Middle East

Bombs for Libya, Frozen Bank Accounts for Syria

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Last Friday the White House, responding to the bodies of protesters piling up in Syria, announced sanctions against three government officials, including a brother and a cousin of President Bashir Assad, who will no longer be able to access whatever property they may own in the United States. Take that, tyrants! New York Times reporter Mark Landler notes that President Obama's response to Assad's violent suppression of dissent is rather different from his response to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi's violent suppression of dissent, despite some obvious parallels:

A brutal Arab dictator with a long history of enmity toward the United States turns tanks and troops against his own people, killing hundreds of protesters. His country threatens to split along sectarian lines, with the violence potentially spilling over to its neighbors, some of whom are close allies of Washington.

If there was a humanitarian justification for waging war against Libya, why is Obama's response so restrained in the case of Syria, where he has not even called for regime change, let alone sent in the warplanes? "Syria is important in a way that Libya is not," explains Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "There is no central U.S. interest engaged in Libya." This argument for intervening in Libya but not Syria, you may recall, used to be the argument against intervening in Libya.

To be fair, Cook means that the unintended consequences of forcing out Assad could be more serious than the unintended consequences of forcing out Qaddafi, given the possible implications for Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq. But why risk any unintended consequences when U.S. security is not at stake?

NEXT: All Those Operational Details the Obama Administration Gave About the bin Laden Raid? Maybe They Weren't Quite True.

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  1. “Syria is important in a way that Libya is not. There is no central U.S. interest engaged in Libya.”

    Huh?

    1. The US is only justified in dropping bombs on people when it doesn’t benefit them to do so. It’s only humanitarian if you suffer for it.

      1. It’s the new Just War Theory!

        1. Wow.

          I thought you guys were only kidding…

          Then I read the article and Steven A. Cook is serious about it.

      2. Exactly, Hugh Akston. If we drop bombs on Syria while Syria is an ally of Iran, we can be accused to trying to use military force to make our allies safer from Iran.

    2. BLOOD4OIL!

  2. They need to fight it out without our ‘help’, and hopefully the least militant wins

    1. The Syrians protesters would not be dying on the sword in the hopes of US intervention right now if Obama was not bombing Libya.

      Perverse incentives indeed.

      1. Agreed, Joshua Corning.

      2. Disagree. Is the possibility that “shit, everyone else is pissed off and risking their lives for it, so fuck it, I’ve had enough.”

        No, backwards Sand Farmers could never have a keen eye for the best opportunity to achieve their liberty. They barely know how to grow sand, and don’t get me started on their low English & Math SAT scores.

        Yeah, obviously American Actions are the only explanation for everything, because people would never even think of having their own motives to achieve their own goals. That would take, like, a Harvard education, at least.

        1. OT, from a random Wikipedia binge yesterday:

          Nazca Lines

          Scholars: “religious trappings”
          Whackjobs: “Aliens!” (still a religio-superstition background where the primatives worship the aliens as gods)

          My theory: Surveyor School. Gotta have somewhere to teach people how to layout aquaducts and MachuPichus, and the designs present at the Nazca Lines site seem like what a random selection of students would pick to excavate for their Final Exams.

        2. Yeah, obviously American Actions are the only explanation for everything,

          The best way to not get blamed is to not participate in the first place.

          Sure there are freedom loving people fighting in Syria and Libya but there are also terrorists, tribalists and all sorts of nasty people fighting so they can be the new tyrants…and the US not only lacks the capability to insure their winning but worse we lack the ability to choose the right group gets the crown let alone the ability to identify the “right” group.

          This is the definition of a quagmire and if we get involved as we have then we are to blame for getting involved in it.

          1. dammit, josh, stfu about the osama BS. what about my Occam’sRazor-Theory on the Nazca lines.

            1. My theory: Surveyor School. Gotta have somewhere to teach people how to layout aquaducts and MachuPichus, and the designs present at the Nazca Lines site seem like what a random selection of students would pick to excavate for their Final Exams.

              After playing Minecraft for the past few months I have come to the conclusion making massive geological sculptures is fun. It does not surprise me in the least that some dudes in 400AD shared my passion.

              1. divorce

                1. But I want my Daddy more!

              2. I really need to checkout minecraft. And Borderlands, and Fallout.

                I’m a bad, bad man, when it comes to new games.

    2. Hey Reason! I just made poopy!

      Read about it on my blog!

  3. Trust me, Damascus is a tougher nut to crack than you’re thinking.

    1. Lybia is no cake walk either.

      1. In fact, we recommend that you just generally avoid the entire region.

  4. Syria is the partially-conjoined runt twin of the regime in Tehran. There is no way to execute on an existential attack against Syria without drawing Iran into the fight, and that would be a bridge to far for the U.S. at this point in time.

    There may well come a time when the U.S. goes for military “regime change” in Iran, and action against Syria would likely be part of such an undertaking, but that is something in the future.

    In the meantime, laying a bone-shattering beatdown on Kaddaffi sets a good example, tidies up the security situation in the Mediterranean, and provides Europe with some needed instruction on the necessity of improving their own military capabilities.

    There is plenty of rank hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy, but this is not a particularly glaring example of it.

    1. Obama’s in charge, so this is okey-dokey! HURR DURR DERP

    2. I totally disagree with this, Danny.

      First, we have Iran in a pincers already with the troops we have in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention our presence in the Med and The Persian Gulf. If they came in to Syria to support Assad, they’d be slaughtered on two flanks and from the sea.

      As far as setting examples for Europe to improving their military capabilities, why would they feel compelled to do that when they can rely on NATO (read: US) to do their bidding?

      I do agree that it tidies up the situation in the Mad, but I don’t know if that’s a truly good thing. I believe we should do nothing in either Libya or Syria. If those people earn their own freedom, they will value it a hell of a lot more than if it’s handed to them. (A story of money earned being sweeter than money won comes to mind.)

    3. laying a bone-shattering beatdown on Kaddaffi sets a good example

      So by good example you mean spending billions on a stalemate that we will eventually withdraw from and encouraging other rebels to hope and die for American help that will never come?

      Oh yeah I forgot it was only 3 weeks ago that according to your calculation we should have already liberated Libya.

      Hey Danny wake the fuck up your few days of bombing has been a complete fucking failure.

      1. I think we all mis-read the fine print on the “few days of bombing.” Apparently, it was meant to define the time from missile shot to impact, not a few calendar days. Based on rudimentary mathematical calculations, at 4 seconds per shoot, we should expect to be out of the Libyan conflict sometime in July.

        1. we should expect to be out of the Libyan conflict sometime in July

          July 2012 or July 2013 or July 2021?

          1. July 2012 or July 2013 or July 2021?

            Now you get it.

      2. Yes, we should have already liberated Libya. Obama has withheld the ground attack aircraft that could have gotten the job done quick. I don’t know why and I can’t explain. I can’t read his mind through telepathy.

        Your prediction of withdrawal and failure is, by any measure, an uncertain thing and, for my money, an unlikely thing. I think the Europeans will keep chipping away at the regime from the air while the rebels slowly get their act together, and slowly tighten the noose, on the ground. Nobody wants to make a sequel to the Iraq movie called “Oil-for-Food Part II,” with Kaddaffi playing the part of Saddam and Benghazi playing the part of Kurdistan. Kaddaffi is, I think, a marked man with very little hope of staying in power.

        But hey, you keep rooting against your country, and keep hoping we lose. One day you just might be right.

        1. Now that my guy’s in charge, dissent isn’t patriotic any more!

          1. Where’s Hillary Clinton when we need her for some good, old-fashioned, patriotic dissent?

        2. My country is noninterventionist America, and it lost a long time ago.

        3. I can’t read his mind through telepathy.

          So he makes a bad choice in executing the war right off the bat….and your response it to pile on.

          Fucking brilliant.

          Also you are a liar and your claims about ground attack aircraft are false.

        4. “But hey, you keep rooting against your country, and keep hoping we lose. One day you just might be right.”

          yes, we’re all Libyans

          1. What’s the difference?

          2. (impotent against the predations of the Federal Elected Mob as we are)

    4. So…Iran is the new Soviet Union?

      Except when China is?

      1. WHAT PART OF GREATEST ENEMY OF AMERICA do you not understand? We change the symbols on the conquest map as appropriate to our Diplomacy skill.

        (Terrorism != the asshole Ai’s in Master of Magic who would go to war against me even though I gave them resources to fight their opponents for 50+ turns.)

      2. wait, no, that’s just bad/incomplete programming of the AI….

    5. laying a bone-shattering beatdown on Kaddaffi sets a good example

      There are words to accurately describe what Obama is doing in Libya. Those are not the words.

  5. What have Sarkozy, Cameron, and Samantha Power had to say about Syria? I’m sure Obama will fight the Syrian tyranny if they lead the way.

    1. What have Sarkozy, Cameron, and Samantha Power had to say about Syria? I’m sure Obama will fight the Syrian tyranny if they lead the way.

      Nah if the Iraq war and Libyan war coalitions is any measure for Obama’s choice to go to war all he needs is Sakozy.

  6. “If there was a humanitarian justification for waging war against Libya, why is Obama’s response so restrained in the case of Syria,…?

    Because one involves less risk and a smaller investment and the other involves more risk and a greater investment!

    You guys might think I’m a heartless bastard? But I do the same thing in investing all the time.

    Some things I invest in. Some of things I don’t. Is that unfair?

    Why?

    How come I invest in some deals and not others? …because I’m a heartless bastard? or is it because some cost more than others relative to the expected benefit–and I’ve got limited resources?

    It works this way with pretty much everything. I buy groceries from some stores–but not others! I mostly shop for groceries where I think it’s in my best interests to do so–I should be arrested I guess.

    The idea that if I don’t have enough for everyone, then nobody should be allowed to have any? Was bullshit in pre-school!

    Let’s grow up, m-kay?

    1. Ken,

      Are you killing people for fun and profit again. Tsk Tsk.

      1. Investing and shopping may not be the same as dropping bombs on Gaddafi’s thugs? But there are people who are hurt because I don’t shop in certain places and don’t invest in certain things too…

        People get laid off because we buy some things and not others. They have a hard time finding work. They start drinking. Their wives divorce them, and the whole city turns into Detroit. It’s a tragedy!

        And we just keep on investing in and buying what we think is in our best interests? Maybe we’re all a bunch of heartless bastards.

        …or maybe we’re just grown ups!

        We should all have the same access to as much liberty and justice as possible. But everything else comes with costs and benefits attached.

        Someday, when Jesus comes back or the Singularity hits, maybe we won’t have to contend with limited resources anymore. Until then, we’re gonna have to keep making tough choices that affect people.

        That’s life.

        1. Ken, what are the benefits of the Libya action at this point? You can’t possibly still be arguing that it will win the Arabs to our side after our embassy got burned down by an angry mob and even the rebels curse us when they think we’re not helping enough.

          1. I still think we’ve reversed some of the damage in the Arab/Muslim worlds that our efforts in Iraq did.

            Good will. Our thumb is coming off the scale, where it was weighing in on the side of the dictators. Good will counts.

            Also, if we’re gonna make an honest assessment, I don’t think we can do that without taking the downside of doing nothing into account.

            We lost a lot of good will after the Persian Gulf War, when the Shiites in Iraq thought the U.S. was going to back them in their rebellion against Saddam, and we did nothing.

            I think Libya would have been worse than that. …if we had done nothing. We were starting to embrace Libya again, and if Gaddafi had slaughtered the rebels, and we refused to enforce a U.N. mandate, surely there was some downside associated with that.

            So, life is a marginal analysis, and if things change significantly, I can be persuaded.

            But I haven’t seen anything to persuade me yet that what we’re doing hasn’t been in our best interests so far. …or that refusing to work with the U.N. and NATO and letting Gaddafi slaughter the rebels would have better served our interests.

            1. I still think we’ve reversed some of the damage in the Arab/Muslim worlds that our efforts in Iraq did.

              What evidence do you have that supports this position? Angry mobs just pummeled Western embassies in Tripoli, so you better have something much more convincing on your side.

              1. Do you have a link for that?

                I’m trying to understand why Gaddafi supporters rioting in Tripoli would somehow be indicative of the so called “Arab Street” being against our efforts in Libya.

                If angry mobs were pummeling western embassies in Benghazi or something, that might be different.

                1. link for Ken

                  There’s no indication that it’s Gaddafi supporters in particular who did this. It’s also a bit odd that you’re now restricting the hearts and minds that we’re after to Benghazi rather than the Arab world in general (which includes Tripoli last I knew).

            2. Ken, the rule we enforced with the Persian Gulf War was “don’t invade other countries”. This is one of the better rules to enforce, because it is clear and most countries already follow it. Once we kicked the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, we had no reason to invade further. Kuwait is still very pro-America, because they remember our help. It was a mistake to give the Shiites the impression that we would back them in the first place.

              America lost it’s claim to leading the World a couple years ago when we failed to stop Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Now, we’re just a bully who demands things from weak countries that we would never demand from powerful countries.

    2. Ken, fighting only the easy wars makes an incentive for other nations to build up their militaries in a race to become the most difficult nation to attack. This is a bad strategy in the long run.

      Having a few simple rules about when to attack and enforcing them no mater what the cost makes an incentive for other countries to avoid doing the things that trigger an attack. This is a good strategy in the long run.

      1. “Ken, fighting only the easy wars makes an incentive for other nations to build up their militaries in a race to become the most difficult nation to attack. This is a bad strategy in the long run.”

        Fighting only costly and ineffective wars is a bad strategy in the long run too–because they’re costly and ineffective.

        “Having a few simple rules about when to attack and enforcing them no mater what the cost makes an incentive for other countries to avoid doing the things that trigger an attack. This is a good strategy in the long run.”

        I’d propose that the first couple of rules should say something about costs and benefits.

        Otherwise a largely ineffective war like the Iraq War, which will end up costing us $1.9 trillion and 36,000 odd American casualties, will end up looking just as good as a war like the one in Libya, which costs about $1 billion and involves no American casualties whatsoever.

        …other things being equal, those two scenarios–just on cost–can’t be the same.

        1. BUSHIRAQBUSHIRAQCOSTBENEFITARFARFARFARFARF

          1. …EUROPELOVESSOCIALIZEDMEDICINESOWHY CANTYOURUBESACCEPTWHAT’SBESTFORYOUANDLET THEMMAKEALLYOURECONOMICDECISIONSFORYOU.THE.RIGHT.PEOPLE,YOUFUCKINGPROLES!!!111

            (PUNCTUATION AND CASE SENSITIVITY LIMITED BY ALPHANUMERIC RATIONING)

        2. “Otherwise a largely ineffective war like the Iraq War, which will end up costing us $1.9 trillion and 36,000 odd American casualties, will end up looking just as good as a war like the one in Libya, which costs about $1 billion and involves no American casualties whatsoever.”

          Yet, it hasn’t caused any American casaulties yet.

          1. I will concede that there are two very different issues here.

            One is whether helping one rebel movement means we need to help every rebellion.

            The second is whether helping any particular rebel movement is in our interests–I have an opinion on the second point, but I’m open to persuasion on that point too.

            The suggestion that because we helped one, we’re in some way obligated to help all the others is what I was arguing against here.

            Here’s a related quandary for you: what’s worse, a slippery slope or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

            A slippery slope is just a fallacy, but self-fulfilling prophecies–those are really dangerous!

            If we don’t want to get involved in any more wars, then why would we argue that we’re somehow obligated to help every insurgency that comes along?

            1. Here’s a related quandary for you: what’s worse, a slippery slope or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

              Slippery Slopes. The change per unit time is far more damaging, even just in the run up, compared to the massive-immediate damages realizing their pie-in-the-sky realities are not attainable.

            2. In logic, the slippery slope is a fallacy…in human affairs it’s a tautology.

              Human affairs don’t tend to follow rational paths, particularly the affairs of governments.

        3. Fighting only costly and ineffective wars is a bad strategy in the long run too–because they’re costly and ineffective.

          You forgot option 3, don’t fight any war. If you don’t have the strength to fight and win a war every time a dictator shoots on his civilians, then don’t use the shooting of civilians as the grounds for fighting any wars.

          In your analysis of the Iraq War you forget that Gadaffi saw us attack Iraq, realized that “Don’t Have a Nuclear Program” is one of our rules, then confessed and ended his nuclear program. If we didn’t depose Saddam, Gadaffi would probably have nuclear weapons right now. How does that change your calculations?

        4. other things being equal, those two scenarios–just on cost–can’t be the same.

          That doesn’t mean they weren’t both bad ideas.

      2. It also makes us more trustworthy allies.

        If Gaddafi knew that we were eventually going to be attacking him regardless, no way he gives up his WMD program in 2004.

        1. No, no, Commodore Tulpa. See, now we’re unpredictable! I mean, who will we attack next? It could be anyone. Even the moon!

          1. the moon deserves it, it’s kind of a dick.

          2. Yes, why don’t we. . .nuke the Moon!

          3. I can’t sanction an attack on any non-vagina-shaped celestial object.

        2. Good point, Tulpa.

    3. This was my initial thinking to the article. So because I’m involved in one conflict I should have to therefor get involved in every conflict.
      It’s not rational thinking in the least, and only semi adequate comparison

      1. I’m not necessarily saying our first action was justified, but im also completely against the idea that because we play Team America World Police in some places we should have to play them in all places – getting involved here would spread our resources even thinner, and a much riskier investment.

        1. I don’t think Sullum wants us to get involved in Syria either, he’s just pointing out how absurd Obama’s justification for intervention in Libya is.

          1. Yeah, without question, I just am at odds with whether it’s a good enough parallel to make that point. I see what he’s trying to do, and I agree with the overall point, but I just think it could have been presented better. Maybe it was just a little sensationalistic for my taste.

            1. just think it could have been presented better

              Use “agree with” to refer to a person and “agree to” to refer to an idea.

              1. What I should think: Thanks for pointing out my oversight; I’m sorry I missed that, next time I will proofread.

                What I really think: That’s silly, I forgot I was a professional author/editor and that my posts in a comment section should be held to the same standard.

                1. I don’t believe you-I’ve read your words enough to know better

    4. Ken, you are forgetting about the reason you invest in some things and not others.

      Profitability.

      If the United States is seeking to be “profitable” in this adventure by seeking nebulous “political currency” with other nations, then hypocrisy is not a good way to go about doing that.

  7. Makes principled non-intervention look pretty good. That’s why we need both Paul and Johnson running for the nomination to explain that it smells like shit because it is shit.

    1. …..

    2. I’m starting to think there might be more than one person on the internet who uses the handle ‘Max’

    3. Makes principled non-intervention look pretty good. That’s why we need both Paul and Johnson running for the nomination to explain that it smells like shit because it is shit.

      Gary Johnson is no non-interventionist.

  8. I’m about to go see Amon Amarth. Everything is awesome with the world, as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Have fun storming the castle!

  9. Basically, Gaddaffi confessed and ended his nuclear program, but Iran has not done either yet. This makes our leaders quick to bomb Libya but soft on Iran’s client state, Syria. I predict a massive global rush to get nuclear weapons within the next 20 years.

    1. I predict a massive global rush to get nuclear weapons within the next 20 years.

      By who? Not trying to be an ass, but that sentence seems incomplete.

      1. I’m sure old mex has quite the stash, or Gregory smith.

      2. You do know the meaning of “global”?

        1. You do know that context plays a large role in the application

          Something to do with Basketball, right?

          1. to try again….

            You do know the meaning of “global”?

            Something to do with Basketball, right?

        2. Claiming a “global rush” to “get nuclear weapons” is nice and Doomey….but who is actually doing that?

          Or is the speculation sufficient to start killing people?

          1. Wylie, I’m not advocating that we invade Syria or Iran. I’m pointing out that the contrast between how we treat Libya and how we treat Syria will encourage more countries to develop nuclear weapons. We can avoid this contrast by not attacking Libya. It’s noteworthy that this second option did not occur to you.

  10. Wow, you people are so immature. Grow up and learn to kill innocent people so terrorists will like you.

  11. Ken Shultz, your case for attacking Libya says we can’t allow Libyan civilians to die. If saving Libyan lives is important to you, then granting immigration visas to every Libyan who wants them is a better solution. There are only 6.6 million Libyans (CIA World Factbook). Absorbing all the Libyans who want to come to America would cost less money and much fewer lives than attacking Libya. If we take this option, we won’t be forcing Gaddaffi to behave the way we want him to behave, but I think extending power of the USA Federal Government beyond our boarders is a bug, not a feature of war.

    1. Ken Shultz’ case for attacking Libya changes with the winds. All I know is that it’s a cost-benefit thing, though the benefit never seems to be pinned down or justified by anything other than the ruminations of Mr Shultz’ gut.

      1. Sunk costs. Those bombs have expiration dates, and they were just sitting around.

  12. Axis of evil 2011 edition:

    Gadaffi
    CEOs
    Speculators

    1. Whatever happened to health insurance companies?

    2. What, Sarah Palin is not serious now that she had her own reality tv show?

  13. Playing devil’s advocate: When intervention in Liybya stareted there already was an ongoing civil war, there is none in Syria.

    1. So when some of the population take arms and go after their country’s leader it is not OK for their leader to eliminate them but when peaceful protesters are gunned down by their country’s leader its okay.

      1. Tiannamen square protesters learned that.

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