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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Syria: What Now?

Uploaded: Aug 31, 2013
Lots of folks out in bloggoland would like to see the incumbent Prez replaced – okay, here's Your chance to sit on the Hot Seat! There are reports, backed by pretty good evidence, that the Assad government in Syria ordered and carried-out an attack on his domestic enemies – using chemical weapons that killed almost 1500 of his citizens, and maimed many more. The use of poison gas in warfare has been banned roughly since World War 1 (the war to end all wars). That said, several governments maintain stockpiles, including the US. You're the Commander-in-Chief – so, what do we do now, Chief?

Here are several relevant questions to ponder; undoubtedly there are others.

1 -- What are the US interests in this issue? Some say there are none – all lethal weapons inflict awful deaths, and chemical weapons are really rather inefficient and passee. Others believe that SOMEbody needs to enforce a civilized world's expectations that using these outlawed poisons will be punished. Further, these gases are a pretty good choice for terror use in a closed space like a subway (BART?) tunnel, but does a military response in Syria make it less – or more – likely that terrorists might try to use those small, portable weapons hereabouts? And then there's credibility and that pesky "red line" statement. How does that figure into your mix?

More broadly, anything the US does will affect the civil war in Syria -- somehow. It's a war that is devolving into multi-faceted tribal conflict – it is not clear anymore that Assad controls the militias nominally on his side, and the rebels are becoming increasingly fractious and radical, in our terms. Iran reportedly has boots on the ground there, as do the foreign fighters of Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the one thing on which most Americans seem to agree is that we don't want our own boots to land there. And meanwhiler, the toll of battle has climbed well past 100,000 deaths. How do those conduct-of-war issues factor-in? Meanwhilest, there is barbarism all over – where do we stop, and why is it always us?

2 – Are we sure, this time? In those chaotic conditions, such an attack might have been staged to bring the world into the war on the side of the rebels. That seems unlikely, but remember those dread Iraqi WMDs that we claimed to be certain existed? Granted, we are not seeking a pretext to invade Syria in this case, and the evidence seems to be persuasive, but are.we.sure? The costs of another error could be huge, and "fool me once …"

3 – Let's assume a 'successful' (however you define it) limited missile strike: what happens then? Russia will be upset – how upset, and how much do you care? Iran has promised to retaliate against Israel. Let's assume they do – will the Iron Dome hold? And will any such attack give them pretext to counter against Iron's well-fortified nuclear manufacturing facilities? What then? Is anyone or nation likely to be able to harm US interests in retaliation?

4 – What exactly do you attack? Not the chemical weapons themselves, of course, for fear of setting them loose and/or allowing others to gain control of the stockpiles. Conventional bases? Industry? Do you send one in the window of Assad's palace bathroom? There are reports that he has put some of his important assets on the move, and positioned innocent, expendable civilians around vulnerable sites, as a kind of human shield. Recognizing that whatever you do needs to be done remotely – not to risk actual pilots – where do you send those missiles?

5 – How long do you wait? The half-life of the world's attention span keeps getting shorter. How long do you have before the message that you intend to send gets lost? Do you try to build consensus internationally (that ship seems to have sailed) or domestically?

6 – What are the domestic political ramifications? Those tea leaves are tough to read, and there is no "Today we killed Osama bin Laden" moment available here. Your enemies are certain to bandwagon any opportunity to criticize the move, in arrears. How does that factor-in?

I wrote earlier in the summer about how All the options in Syria are lousy (RC, May 14th http://www.sanramonexpress.com/square/index.php?i=3&d=1&t=1641). They don't seem to have improved, much. Or do you have a good idea?

Comments

Posted by Rick Pshaw, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

Here's the "What now?" answer to the Syria question coming before congress:

Don't vote on this question at all - neither a "no" vote nor a "yes" vote and let the potus do whatever he wants.


Posted by Citizen Paine, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 7:33 am

Yeah, because that "governing" thing is difficult, and requires choices.


Posted by Rick Pshaw, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 7:45 am

A "no action " IS a choice. It says that congress does not CHOOSE to participate in the potus manipulations.


Posted by Citizen Paine, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 9:50 am

Ah, I see. I guess I mistook it for a knee-jerk reaction.


Posted by Rick Pshaw, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

Knee - nope!

Jerk - maybe...


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Syrians killed Syrians. So now we must kill Syrians to send them a message not to kill Syrians.

And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to…


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Great -- so far, we've got one Abstention and one ObamaBash, chapter 'ad,' or is it chapter 'nauseum?' Maybe CP's got something there -- this leadership stuff ain't always easy.


Posted by Rick Pshaw, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Interesting that T-Cush would redefine a "No Action" as an abstention. That darn dictionary always gets in the way of the spinmeisters...


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Rick: if there's a Q before the house, and you refuse to participate, aren't you abstaining from casting your vote? Do you like 'boycott' better?

BTW, I'm lovin' that 'TCush' moniker. Makes me feel like I manage a baseball team or something, a la BoMel. I don't think it works for everyone, but thanks, RiePish!


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Democrat Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said it best. She said, the only reason to support a Syrian attack is so Obama isn't "shamed and humiliated." Web Link

Back in 2012, during the heat of the election, Obama tried to sound "tough" and stupidly and without forethought uttered his infamous "red line" statement.

Now Obama says, "I didn't set a red line, the world did."

(Reminds me of, "You didn't build that, the government did." But I digress…)

If it's really the world's red line, then why isn't the UN calling for an attack? How many UN countries agree with attacking Syria?

Obama wants to lob a few meaningless Tomahawk missiles (al la Clinton) into Syria in order to "save face." It won't change the course of Syria's civil war. It may kill a few hundred civilians. Nice Christian thing to do.

Syria hasn't attacked us. They pose no threat to us. There doesn't even appear to be conclusive evidence that Assad actually used chemical weapons. And even if he has, why is killing with gas more reprehensible than killing with bullets or shrapnel, or killing with an illegal drone strike for that matter?

79% of Americans oppose attacking Syria.

The people who want us to attack Syria are the same ones who wanted us to attack Iraq, and for the same reasons. Stop listening to them!

Obama should stand down.


Posted by Aubrey, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 8:19 am

The conflict in Syria is between the Hamas-backed Syrian Government and the Al-Qaida backed Rebels. Since Al-Qaida is a declared enemy of the US, any strike against the Syrian Government would be supporting Al-Qaida and would be treason, as defined by US law.

I'm in favor of letting our enemies kill each other, without our intervention. Count me as a "NO" vote...


Posted by Citizen Paine, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

Clever entry on sfgate: "Why is the NSA the Only part of our government that actually Listens to The People?"


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

NPR poll: Web Link


Posted by George Anderson, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 9:45 am

Odds are Putin is telling the truth on this one---John Kerry IS a proven liar---Obama still lying about The video causing Benghazi---let the Syrians kill each other. Hilarious Stretch Pelosi thinks people are so stupid to believe she had a deep convo with her 5 yr old grandson about attacking Syria!!!! O-M-G= Obomba Must Go!


Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 11:15 am

I'm genuinely unsure of what the best course of action is. I agree that IF Assad did use chemical weapons, that some form of forceful response is justified. (My reason for saying "if" is that I think it's essentially proven that chemical weapons were released. But it doesn't seem to be 100% proven that Assad launched them. Maybe 80 or 90%, but not really 100% at this point.) BUT:

- I "like" the Syrian rebels even less than Assad, and believe that in the long run we (the US) are probably better off with Assad remaining in power, than if the rebels take over. (Given the likely nature of the subset within the rebels that would take control in the end.)

- We really don't have any real allies in pursuing action against Assad - even if there are other countries who would like us to take action without them getting involved... Even if Kerry says that "we have an offer on the table from the Arab countries to pay for the attack" (whatever THAT is supposed to mean), this seems likely to be a case of Sunni-dominated countries being perfectly happy to have someone else go after a Shia-dominated (and semi-secular) regime.

- Assad has proven to be moderately tolerant of other religious groups in Syria, while many of the rebel elements have a significant track record of intolerance.

When I look at the totality of the above (and the other issues that Tom nicely laid out in his article), I come down on the side of basically staying out of it.

I'm also not convinced by the "we need to attack at this point to retain our credibility" argument. Obama may have stuck his foot in his mouth with various premature statements. But so what... Saving face isn't a compelling reason to launch an attack, even a half-hearted "face-saving" attack. And I'd also argue that our credibility won't actually be repaired by an attack at this point, given the waffling that preceeded it. That ship (the "USS Loss Of Credibility") has already sailed. It can only be rebuilt over an extended period of time, not with a couple of Tomahawk cruise missiles...

One other side point is that it is not totally clear to me how Israel is affected by the decision. You can argue this both ways. Assad, and his friendliness with Iran, are not good for Israel. But would a new regime, with heavy Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and/or Muslim Brotherhood influence, be any better? Perhaps it would actually be helpful (in the long run) if Israel was given an excuse to go after Iran's nuclear program. But that's getting pretty deeply into what-if's.


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

MoveOn.org's 8 million members overwhelmingly oppose U.S. military action in Syria. Web Link

MoveOn.org's view:

We have seen the rushed march to war before. We cannot allow it again. Congress, and the nation, should not be forced into a binary debate over strikes or nothing. In response to the tragic reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, the US needs to lead in the way in engaging with the international community, while rigorously exploring alternatives to military action, including negotiations, economic sanctions, diplomacy, and promotion of humanitarian aid.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

With the current national sentiment running so strongly against both the Congress (10% approval) and the Executive (36%), I suspect that they could jointly propose to dismantle the IRS -- and not muster a popular majority.

I've been surprised at the failure of most commentators (except 'CeeMudge,' above -- my kind of Conservative) to distinguish between 'going to war' and 'punishing Assad.' Granted that the latter could devolve into the former, but I think upfront conflation of those issues -- as well as minimizing the unique horrors of chemical weapons -- is a mistake. Of course, any diplomacy by Nielsen ratings is also in error.

Personally, I would like for the next despot who considers Sarin to have to ponder on the possible, personally fatal consequences of their use. If we could act in a way that would send That message, I'm for it. I'd love to cruise a missile into Assad's left ear canal, to emphasize the political and personal message being sent. I'd settle for the right ear canal. I just have no idea how it could be done in a way that would limit the collaterals.

War, above all, is messy and uncertain. So unless it could truly be surgical-involving-earholes, I have to reluctantly agree with CeeMudge.


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Wasn't conflating anything. Just quoting your buddies over at Moveon.org.

I'm here to help.

Ha ha.

Speaking of helping, if you would like to sign a petition to stop Obama from attacking Syria, Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson has set up the following website Web Link.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

That's a relief -- even if the comment wasn't about you.

Pretty sure you'll enjoy this commentary: Web Link


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Your NYT's article says, Republicans will vote against the Syria strike "simply because they hate Obama and would oppose him if he declared Grandmother Appreciation Day."

Really??

That's a joke, right?

Man, you Democrats are hyper-partisan.


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