Empty Moralism on Syria

The bogus case for war.


The advocates of war against Syria have taken Theodore Roosevelt's advice and turned it upside down. They believe that in confronting Bashar al-Assad, the United States should speak loudly and carry a tiny stick.

Some liberals like nothing better than the chance to thunder righteously against evil incarnate, and Syria brings out the moralist in them. Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Tuesday, "Will we, in the name of all that is human and decent, authorize the use of American military power against the inexcusable, indiscriminate and immoral use of chemical weapons?"

John Kerry agreed. "This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter," he informed the committee. "We need to send to Syria and to the world, to dictators and to terrorists, to allies and to civilians alike, the unmistakable message that when the United States of America and the world say never again, we don't mean sometimes; we don't mean somewhere; never means never."

Faced with widespread slaughter and vicious atrocities, you may conclude we must be willing to do whatever it takes to stop the perpetrators. To allow them to continue would make us, in Kerry's word, Assad's "enablers."

But if you think any of these advocates genuinely intend to stop Assad from using chemical weapons again, you would be wrong. Kerry promised there would be no American "boots on the ground." Menendez emphasized that President Barack Obama wanted to use only "limited force." The strike would amount to a firm rap on the knuckles.

There is a vast gulf between the atrocities they cite and the steps they are willing to take in response. On one side of the scale is Assad's mass killing and his use of forbidden instruments of war. On the other is a brief flurry of cruise missiles, and possibly some aerial bombing, "to degrade and deter Bashar Assad's capacity to use chemical weapons," as Kerry put it.

When Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor, he promised that "the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory." When Winston Churchill rallied the British people to resist Hitler, he vowed "victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory, there is no survival."

They didn't promise to degrade the enemy's military capacity. They didn't say we would drop a few bombs to dramatize our disapproval. They said they would do whatever it took to win.

The administration and its allies, by contrast, offer measures that are not likely—and apparently not even meant—to have much effect on Assad, his chemical weapons or the outcome of the war. Obama described the endeavor as "a shot across the bow." Kerry expressed hope that the strikes would "have downstream impact on his military capacity."

"The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn't want it to prevail, according to people who attended closed-door briefings by top administration officials over the past week," The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. "Pentagon planners were instructed not to offer strike options that could help drive Mr. Assad from power." Obama thinks an attack will deter Assad from using chemical weapons—even though Obama's threat to attack failed to deter him.

The administration is striving not to evict a tyrant it has likened to Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler. It wants to stop him from killing innocents with sarin gas, without diminishing his capacity to kill them in conventional ways.

The pertinent question is not whether we should let Assad get away with using these vicious weapons. We intend to let him get away with it—in the sense of surviving and even prevailing. The question is whether what Obama has in mind will do any good beyond salving some American consciences.

If it has any effect, it will probably be negative. A 2012 study in the Journal of Peace Research found that when outside powers provide support to rebels in civil wars, the government typically responds by killing civilians at a more rapid pace.

It's clear the administration is not prepared to take any action that will make a significant difference. Supporters of intervention make it sound as though they will save the world from a brutal dictator and his gruesome arsenal. But they don't really mean it.

NEXT: Brickbat: Being There

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  1. Wow, Chapman didn’t make a single shrieky-like apologetic remark about Obama. Only two weeks ago he wrote:

    But in the end, he had the grace and maturity of judgment to change course.

    See, people *can* change.

  2. As has been pointed out many times here Obama is purely a political creature. Everything he does is calculated to be to his personal political advantage.

    I do not see how this action in Syria would advance our interests, but more than that, I do not see how it would advance his. If this is all a distraction from the slew of other scandals plaguing him it is doing a piss poor job. It is devolving into a scandal of it’s own, worse than the others.

    Could this really be all about his narcissism? Is he simply unable to admit his red line remark was a gaffe? Is it an attempt to put a stick in Putin’s eye because he keeps getting punked by the guy? Is it an attempt to show his reluctant military who is boss? I am sure it is all about Obama, I just cant figure out which angle.

    Whatever the reason, the bumbling moran is certainly shooting himself in the dick. It would be more fun to watch if the possibility for loss of life werent in the mix.

    1. Well, he’s not a political animal in the sense the Clinton was/is. He’s political in the way he doesn’t really have any convictions other than in his own manifest destiny. But then Obama has never had to make political compromises or compromises on well, anything, having been feted as the Great Diversity Hope since college.

      So it makes sense that he would carry on with this despite so much public opposition, simply because he made this red line comment.

      1. and that’s exactly it. The man has no discernible principles and all you need to confirm that is to see how often his rhetoric conflicts with his actions.

        He stands for what is expedient at the moment. Period. But that is what happens when you spend your time in a bubble, surrounded by sycophants unwilling to tell the emperor about the ketchup stain on his tie, let alone notice that he is wearing no clothes at all.

        1. If he’s wearing no clothes at all, how can he have a ketchup stain on his tie?

          1. If he has ketchup on the center of his chest and you were pretending you were smart enough to see his special clothes, you would say to him it was on his tie.

      2. Well, he’s not a political animal in the sense the Clinton was/is.

        I never thought I would miss Clinton (Bill, not Hillarity).

  3. “Whatever the reason, the bumbling moran is certainly shooting himself in the dick.”

    See. He’s selfish. How will he pleasure Michelle?

    1. I doubt that is much of a problem. I dont think the guy is straight, not that that really means anything.

      1. Michelle could make anyone go gay.

        *sounds of Chebacca-like cry heard in background*

        1. I can’t believe people find her ‘foxy.’

          And there’s something in the way she speaks that grinds.

          1. “Stylish” is the thing that gets me. “Stylish”? In what fucking universe? KMart?

            1. I remember when O’Donnell went after Palin’s or some other chick’s expensive dress. But when it was reported Michelle had a $6000 dress, whoa, silence from pricks like him.

            2. In the universe of patronizing and racist Progressives who believe the average Black woman dresses like this.

              This is the same crowd that applaud Barack for being “so well-spoken”.

              1. I don’t know why the file name says “bologna” when that is clearly ham.

              2. Oh, my.

        2. +1 Laugh till I cried in the Star Wars category.

        3. Barack gay for war? !!!WAR-FAG alert!!!

    2. How will he pleasure Michelle?

      I suspect she’s got this handled.

  4. OT: “Breaking Bad” – How fucking stupid was Walt last night. How. Fucking. STUPID!?

    I fear I’m being set up for a shitty ending like “Twin Peaks” and “LOST”…..calling AMC to be my pallbearers SO TEEVEE CAN LET ME DOWN ONE MORE TIME.

    They’d better not fuck up the last couple episodes…

    1. Walt is an Angel!

      1. An angel of DEATH!

        “You’re right…you DON’T know me…”

    2. Yeah. I couldn’t believe it. He’s normally a step ahead of the game and didn’t understand why he didn’t split the SECOND he knew he was set up. Same with Hank. What the fuck is that crap calling his wife? Get moving! Seriously, what’s her motivation for wanting Hank so badly?

      I’m torn in all this. Is Jesse a fuckhead snitch? Could Hank just have let it go given Walt’s cancer is back? Now he pays for it with his life. As much as Walt is evil, he did save Jesse.

      All these moral twists and plots are killing me!

      1. You are on the money. I hate fucking Hank and Jesse worse than Walt.

        Wait, aren’t they supposed to be the “good guys”.

        Excellent writing, “Breaking Bad” writers.


        1. A man, who has been intermittently staring at Tony Walt as he sits there, gets up from the counter and heads to and enters the restroom. As Meadow Jesse enters the restaurant, Tony looks up at the door and the episode ends.

          1. I mean Walt.

            1. I want that ending just for the epic lulz that would reverberate across the Internet.

              1. Walt wakes up in bed and says, “Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had.”

                TO SUZANNE PLESHETTE.

                1. Holy shit I was going to make a reference to Newhart’s final episode!

        2. Fuck Jesse pisses me off. Talk about not knowing how to cut your losses and run god dammit.

          I agree with him about the killing of kids but jesus, he TOO CHOSE that life.

          1. Yeah, and if he was having problems getting over it, his millions would have bought him enough Prozac and therapy for ten lifetimes.

          2. That’s been the one major flaw in what has otherwise been an excellent series. Even a two-bit flunkie addict like Jesse would have enough far-sightedness to take the money and run when he had the chance.

            Structurally speaking, I think it goes back to the producers not killing him off in the first season like they origninally planned; they grew too fond of his character and the chemistry between Paul and Cranston, so they’ve had to come up with some logic-bending reasons to keep Jesse around.

            1. There was a scene when Jesse seemed to have come to terms with the fact he’s a bad guy. Yet, he turns around and gets all moral. I agree, strange twist in the character plot.

          3. If Jesse wasn’t such a fucking dumshit to begin with he wouldn’t of had to poison the kid.

            What happened once Walt got all of the dumbasses out of the way? He made a king-sized mattress worth of cash. His only mistake after that point was giving Jesse his share.

      2. He’s normally a step ahead of the game and didn’t understand why he didn’t split the SECOND he knew he was set up

        Because he didn’t know it was the DEA doing the setting up. He was prepared to kill Jesse and whoever else Jesse had brought out, in order to defend the money. It seems to me that once Walt saw it was Hank, he had an attack of conscience (still a mistake IMO).

        1. Yeah. True.

          Even when he saw the killers coming he screamed at Hank to try and warn him.

          Walt’s character is really interesting. It’s the closest thing to Don Corleone! Or maybe Michael?

          1. Was it the DEA or was it Hank and his ego? He didn’t flash his badge. Was the show trying to tell us he was rogue? And he suckered his partner into his ego trip – encouraged by his annoying wife.

            1. Hank’s outside of regulations for sure, but I don’t think he’s rogue here. He knows the fact a major drug lord was family means his career is over, and he wants to bring him in personally to at least partially redeem his negligence in putting it all together earlier.

              1. What’s your hunch about Saul? Will he make it out alive?

                1. What’s your hunch about Saul? Will he make it out alive?

                  I think so. This is extraneous evidence, but Gilligan talked seriously about Saul being the subject of a spin-off series.

                  In-world, he seems like a survivor.

                  1. “If drugs were legal, the free market would have created the blue meth. With the underground drug destroyed, I would have built an empire on human trafficking or prostitution instead. It was the nation’s drug policy that killed Hank, Marie, Jesse, my family, Gus Fring, and Hank’s Mexican buddy hired by the show’s producer to earn diversity rating! Not me!”

                    Part of Walt’s tear filled testimony that names Jesse as the real mastermind.. In the final episode.

    3. Everybody has to make a mistake sometime.

      I knew as soon as Hank made the call to Marie that he was toast.

      1. The two minutes he took his wife was long enough for the neo nazis to swarm the desert.

    4. Speaking of stupid…how do six or seven men armed with pistols, shotguns and automatic weapons in an open desert and at close range open free fire on each other and not hit anyone?

      I expect to see John Cleese in a Soviet military uniform screaming, “HOW COULD YOU MISS???”

      1. GAAAH! This, too!

        “What. The. FUCK!? REALLY?!!”

        Me screaming at the TEEVEE last night…

  5. ‘Walt badly’ sorry.

    1. See, this is why Peak Derp is a receding target…

    2. Ok, let me try something here.

      I get why American “honor” and credibility may have been at stake after 9/11. Terrorists pull off a spectacular attack and then wait with a “what you gonna do about it?”

      The Americans respond by fucking attacking two countries and toppling the other.

      In this way, that argument used by this chick applied more to Bush than it does under Obama and Syria.

      I really don’t see how American honor is threatened here. Obama’s maybe, but not the country.

      Maybe he wants retribution for that girly first pitch a few years back?

      1. I really don’t see how American honor is threatened here. Obama’s maybe, but not the country.

        “l’Etat, c’est moi”

        1. ^CETTE

        2. Or

          L’esprit, c’est moi!

    3. To a certain extent, two weeks ago, I could sympathise, if not agree with this point of view. But the whole ‘US authortay/credibilty arguement has fallen apart as the Obama clown car of war has rolled on.

      Really, that credibility, it’s gone. He’s not going to buy that back with all the squeeling of a War Pig and killing. It’s not just Putin that has his number now. Everyone, from junior jihadis to Dear Leader Kim know that there is little backbone and less judgement in the God-Emporer’s head.

      It’s going to be an interesting next 4-5 years as the World digest this. The World might learn to live without the American Keystone Kops and America might learn to live with keeping its war boner in its pants.

      1. “Mr. President, we’ve exhausted all reasons and excuses.”

        “You mean, I can’t use the race card? Damn, sweet baby Jesus!”

        1. “Mr. President, why are you using that voice?”

          “What voice?”

          “Like the pedophile from Family Guy.”

          “This job is hard.”

      2. America might learn to live with keeping its war boner in its pants.

        “It is, however, glad to see you.”

      3. the Obama clown car of war

        Nice. I’m using this one.

        1. Too late, it’s been re-tweated, blogged, and used in conversation so often by me that it now sounds like Where’s the Beef.

    4. This is a blow to Obama’s credibility, not that of the United States. Though the ‘man in the street’ may conflate the two, the people who make decisions won’t. It *would* be a blow to the credibility of the U.S. if we showed that the people were stupid enough to go along with any dumbass pronouncement made by the President ‘just because’.

  6. Stephanie Cutter will be on the Crossfire panel.

    As if I really needed another reason not to watch CNN.

    1. Galley is being charge for the crime of offending Progressive sensibilities as opposed to any true wrongdoing

      Offending progressive sensibilities are the very worst crimes, because they all justify the use of government force.

    1. Because….since the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons we will just attack someone else? Wait, what?

      1. The ole ‘see what we’re doing to your friend here, tread carefully’ routine.

        Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.

      2. So, I’m not the only one who thought that line of reasoning sounded completely ridiculous. I heard it yesterday morning and had to re-wind the DVR to make sure I heard it right.

    2. White House Chief of Staff says U.S. attack on Syria would send a message to Iranian leaders that they should not feel free to develop nuclear weapons the the U.S. still has a raging warboner, that it intends to continue a policy of ramming it into semi-random Arab countries, and that the only way to deflate this war boner is to develop a working nuclear bomb.

  7. What principle of international law allows Country A to use unprovoked military force against County B in “retaliation” for Country B violating an international accord that Country B never signed in the first place?

    And if no such principle exists, does that mean that Country A is violating international law? And would that not render Country A’s political leaders war criminals? And be reported to the International Court of Justice?

  8. This is all about the President saving face after making a bizarre and incompetent move to draw a red line and thereby putting himself in a corner.

    The smartest thing to do is let congress vote, and if they vote it down, then tell the world that America is a country of laws and the people have spoken and we will follow our laws as we swore by the constitution to do.
    Then, the world would have a lot more respect for America and its people.

    Then, Obama can try and get Russia and China and the U.N Security council to assist them with a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons issue.

    The chemical weapons issue is a U.N. problem to resolve. Not a U.S. problem to resolve.

  9. It would be interesting to “write” an op-ed consisting entirely of cut and pasted antiwar statements by Senator Obama. Not that it would make a difference.

  10. when outside powers provide support to rebels in civil wars, the government typically responds by killing civilians at a more rapid pace.

    This makes sense. Ramp up efforts to destroy your enemies before they become too strong to defeat.

  11. America and the world say never

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