this massive mistake on her part, I’d still have her as my President (and hope that others would talk her out of it). Arrgh. BarryO, you spoiled us so.

          [And yeah yeah, drone strikes, Libya, Yemen. Yeah. I got it. But still. Goddam. Great Power conflict? Really? Really?]

        • nemdam says:

          Wait, so if the idea is wrong on the merits, but calling for it will make Trump less likely to do it, how can both of these points be idiotic?

          And I have a feeling Trump isn’t waiting around for Hillary to give him bipartisan cover on anything.

          • random says:

            I don’t think the idea on its merits is any worse than doing nothing at this point. I don’t know if the point is to make Trump less-likely to do it or to make him look punked when he does what she just told him to do.

    • royko says:

      Maybe it’s reverse psychology? Trump won’t do it if HRC calls for it?

      *sigh*

      • random says:

        It’s only a few months into his administration and she’s telling him how to do his job in a public forum where millions of people can see it.

      • Warren Terra says:

        This would be the only defensible interpretation, and even so it’s insanely too great a risk he’ll use it as bipartisan cover.

        • Chetsky says:

          Ayup. We are so screwed.

        • Q.E.Dumbass says:

          I thought the logic is s that if you’re trying to cripple Assad’s forces then striking the airfields would have the least likelihood to be catastrophically fuckef up by Donald (even agreeing that it’s a dumb idea on the merits).

          • Warren Terra says:

            If this is anything like a traditional superpower/hardware supplier relationship with a client military – like our relationship with Saudi as they bomb Yemen, for example – the airfields are likely to be full of Russian technicians servicing the planes and Russian advisors and intelligence analysts. Bombing the airfields risks catastrophic escalation unless we provide ample warning of the targets so they can be evacuated of Russians – and of everything worth bombing. This leaves three awful possible outcomes:
            1) By accident or by not providing warnings we kill a bunch of Russians.
            2) We bomb empty buildings, to no effect other than to make Trump feel better. Airfields are patched in 12 hours (look up the British bombing raids on Argentinian airfields in the Falklands crisis)
            3) We bomb buildings emptied of military hardware but filled with schoolchildren.

            Note combinations are possible, or (of course) yet other outcomes – but it’s almost impossible to imagine an outcome that advances any US goal, as imagined by any US faction – the closest is (2), whereby if everything goes smoothly we’ve helped nobody but Trump achieves orgasm.

          • Chetsky says:

            Honestly, at this point, I’m less concerned by Syrian casualties, and much, much, much more worried about the ever-so-minuscule possibility that this will lead to the (radioactive) rubble bouncing in …. . Any military action by the US against Assad is going to come up against Russian defenses.

            Every Dem should be hollering at the top of their lungs that we DO NOT need to go to war with Putin, ffs. And that bombing Assad *tonight* means being *ready* to go to war with Putin *tomorrow*.

            • Q.E.Dumbass says:

              With Trump directing orders, yes. With anyone else, the absolute worst-case plausible scenario would be a Caucasus and Syria mostly destroyed, but by conventional arms (and with any Democrat at the head — even Clinton — this is pushing it).

              • Chetsky says:

                With anyone else, the absolute worst-case plausible scenario would be a Caucasus and Syria mostly destroyed, but by conventional arms

                [Again, I’d still rather have Hillz in charge -today.] Not sure I agree with you. even with Hillz calling the shots, military action in Syria means going against Russian batteries/networks/planes/ground-troops. We can’t know how that evolves. Even with the most intelligent foresightful president. Hence my “arrgh, HRC, really? really?”

                But with Tangerine Tornado? It’s. That. Much. Worse.

                Gotta believe Xi’s people are shitting bricks. Along with most of the leadership of the *world*. No need to put “free” in that last sentence.

                Sting – Russians

                • random says:

                  Putin balked at the chemical attacks and doesn’t want to be seen protecting that sort of thing, so if you’re just hitting those facilities you’re probably fine.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      I am proud to have supported HRC in the general despite all my issues with her. I agree with everyone here in wishing she was President.

      But can everyone see why a lot of us feel she’s a big time hawk?

      I miss Obama. Don’t know how history will see him, but he had an excellent temperment for the job.

  10. King Goat says:

    Those who know about these matters than me, wouldn’t us attacking Syria really make Russia lose face given they were flying their jets there in defense of Assad recently? How could they not be adamantly against this?

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

      If this happens, Putin is going to be really pissed after all the trouble he took getting Trump into the White House.

      • NonyNony says:

        You’d think a KGB man like Putin would understand the concept of “blowback”.

        But then again you’d think that the son of a CIA man like W Bush would have understood the concept of “blowback” too and yet…

  11. Charlie S says:

    “If it weren’t for the bad choices I’d have no choices at all.”

  12. bender says:

    There is one other kind of violent intervention in the affairs of another country which was available to presidents in the middle of the twentieth century: attempt to assassinate the dictator.

    The US renounced that option and outlawed it for two good reasons.
    #1 Attempts usually fail and failed events have blowback.
    #2 If we do it to them, somebody will do it to us.

    #1 is as true as ever, but given the kinds of leaders we have elected lately, #2 doesn’t have quite the downside that it once did.

  13. Ezra says:

    There *is* a perfectly good answer, which was the Obama admin’s answer: inactivity. If there’s no reason to believe any form of action will lead to improved results, then the best course is inaction. It’s just not true that we *have to* Do Something. We really don’t. I get that lots of people don’t particularly like this answer despite not having any better ones, but that’s just a cognitive bias toward activity. They think, probably subconsciously, that if we Do Something then nothing bad that subsequently happens can ever be our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING, whereas if we do nothing then everything bad that subsequently happens will be our fault. Yeah, if we do nothing lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish a plan of inactivity from any proposed plan of action. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than our action will shift it from us.

    • bender says:

      I agree with this. Situations of this kind are going to arise often for an imperial hegemon that has interests all over the globe, particularly if that power tries to justify its interventions as being for the greater good. The more interests one has, the more relationships one maintains, the greater the likelihood that helping one client harms another. Foreign entanglements.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

      Kind of like some doctors want to “do something” in a hopeless situation so they won’t appear powerless, while wiser ones know that if it won’t help the patient, they shouldn’t do it.

    • Joe_JP says:

      There was an article where the strategic reasoning for Obama not doing something like six alternatives were spelled out.

      I don’t know the answer but this comment seems to have a lot of truth to it. I do know that making this about the U.S. personally trying to be the world police-person to deal with chemical weapon attacks is not to be an ideal approach.

    • Right. If all the available options for intervening make things actively worse, but doing nothing just means things stay bad, then doing nothing is still preferable. And there are things we can do that aren’t military options – helping refugees, humanitarian aid, etc. Too bad Tangerine Torquemada’s administration won’t do them.

  14. Warren Terra says:

    May the FSM forgive me, the following just occured to me, and while it’s really just adapting an old, bad joke, it actually does work on an additional level:

    Syria? I hardly know ya!

  15. MPAVictoria says:

    I would like to thank Secretary Clinton for confirming every awful thing I have ever suspected about her foreign policy judgment. Fucking incredible.

  16. Warren Terra says:

    And we’re off::

    NBC NEWS: U.S. has launched missile strikes on al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs, Syria

    Let’s be perfectly clear that this is completely illegal.

    • Denverite says:

      There’s not nearly enough discussion about Hillary Clinton’s email management policies and procedures on this thread.

    • NonyNony says:

      I’m sure it will turn out that the AUMF that Congress passed during the Bush administration covers this completely, making it all legal.

      I mean the only other alternative is to impeach him, and the Republicans aren’t going to do that. So it must be legal somehow, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will put their heads together and figure out how.

      • Warren Terra says:

        Congress explicitly voted NOT to allow the bombing of Syria by a Black Democratic President, superceding any argument that the 2001 AUMF might provide authority – but Trump is neither Black nor a Democrat so I guess this is OK?

        • NonyNony says:

          Trump’s a Republican, the Congress is Republican, QED anything he wants to do is legal right up until Congress decides that they have more to lose by not impeaching him than they do by impeaching him.

          I should probably get back off the social media. The depression and feelings of futility are starting to kick in again.

        • John Revolta says:

          No, see, they *just* found out that Assad isn’t such a nice guy after all.

      • Joe_JP says:

        I’m sure it will turn out that the AUMF that Congress passed during the Bush administration covers this completely, making it all legal.

        It’s open-ended enough for this not to be that crazy. Which, I realize, is a bit crazy. Sen. Kaine (the guy who ran for veep last year) is on record regarding the need of new authorizations of force to deal with current realities.

        • Warren Terra says:

          It may be open-ended, but Congress explicitly voted against use of force in Syria, in 2013, under conditions not significantly different from today’s. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure the later vote supercedes the former, and makes applying the 2001 AUMF in Syria a sick joke.

          • Joe_JP says:

            Did they actually vote on it? I thought the reporting was that they didn’t authorize.

            • Warren Terra says:

              (checking …)
              You’re correct. The British Parliament voted against military action in Syria, but no actual vote happened in Congress – the whips (or whoever) reported the votes were against authorization and a deal with Russia and Syria was struck instead.

              I (again, as a non-lawyer) would argue that the reporting that Congress wasn’t going to support military action might suffice – it demonstrates authorization was necessary, and not forthcoming – but that’s admittedly a bit of a stretch.

              • efgoldman says:

                I (again, as a non-lawyer) would argue that the reporting that Congress wasn’t going to support military action might suffice – it demonstrates authorization was necessary, and not forthcoming – but that’s admittedly a bit of a stretch.

                Unfortunately, you can’t go to court and get an injunction to stop the cruise missiles that have already hit the target (or been intercepted).

    • shah8 says:

      *fists to forehead going full Dr. Doom*

      you stupid, stupid, motherfuckers…

      (let this be clear, it’s basically about the parts of the US establishment is basically tantrumming about the likely Assad win and Syria failing to be practically partitioned via the various rebel forces being mostly amoral, violent-bigoted nitwits, so now they’re flipping the fucking table)

    • random says:

      In his defense, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize that it’s illegal.

  17. shah8 says:

    *raises knowing eyebrow at Hillary*

    There you go.

    Not the policy advocated, but look at the means…

  18. Warren Terra says:

    By the way: if the bomb site isn’t full of the mangled bodies of women and children tomorrow – Assad has ready sources of such bodies and can easily generate them if necessary – it means he made a deal with Trump (or with Putin, same thing).

    • Warren Terra says:

      Further to this: we now are learning that Russia was told where we’d bomb. Which means Assad was told. This guarantees that we bombed empty buildings, at best, and that’s if Assad didn’t move an orphanage into them. The only effects of this exercise, other than $50-100 million spent on missiles, money Trump will surely try to recoup from the CDC or the EPA, were in the realm of public spectacle, and possibly making Trump orgasm.

      • Jordan says:

        do you have the source for that? I’ve been seeing it over twitter and blogs and reddit and whatnot, but either not sourced or sourced to nbc, and I can’t find it. So, do you have the link handy?

        • Jordan says:

          ahh, its to cnbc for some reason. Not sure thats enough to make sure it got through to the syrians in time though.

          • Warren Terra says:

            It takes the same amount of time to evacuate Syrians to evacuate Russians, and if you were a Syrian commander with access to CNN you’d for damned sure tell your people on airbases to keep an eye on the Russians to see if they were suddenly disappearing.

            It’s possible the Syrians didn’t have enough notice to remove materiel.

        • Warren Terra says:

          It’s all over Twitter, and everyone assumed airstrikes would have to be arranged so as not to kill a bunch of Russians – and if the Syrian operation is anything like the Saudi airbases bombing Yemen, the Syrian airfields are normally full of Russians.

      • liberal says:

        Yes, some people were predicting that Trump would do something for show, not really anything to inflict damage.

        And yes, it shows he’s a fucking clowning showboat.

        But frankly, given the choice, I’d rather we attacked an empty airfield than one with Russian soldiers.

  19. Lord Jesus Perm says:

    Not even 3 months in, man.

  20. Joe_JP says:

    Why do we care what Hillary Clinton says?

    Isn’t Chelsea running next time?

    • Chetsky says:

      The propaganda writes itself:

      “Even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Presidential candidate, agreed that this was the right course of action ….”

      “Dems also supported this war in the Middle East ….”

      [None of this compares to the people being killed in our name, and the risk of war with Russia, but still ….. facepalm.]

      • Joe_JP says:

        Sure. Being a bit snarky, but you are right.

        I looked it up. I saw a reference to an interview and it looked to me like she answered various questions and Syria was one of them. I think she has been on record on such questions.

        So, what can you do? The material was there. It’s not like she simply put out a tweet or press release on the question.

        • Joe_JP says:

          ETA: The pro-Clinton “told ya soes” write themselves too. People already citing his former comments about not bombing when denouncing his potshots at Obama for not doing enough.

          If he didn’t bomb, we would be stuck with “he’s right! she’s wrong” comments too. So, it’s lose lose in a way.

  21. Jordan says:

    well, I guess we’re shooting

  22. Abbey Bartlet says:

    Fuck everything and everyone.

  23. liberal says:

    Right, they are special in that they are really good at killing civilians, but not so good at killing trained and equipped military forces.

    Is it really true that they’re better at killing unprotected people than high explosive?

    I distinctly remember a talk by Matt Meselsohn, in which he claimed that pound for pound, chemical weapons are no more effective at killing than HE. Now, perhaps he made the caveat that the targets had CW gear, but I don’t recall that, and I don’t see any evidence from a google search that they’re more effective against unprotected people. Though I didn’t have much time to search.

    One of the few good articles written by Greg Easterbrook, who in general is a moron, pointed out that the only truly WMD are nukes. I would amend that to any bioweapon whose agent causes infections that can secondarily spread, but overall he was on target.

  24. LosGatosCA says:

    Let us all remember that when the president orders a country to be bombed, it’s not illegal.

    Nixon/Kissinger/Laird proved that.

    Also, too – where’s E Howard Hunt when you need him? The situation begs for a senseless, useless amphibious invasion and Trump and Hunt are just the senseless barbarians to do it.

  25. Major Kong says:

    Oh boy. Heeeeeeere we go!

  26. […] Will last night’s missile strikes, even if continued for a few weeks, force Syrian President Bashir Assad to resign or negotiate an end to his nation’s deadly civil war? No, they won’t. Assad has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he won’t resign unless and until Putin tells him to. As for negotiating an end to the civil war, does anyone believe it’s possible to negotiate a political solution with ISIS, let alone the many other factions fighting Assad, ISIS, an…? […]

  27. […] Other commentators made a substantive case against a strike. Robert Farley was especially succinct: […]

  28. […] The issues that make dealing with the mess in Syria so difficult – Robert Farley. […]

  29. […] respect to the domestic debate in the US…  My views on this strike are clear; it was a bad idea.  Along the historic continuum of bad ideas from Little Big Horn to Operation […]

  30. […] Other commentators made a substantive case against a strike. Robert Farley was especially succinct: […]

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