A Counter-Argument on the Use of Force Against Syria

There's more than one way to look at the civil war in Syria.

russia-syria

Writing at Pravda.ru, Felicity Arbuthnot and Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey pose a number of tough questions for the U. S. State Department. Here are the first six of twenty-seven:

Question 1: Why has the west been supporting Syrian terrorist forces for two years?

Question 2: Do you not entertain the notion that to solve the Syrian issue, it would suffice for the west to cease arming, financing and aiding the Syrian terrorist forces fighting President Assad?

Question 3: Are you, or are you not, aware that in supporting forces hostile to President Assad, you are also supporting sources loyal to al-Qaeda?

Question 4: Do you now admit that your respective authorities lied regarding the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? Should the answer be negative, then please inform us as to where these weapons are.

Question 5: Regarding the previous attacks with chemical and biological weapons (CBW) in Syria, by the rebels you support, and confirmed by the UNO’s Carla del Ponte, what are your comments?

Question 6: Under international law it is illegal to take sides in an internal conflict. How do you justify your actions in a. Libya and b. Syria in this context?

Read the whole thing. As you can see, there’s more than one way to look at the civil war going on in Syria and the moral compass may not point quite as unambiguously as Sec. Kerry might have it.

Please note that I’m not presenting my own views here, just noting that not everyone has the same view of the events in Syria.

My position, as it has always been, is that for any war to be just it must be waged under proper authority, have just ends, be waged by just means, and there must be a reasonable expectation that the means will be able to effect the ends.

I also think that the Obama Administration needs to show a bit more ankle on the subject of whether Assad’s regime actually used chemical weapons other than riot control agents against civilians. Videos on the Internet do not constitute adequate proof.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    Silly Russians. Rules do not apply to us, or countries we like. They apply to you, and countries we don’t like.

    We get to back a nasty dictator who gasses his opponents when we feel like it, and we get to bomb a nasty dictator for gassing his opponents when we feel like it. Because shut up, that’s why.

    See? It’s so simple.

  2. Jack says:

    Bush went to Congress and to the UN to get authorization to use force. Obama has not. IMO he should at least get Congresses approval.

    Most intelligence agencies believe Iraq had WMDs. Saddam pretended he did. He actually had some old stuff and put in place infrastructure so he could make more. Iraq was a signatory on a treaty to ban Chemical weapons and had other treaties and ceasefire agreement he violated. Syria is not a signatory to any Chemical weapons ban treaty and has not violated any ceasefire or treaty it has signed.

    With our outlandish debt, slow economy, lost credibility, and perceive weakness by many, IMO we would be foolish and dangerous to escalate the situation in Syria.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    “…Most intelligence agencies believe Iraq had WMDs…”

    No. A couple of hundred times, no. All Intelligence had caveats. Only the Bush Administration and Fox News ignored the caveats.

    “…With our outlandish debt, slow economy, lost credibility…”

    So on one hand you support the blunder that was Iraq…but then criticize it’s end results.
    So what is your actual position? That it was a great idea, but Obama caused all the bad stuff?

  4. C. Clavin says:

    “…Do you now admit that your respective authorities lied regarding the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?…”

    This is a critical point that get’s lost in the US.
    Outside this country there is a long-term view. Inside we tend to see Bush fvck-up…then Obama come along and right the ship. But elsewhere being complicit with Iraq in chemical warfare, the Iraq blunder, torture…they are get run together as actions of the US.
    Action against Syria is inconsistent with aiding Saddam. You and I might see it as Reagn and Bush. Everyone else on this planet doesn’t.

  5. Jack says:

    Our credibility was lost by Obama not Bush. Iraq was a good idea but it was not followed threw properly. Some of the blame goes to Bush and the MSM for the way they propagandize it. Obama shares in the blame for the way he has handle Iraq and the ME in general. You on the other hand probably blame Bush for everything and absolve Obama of everything including his own actions. Even at the time, I supported emergency funding which is the law by the way but also supported paying for it in the next three years. Multiple emergency funding would be accumulative.

    All intelligence and so call facts have caveats. However, the belief was still that Saddam had WMD or the capacity to make some.

    So you are supporting attack on Syria when we have less reason to do so than with Iraq?
    Where is the proof that the government and not the rebels used chemical weapons?

  6. Donald Sensing says:

    Not just these questions. I posted several more in 2011 when Obama was looking to bomb Libya. And whaddya know, they all apply to Syria, too: Libya and Syria – Second verse, same as the first!

    1. What is Assad’s “actual or imminent threat” to America that justifies combat deployment of US forces on presidential order alone?

    2. Absent such threat, what is his legal authority to send US forces into combat without prior Congressional approval? (Congressional approval, or not, may yet be forthcoming.)

    3. What is the primary strategic objective that the United States will achieve through military forces that cannot be obtained otherwise?

    4. What is the moral imperative that justifies killing and being killed?

    5. Apart from opposing Assad, what exactly makes the Syrian revolutionaries worth the expenditure of American lives and treasure?

    6. The president is on record as saying that Assad must not remain in power. Does that mean that regime change is a US objective and if so, will US military power be used to achieve it?

    7. If not, will a partition of Syria into territories controlled by Assad and the revolutionaries be acceptable, and if so, why?

    8. What influence do you expect to have over the political nature of a potential revolutionary government?

    9. What are the conditions of success in Syria? What must happen before American combat forces are withdrawn? In other words, how will you know when you’ve won?

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    One critical clarification re: Iraq: under the terms of the cease-fire from the first Gulf War, we didn’t have to prove Saddam had WMDs. By signing that agreement, the burden of proof was on him to prove he didn’t — that he had surrendered or destroyed them all. And he didn’t comply.

    Further, as Jack says, Saddam was playing cute. He was telling us that he’d gotten rid of them, honest, while strongly hinting towards others (mainly Iran) that he still had them.

    He tried to peddle two different stories at the same time, and it didn’t work.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    “…Iraq was a good idea but it was not followed threw properly….”

    Invading and occupying Iraq was never a good idea.
    The fact that 4000 kids lost their lives, and we spent upwards of $2T is proof of that.
    It was the biggest foreign policy blunder in our history…and yes, that includes Vietnam.
    What flavor kool-aid are you drinking?

  9. steve says:

    “Iraq was a good idea”

    One of the reasons no one trusts the GOP on foreign policy anymore. There was no reason to invade them, and it was poorly handled.

    “However, the belief was still that Saddam had WMD or the capacity to make some.”

    Nope. Essentially none of our allies believed it. Even the UK had to brush aside its skepticism in order to support Bush. The intelligence estimates were written to support what the POTUS wanted to do, as is the norm. Even then, the intelligence suggested a significant probability they had no WMDs.

    “Obama shares in the blame for the way he has handle Iraq”

    Obama carried out the agreement negotiated by Bush. I guess he could get some blame for this if you want to stretch it a bit.

    Steve

  10. C. Clavin says:

    “…One critical clarification re: Iraq: under the terms of the cease-fire from the first Gulf War, we didn’t have to prove Saddam had WMDs. By signing that agreement, the burden of proof was on him to prove he didn’t — that he had surrendered or destroyed them all. And he didn’t comply…”

    And with that Jenos rationalizes the death of 4000 troops and spending $2T. We didn’t have to prove anything. So shut up.
    Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    Our credibility was lost by Obama not Bush. Iraq was a good idea but it was not followed threw properly.

    This is rank idiocy, sorry. Iraq was not at all a good idea. It was a bad idea, executed badly (probably largely because it’s hard to execute a bad idea well). Obama cannot reasonably be assigned blame for Iraq. He can, btw, be assigned blame for Afghanistan – partial, of course, but by this point I’d say more than half – due to his decision to escalate that one instead of pulling out. In the plus column we get to say we bagged OBL (which, to me, isn’t that big a deal. YMMV).

    That said, this Syria business is bad policy by Obama, and it does not help. US foreign policy is a disaster area. The best we can hope for is that he decides to lob a few cruise missles and call it a day.

    Donald Sensing’s additional questions are good.

  12. Donald Sensing says:

    It might be helpful for the partisan ideologues here to note that in 1998, with Bill Clinton’s signature, the Congress enacted Public Law 105-235, the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.”

    This law stated specifically:

    It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

    The act specifically stated it did not authorize the use of military force in accomplishing this objective. However, after the law was signed, Clinton bombed the crap out of Iraq in Operation Desert Fox (Dec. 1998) claiming he needed no Congressional authorization to do so since (he said) Congress’ authorization of force against Iraq granted to GHW Bush in 1991 had never expired.

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    I agree. I want more than ankle too, Mr Kerry. If you are going to go all Adlai on us, show us the goods.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    Clinton’s 1998 bombing campaign was bullshit, IMO. I remember being pissed off about it at the time.

    Bill Clinton is definitely one of the folks on the Dem side who bears some culpability for the march to Iraq!, the Sequel. Others include Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman… and so, so many more.

    Still, Donald, the thing was very much a neocon GOP production. The Dems went along. They shouldn’t have. But there wouldn’t have been something to go along with if the Bush administration hadn’t had a hardon for taking out Saddam.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    Pravda’s Question 4 about Iraq is based upon the either-or-fallacy and should just be ignored. Frankly, most of the questions are fallacious — they are full of half-truths and debatable premises.

    On a somewhat related note, I like this bit from George Packer’s dialogue today:

    I think Russia isn’t going to let Assad go down. Neither is Iran or Hezbollah. So they’ll escalate. This could be the thing that triggers an Israel-Iran war, and how do we stay out of that? My God, it feels like August, 1914.

    That was a hundred years ago. Stop with the historical analogies.

    You’re the one who brought up Verdun. And Kosovo.

    I brought up Kosovo because you brought up Iraq. That’s the problem with these arguments. Iraq! Vietnam! Valley Forge! Agincourt! People resort to analogies so they don’t have to think about the matter at hand.

    And because they don’t know anything about the matter at hand.

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I have no insight whatever into Iran’s behavior but I don’t think the Russians are likely to back down from their support for Assad.

  17. walt moffett says:

    Maybe we’ll see ankle (and maybe knee) when the UK Parliament debates Thursday. I suspect any American account will lapse into “national means of verification” and other words that mean “We won’t tell you how we know, but we do, trust us”, check is in the mail, etc

  18. Rob in CT says:

    And of course, there’s the whole “shouldn’t Congress ok this?” factor. I’ve been sick & tired of us going to war without actually declaring war for… well, what, my whole life? Anyway, how about Congress sacking up and either: a) declaring war; or b) saying No.

    Granted, it would be best if POTUS avoided making a bad decision in the first place.

  19. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I have no insight whatever into Iran’s behavior but I don’t think the Russians are likely to back down from their support for Assad.

    And this is why the comparisons to 1914 seem rather apt. Syria is by most accounts a proxy war. And it’s a proxy war taking place in a not particularly stable region (thanks at least in part to decades of direct and indirect Western Intervention aimed at stabilizing the region).

  20. Matt Bernius says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Anyway, how about Congress sacking up and either: a) declaring war; or b) saying No.

    THIS.

  21. Rob in CT says:

    I may be losing it, but think of this:

    We all know the GOP is just dying to impeach Obama.

    Can they impeach him for this somehow?

    Put aside for a moment the hypocrisy that would be involved. Could it be done?

  22. PD Shaw says:

    @Dave Schuler: I doubt many of the countries contributing money, guns, and/or diplomatic support to either side will stop in the foreseeable future. But I don’t believe Russia will take sides in an “internal conflict” by invading, like it did in Georgia. (Sorry couldn’t resist historical allusions) I don’t really see the situation changing much, whatever we do or don’t do.

  23. Pharoah Narim says:

    People that believe the all intelligence agencies believed Iraq had WMD are the same people that believe that no one could have foreseen or predicted the meltdown of the economy in 2008. It just came on like summer cold… Seriously, cable news is one of the most successful psychological operations in the history of man. People believe everything said on it. A twist of the handlebar mustache to PT Barnum….

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    That’s why the role I see for the U. S. in a hypothetical military intervention in Syria is one of negative reciprocity: we won’t take part directly if the Russians don’t take part directly.

  25. Barry says:

    @Jack: ” Saddam pretended he did. He actually had some old stuff and put in place infrastructure so he could make more. ”

    Wrong, wrong and wrong.

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    If Obama follows his Libyan precedent, he won’t consult with Congress, he won’t go to the UN, and he won’t make a case to the American people. He’ll just announce that he’s doing it.

    And as Congress has shown little willingness to stand up for their Constitutional rights and prerogatives (Darrell Issa notwithstanding), he won’t be challenged over it by them.

    But goddammit, he should be.

  27. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And as Congress has shown little willingness to stand up for their Constitutional rights and prerogatives (Darrell Issa notwithstanding)

    Oh dear… thank you for the laugh… I needed that.

  28. C. Clavin says:

    @ Jenos…
    BENGHAZiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!
    Let it go, Cheetos boy.

  29. Davebo says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    By signing that agreement, the burden of proof was on him to prove he didn’t — that he had surrendered or destroyed them all.

    So true. He should have allowed in UN inspectors. Oops, he did.

    And given them near unfettered access. Oops, he did that too eventually.

    The rush to war with Iraq wasn’t out of a fear of their WMD’s. It was out of a fear of the UN inspection team certifying that none could be found before the tanks could roll.

  30. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Cliffy, I wasn’t planning on bringing up how Al Qaeda had their most successful attack against the US since 9/11– er, 9/11/01, to distinguish it from 9/11/12 — on Obama’s watch after he bragged about how he had single-handedly decimated the group, but if you wanna keep harping on it, be my guest…

  31. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Yes, the distinction is absolutely necessary or no one will be able to differentiate between a successfull attack on US soil that killed 3000+ people and a successfull attack in a war-torn country that killed 4 people. Thanks for clarifying for us. Thank you O insightful one!

  32. William Wilgus says:

    @Jack: Sorry, you’re wrong. There were no WMDs in Iraq and there was no capability to manufacture any.

  33. William Wilgus says:

    @Jack: They knew Saddam has neither WMDs or the capacity to make them *BEFORE* the invasion.

    Physically destroying a nation was a good result? Tens of thousands dead was a good result? A Trillion dollars of debt was a good result?

  34. William Wilgus says:

    @Donald Sensing: It might be helpful to remember that “support efforts to remove” and ‘remove’ are not the same thing.

  35. DeWayne says:

    The obvious ‘False Flag’ operation building to “spring the trap’, has the US Congress pass (another unconstitutional) Resolution, allowing Obama (surrogate) to send military ‘into Syria’.
    With US children again placed into ‘kill or be killed’ Pentagon-mode called the “Lucifer Effect”, Iran will be forced to assist their neighbor Syria against a ‘foreign invader’… trap sprung…
    Immediately the US Congress (or already have) passes a second unconstitutional Resolution, the original purpose to make war on the original target…. IRAN.
    The flaw, this may be when the (5-Perm-Member Cabal) breaks up, when Communist China and Russia spring their trap against an over stretched Dominant Empire… it will be called WWIII.