White House: Possible Military Strikes Not Aimed At Regime Change In Syria

The White House confirmed today that the goal of any military intervention in Syria would be very limited. Which makes one wonder what the point of doing anything actually is.


As some form of military action against Syria seems to become more likely by the hour, the White House is making clear that its goals are very limited:

The White House said Tuesday that President Obama is not seeking “regime change” in Syria from any military strikes launched in response to President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

“The options we are considering are not about regime change,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “That is not what we are contemplating here.”

The White House spokesman said that the administration was instead simply weighing a reaction to the violation of “an international standard” barring the use of chemical weapons.

“It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change,” he said.

The comments by Carney came as the White House attempts to decouple the response to last week’s chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs from broader support for the rebel forces challenging Assad in Syria.

While the United States has repeatedly said that Assad would and must fall from power, the Obama administration has also said that transition needs to come internally. Carney reiterated on Tuesday that there was “no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” giving credence to reports that a U.S. military response would be limited in scope.

“We are very engaged in the process of pursuing a political resolution to this conflict,” Carney said. “We have stated it for a long time, that there is no military solution available here, that the way to bring about a better future in Syria is through negotiation and a political resolution.”

Still, Carney said that “there must be a response” to the rocket attack in the suburbs of Damascus last week. Rebel groups on the ground have estimated that more than 1,000 Syrians died in the chemical weapon attack.

Statements like this make clear that we’re not likely to see a broad ranging attack against Syria. Instead, we’re likely to see the kind of limited strikes that James Joyner wrote about this morning, targeting chemical weapons depots and military facilities involved in the transportation and delivery of such weapons. Of course, it’s quite probable that the Syrians will have done everything they can before any such attacks occur to try to protect their stockpiles, or move them to other locations in the hope that the U.S. won’t be able to detect the transfer in time. In any case, even if such strikes do succeed in causing damage to Assad’s chemical weapons stocks, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to do much of anything to alter the balance of forces on the ground in the civil war.

All of which leads one to ask, what, exactly, is the point of these strikes? And, if we stood by and did nothing while Syria descended into chaos over the past two years, why must our policy change now merely because chemical weapons have been used? Quite honestly, I don’t see the justification.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I find this statement very confusing. Either it completely undercuts the argument for military action or they believe that there is a level of punishment that Assad’s regime is wiling to absorb short of regime change that will cause the regime to stop using chemical weapons in its own defense. Assuming, that is, that the regime is using chemical weapons.

    I wonder what evidence they have for the latter?

  2. DC Loser says:

    We need some sober foreign policy realists back in the White House. This is amateur hour.

  3. @DC Loser:

    We need some sober foreign policy realists back in the White House.

    We needed those during the Bush II Administration as well.

  4. @Dave Schuler:

    The evidence, they will tell us, is classified.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    When were realists in control? Serious question.

    I think back over the span of my life (born in ’76) and I see stupid and/or evil all over the place. Even the “wins” don’t look that great in retrospect (like arming the resistance to the USSR in Afghanistan. That had some long-term negative consequences). Lebanon was an outright failure. There was helping Saddam while he gassed Iranians. There was Iran-Contra. Were those “realist” ideas? They certainly weren’t idealist ones. But they still stunk as policy, IMO.

    The first Gulf War (Iraq 1) was a win, but we know there was blowback from it and as I understand it one of our diplomats contributed to the whole mess (by saying some things the Iraqis apparently interpretted as a “we’ll look the other way while you invade Kuwait”). Somalia was dumb and a failure. Bosnia/Kosovo is a mixed bag in my book (coulda been worse). Iraq, The Sequel hardly needs discussion. Afghanistan, justifiable as it was, was not done well. Libya was unecessary (and therefore dumb) but so far it hasn’t cost us much (4 dead + some money). Give it time, though, you never know. And now Syria.

    When were the realists in charge, and how exactly where they any good either?

    This is all very frustrating.

  6. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    they believe that there is a level of punishment that Assad’s regime is wiling to absorb short of regime change that will cause the regime to stop using chemical weapons

    Assad’s fighting for his life, both figuratively and literally. I highly doubt any action short of obliteration would convince him to avoid any action he deems beneficial to self-preservation.

    The first phrase that went through my head when I read Doug’s post title was “then why the fvck are we doing it?”

    Well, there’s always the possibility we’re doing it to further the stalemate and keep Russia’s attention.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe Colin Powell should go on television and scold the president about not following the Powell Doctrine and not have a clue. However, I doubt it will happen.

  8. Todd says:

    Just as with Libya, I suspect this will be another chance for me to be surpised at how “anti-war” some of my Republican/Conservative friends really are … as long as the guy in the White House is a Democrat.

    On a more serious note, there’s just no good option here.

    While I agree that cruise missles probably won’t have any signficant impact, the pressure to do “something” is obviously becoming too great to continue to ignore.

    From my perspective, if the President can continue to avoid putting “boots on the ground”, I think he will have succeeded (interpreting that word very loosely).

    Also, it’s entirely understandable that we’re not pushing for “regime change”. We don’t trust/know what/who would step in to fill the vaccum. If we learned one thing from Iraq, it’s that “what comes next” is at least as (if not a more) important question than “how do we get rid of the current regime”.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    The best option is to do nothing at all.

    If a fig leaf is required, there is one available: UN approval. Russia will block that. The end.

    (which, according to the AFP article I just read, is Italy’s position)

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    @Rob in CT:

    You’re getting ahead of me, Rob in CT. I’m trying to pull together a post on overseas opinion on Syria. The Germans appear to be mostly against it, too.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    The article, which I now cannot find (arg!), had the US, the UK and France as the cheerleaders with Turkey also in the pro- column, with Germany in the “we won’t fight but we’re with you” sort of a position, Italy saying no w/o UN approval but they might still let us use bases/airspace if needed… Canada also appears to be pro? Various Arab countries are pro on the down low, it seems, since they support the rebels. Obviously Russia and Iran are very much anti.

  12. Woody says:

    Nope, the reason why we’d drop bombs – whether a sprinkle or a deluge – has little to do with the “facts on the ground” of Syria. Instead, these bombs would be dropped because of our domestic politics.

    There is a confluence of interests, particularly in DC, that would benefit from any kind of military action: defense entities (within and without the Pentagon), certain think tanks/study groups, and politicians – chiefly, but not exclusively, within the Obama Administration. Of course, media entities (personalities and corporations both) – particularly those Inside The Beltway (dotcom) – have personal and professional benefits from a military operation.

    Mediation – probably the wisest course for our Nation – is discarded because it is seen as weak. No doubt, diplomacy is frustrating to probably most of us – it eats time, there are starts and retreats, and many times it simply does not work. However, the Iraq War should have taught us that all of those complaints are true with military actions as well – and diplomacy gives the US a great deal of latitude, while military action constrains us.

    However, diplomacy makes for bad TV, so . . .

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Ah, the “realists” of myth and legend. Show me a time and place in American history where “realists” were in charge. Show me a foreign policy that did not contain within it the seeds of its own demise. The Marshall Plan maybe, if you ignore the fact that handing bread to starving people is sort of easy? Containment, if you sort of subtract Korea and Vietnam and the fact that in Cuba we came about a millimeter away from nuclear annihilation?

    For that matter, show me the “Realists” at work in non-US history. Bismarck? He created the nation-state that gave us two World Wars, a nation-state so dangerous that to this day we don’t entirely trust them. Nor they, themselves.

    Amateurs? Franklin Roosevelt was mostly an amateur. Winston Churchill was more of a “professional,” who wasted enormous resources aiming for a continuation of an empire that made no economic or political sense and was quite clearly doomed.

    There’s no such thing as a professional when the game you’re playing has so many possible permutations, and so much of it is beyond your control. It’s an illusion.

    For whatever reason we have decided in the West that this class of weapons is verboten. They shocked everyone in WW1, where men died from artillery and machine gun fire far more than from gas. So we put them off-limits. Even Hitler ended up avoiding their use. Taboos are funny things, hard to justify rationally.

    An argument could be made that just because we accept artillery, guns, mines, and bombs does not mean we should expand the range of murderous opportunities. But it’s a weak argument.

    I don’t think it’s about weak or strong or professional or amateur. I think this is the West still trying to “civilize” the lesser nations. We laid down a law, we have the power to enforce it, so that’s what we’re doing.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    “…what, exactly, is the point of these strikes?…”

    That’s a $1.1B +/- question.
    Clearly Carney wasn’t answering it.
    Someone needs to.

  15. superdestroyer says:


    This is where President Obama can show real leadership. Go to the media and say that even though there appears to be good reasons to do something, there is no good solution and nothng that the U.S. can do will either put an end to the use of chemical weapons or effect peaceful regine change in Syria.

    Remember rule number of foreign diplomacy: Never get involved in a civil war in another country.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    “…For whatever reason we have decided in the West that this class of weapons is verboten…”

    Actually Cheney didn’t want to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    Lifting this from my comment at Schuler’s:

    I’ll give you a scenario that suggests this is brutal “realism” on our part:

    1) Civil War between Shia and Sunni. Or Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. Or Saudi puppets and Iranian puppets. Doesn’t matter, because either way it’s two bad guys killing each other. (See also: Iran-Iraq war.)

    2) American interests? Wouldn’t it be great if these two sides just went right on killing each other with neither side scoring a win? Why, we could kill two species of terrorist at once without lifting a finger. If we keep hands-off, we may see Iran and Syria continue to pour treasure and prestige into this for another ten years.

    3) Also, Russia.

    4) But chemical weapons do have certain unique uses. Let’s say you have a city. Cities are very tough to take against determined opposition. People sleep in their basements while the HE rounds make the rubble bounce. Ah, but chemicals like basements. Could be a game-changer for Assad. We don’t want a game-changer.

    5) So we dis-incentivize Assad from using chemicals. Use gas and we blow up some stuff. Use it again, we blow up more stuff. We equalize the players. So that Assad doesn’t win, and the rebels don’t win, and they go on killing each other.

    6) We pass the popcorn, secure in the knowledge that our actions appear at some level, to be moral.

    That would be the “realist” approach, I think.

  18. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I posted on this very subject some time back in June. Dan Twombly proposed something very much along these lines back in February 2012.

  19. DC Loser says:
  20. DC Loser says:

    By this declaration of our intention of no regime change with our strategically counterproductive driveby shooting, Is Obama signalling Assad that it is mainly for show and that Assad shouldn’t retaliate or escalate?

    What if Assad doesn’t play that game and decides to escalate? Perhaps lobbing some of his many missiles with sarin warheads into Israel? What then?

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    It certainly would fit with our slow-walking of arms to the rebels, eh?

  22. Davebo says:

    What if Assad doesn’t play that game and decides to escalate? Perhaps lobbing some of his many missiles with sarin warheads into Israel? What then?

    I think the answer is obvious.

  23. steve says:

    Drezner actually suggested that the admin policy was to prolong the war so that they could keep killing each other. Has some minor merit, if we ignore the risks of spillover.


  24. anjin-san says:

    What if Assad doesn’t play that game and decides to escalate? Perhaps lobbing some of his many missiles with sarin warheads into Israel? What then?

    Are you advocating for appeasement based on fear?

  25. michael reynolds says:


    Why should we be particularly worried about spillover if two neighboring powers, Israel and Turkey, seem not concerned enough to get involved?

  26. superdestroyer says:


    Any country that would attack Israel is chemical weapons can probably measure its future in hours (or days if that country is luck). Any government that would attack Israel with chemical or nuclear weapons needs to be overthrown with people rioting in the streets and hanging the politicians from the nearest lampposts.

  27. stonetools says:

    Bravo for Michael for turning the “realist” argument on its head . The realists are always claiming that we shouldn’t intervene in Syria because there are no “clear strategic interests”, bla bla bla. But what if the USA has a clear strategic interest in both sides continuing to fight , bleeding each other dry? Then it’s arguable that it is the realists who are the starry eyed optimists in thinking that the disunited and lightly armed rebels can hold out for much longer against Assad’s army+ Iran + Hezbollah +Iran +Russia+ Assad’s chemical arsenal . The main rebel stronghold, Aleppo, would be a tough nut to crack-but maybe not so tough if you can use sarin gas to suffocate rebels hiding in the rubble .
    Its therefore certainly arguable on realist grounds that the USA should take away the chemical weapon option from Syria in the interests of promoting more bleeding. Clausewitz and Bismarck would have approved.

    In reality , I think Obama does oppose Assad’s chemical weapon use on moral, humanitarian grounds. But he can also do good while doing well on realist grounds. Over to the realists to tell us what’s the problem with this “neo-realist” approach -other than more Syrian civilians dying of course. But then even more might die if Assad gets to rain down sarin and mustard gas on Aleppo.

  28. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    The best option is to do nothing at all.

    I think this needs to be argued, not merely asserted.

  29. Dave Schuler says:

    @DC Loser:

    What if he follows one of the many asymmetric warfare senarios against our sea vessels that have been so disruptive in war games of war in the region?

  30. Dave Schuler says:

    The implication of a predisposition against war is that the burden of proof should always fall on those who support war rather than on those who oppose it.

  31. grumpy realist says:

    Well….how about this? We’re bombing (just a little) to equalize the sides and appease the neocons screaming loudly for blood (and if Obama decided NOT to do anything, can you imagine the epithets that would be thrown at him? “Traitor” would be the mildest.) Status quo, more or less. Assad goofs, sends missiles into Israel…..

    US would only have to sit back and twiddle its fingers. Who? Us? Naaah, look, we tried to be judicious in our bombing, but Assad just wouldn’t listen….

    And we won’t care if Israel pisses off the Russians, because Israel won’t care.

  32. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The implication of a predisposition against war is that the burden of proof should always fall on those who support war rather than on those who oppose it.


    Let’s take up a collection for this to be carved into very halls of Congress and the White House.

  33. Tyrell says:

    “rebel estimates of casualties”: is that the source of information? How do we know that we can trust what they say? Not all conservatives are calling for any intervention. Gingrich says stay out.
    What is their goal here? Everyone is giving different answers: “sending a message” “applying pressure” “change in leadership”
    Has the president actually talked to Assad?

  34. Dave Schuler says:


    No, it’s the videos on the Internet. You can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true.

  35. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Ah, the “realists” of myth and legend.

    A realist is one who understands that there are consequences to actions, and who is willing to accept the negative consequences as an outcome of achieving a goal. A realist goal is one that can be achieved.

    Show me a time and place in American history where “realists” were in charge. Show me a foreign policy that did not contain within it the seeds of its own demise.

    Andrew Jackson and the American Indians, Abraham Lincoln and the South during the Civil War, TR and the Great White Fleet in China & Japan, FDR and the USSR during WW2, Nixon and China amongst many others, Reagan and Central America are a few realist foreign policy interventions. Over several presidencies, you can add any number of dictators.

    Vietnam and Korea were part of the Containment Policy, and it can be debated how well they worked. For a realist, containment was the goal, and the military action was a means to that goal. Denying the enemy control of various countries was important not necessarily winning. In my opinion, the Cuban Missile Crisis has been overblown.

    With few exceptions, US foreign policy is not stable over decades, and most US foreign policy tends to fail at some point.

    For that matter, show me the “Realists” at work in non-US history.

    Almost everybody pre-Industrial Revolution, and all the big name bad guys since – Hitler, Stalin, etc. All the colonial powers were realists. France and Spain were the most brutal, but none of them were much concerned about the negative consequences of their actions. The US can be included regarding the Banana Wars which were fought mostly for the United Fruit Company. Recently, the Libyan intervention was a realist action for the UK and France – obtain oil.

    In Syria, there are several realist strategies:

    1. Stay out.

    2. Pick a rebel group to rule, and back them – period. They may do things you do not like, but they are your guys. You back them.

    3. Establish bases in a central region – Iraq. Iraq seems to want US help. You can then establish your own “freedom fighters”, and they can fight for freedom in Syria, Iran, and Lebanon.

    Democracy, human rights, minimum wages, etc. may be used as cover, but they are not a realist’s goal.

  36. michael reynolds says:


    I think you’re confusing “realist” with, “talks tough, juts out their jaw and has mastered a flinty stare.”

    Teddy Roosevelt, Hitler and Stalin as realists? You’re kidding, right? An insecure man-boy filled with fantasies of manly glory, a lunatic whose thousand year reich lasted 13 years, and a paranoid psychopath who thought he could work a deal with the aforementioned lunatic? Spare us then from all such realists.

    It is not realism to deny the national identity of the United States. When we cease to at least attempt to live up to our ideals, we die as a nation. We are a Democracy, we are an idea, the will of the people matters. That’s realism. It would be fantasy to pretend otherwise.

  37. Tyrell says:

    Why not send in a team of observers over there? They could talk to people, look around, and get a better idea of what exactly is going on. Let Sec. Kerry go over and work out some sort of agreement; a cease fire and then some kind of talks. This is what we hired him for. If Biden wants to go, send him too. Assad might listen to them. If Assad has nothing to hide, he should not have any objections. We need to know what is going on before we get into something that we can’t get out of.

  38. DC Loser says:

    Stalin was the ultimate cynical realist. The only reason he signed the Nazi-Soviet pact was the fact that he decimated the Red Army officer corp down to the lowest unit level. The Red Army was not capable of fighting the Germans, and he knew it. The near disaster of the 1940 Winter War against Finland bore that out. Stalin did everything he could to stave off a confrontation with Germany before his timetable for reforming the fighting capability of the Red Army, estimated to be not before 1946. Once the war began, and he got over the initial shock, he traded land for breathing room. His spies told him the Japanese were not going to attempt to attack him after the drubbing they took at Khalkin-Gol in Outer Mongolia in 1938 (Zhukov was the Red Army commander there), and he gambled that he could take his crack Siberian troops and move them west to save Moscow from the German offensive (Operation Typhoon) in the winter of 41. During the course of the war, his cynical realism was evident by such episodes as his ordering the Red Army to sit outside of Warsaw while the Germans decimated the last of the Free Polish resistance in Warsaw during the uprising, therefore eliminating the resistance to his imposition of a Communist puppet in Warsaw.

  39. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think you’re confusing “realist” with, “talks tough, juts out their jaw and has mastered a flinty stare.”

    A realist is one who understands that there are consequences to actions, and who is willing to accept the negative consequences as an outcome of achieving a goal. A realist goal is one that can be achieved.

    I am not interested in their psychological makeup. A realist is not necessarily correct, and the reasoning may not be deemed rational.

    Had Hitler not attacked the USSR and declared war on the US, he may have initiated a 1,000 year Reich. TR decided to open Japan, and he did it without any regard for the Japanese.

    If the US foreign policy is limited to US ideals, the US interactions will be limited to Western Europe. Most of the world have opposing ideals. The US supports Democracy as long as those elected by “the people” are approved by the US.

    US foreign policy opposed by the people usually fails, and most Americans do not like a realistic policy. One may not like a realistic policy, but that does not make it ineffective.

  40. dazedandconfused says:

    Irrational realism?

    Whoops, here comes the night train.

  41. TastyBits says:

    Rationality is concerned with one’s logic and premises. Realism is a construct based upon one’s metaphysics and epistemology. A foreign policy realist is only concerned about the ends. The means are unimportant unless they impact the end. To a realist, morals and ideals are unimportant unless they can be used as a means to the end.

    Foreign policy amoralist would be a better description, but the amoralist is willing to use deception. Hence, the amoralist morphs into a realist.

  42. Rob in CT says:

    Those of you arguing in favor of prolonging the Syrian civil war so two groups of people we don’t much like can go on killing one another really need to think that through. Two things jump out at me:

    1) Unintended consequences. A long, grinding, bloody as hell civil war doesn’t necessarily help us any more than a quick Assad victory.

    2) So now all ya’ll who are quick to moralize about the use of chemicals weapons are cool with deliberately prolonging a vicious civil war in which many civilians will be killed? WHAT THE F*CK? [this question is also directed to POTUS, to the extent Drezner is correct. I actually doubt he is – I think stalemate -> negotiated settlement was more likely the plan, but I can’t rule out the possibility that he’s right]

    Realism, it seems, means whatever the user of the term wants it to mean.

  43. Rob in CT says:

    An addition to my #2 above: if one is advocating deliberately prolonging a civil war so more people you don’t like kill each other (and/or so that hostile foreign powers *coughIrancough* have to invest more resources in propping up the regime), one has no business whatsoever making emotional appeals to save the children or whatever, let alone casting those opposed to the policy as heartless jerks. It’s doubly monstrous.

  44. TastyBits says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Realism, it seems, means whatever the user of the term wants it to mean.

    Realist policy is realpolitik, and realpolitik has a specific meaning which I gave. Realpolitik is not concerned with the morality of actions. Realpolitik is usually not associated with inaction, but it could be part of a larger strategy. Also, claiming moral superiority while committing amoral actions is not a problem in realpolitik.

    The US does not do it very well because the American people are not comfortable with amoral actions. I am guessing that “realism” is supposed to be gaming the situation to determine outcomes, but to me, it looks like partisanship.

  45. Dave Schuler says:


    As I’ve written before American “foreign policy” is an emergent phenomenon. We have realists. We have idealists. The realists generally don’t like what the idealists want to do and the idealists don’t like what the realists want to do.

    A considerable portion of the discussion above consists of idealists portraying their own goals as realism.

    To add confusion our realists and idealists come in varying flavors. So, for example, there are pessimistic realists, optimistic realists, pessimistic idealists, and optimistic realists. Bush I foreign policy was dominated by optimistic realists. The Bush II foreign policy was if not dominated by at least heavily influenced by optimistic idealists (neoconservatives).

    Our military tends to be dominated by pessimistic realists and you can hear that loud and clear in the comments by retired military about Syria.

  46. michael reynolds says:

    I’d buy this “realist” notion more if there were the slightest evidence that it outperforms in real world terms. Otherwise it looks a lot like the usual self-appointed “experts” giving themselves an impressive title.

    It is absurd on its face to describe oneself as a “realist” if one insists on ignoring basic facts, which include the idealism of the American people. What you have there is “realists” who earn the title by ignoring reality.

  47. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’d buy this “idealist” notion if it were applied consistently and without gain.

    The Libyan military action was done to save 1,000 to 3,000 lives. Coincidently, it ensured oil and provided economic opportunities for the UK and France. In Syria, 10 to 100 times as many lives have been lost, but nobody seemed to find this morally outrageous to do anything. Coincidently, there is no oil or economic opportunities for Europe. Now, a few hundred lives ended by WMD are a moral outrage, but not outrageous to do anything definitive.

    What about Darfur and Rwanda? If they were located next to Western Europe, would the moral outrage change?

    In Egypt, the US supported a military dictator who kept the religious minorities somewhat safe and made life difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood. The people with help from the military overthrew the dictator. A democratic election was held, but the democratic winner was deemed not democratic enough. A democratic military coup was held. The democratically elected leader was democratically thrown into jail, and the democratic party members were deemed not democratic enough.

    This is the reality, but this reality is not neat. It is ugly anyway you look at it, but Americans and Europeans do not like ugly. Therefore, they warp reality into something more appealing.

    The reality is that these countries are nowhere ready for a western liberal democracy. Many are at the Magna Carta stage. In order to get one or two close, it will take a lot of time and money. Europe is only interested if there is something in it for them, and the US is too impatient.

    Hell, Morisi could have been the Egyptian Cromwell.

  48. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Our military tends to be dominated by pessimistic realists and you can hear that loud and clear in the comments by retired military about Syria.

    From my limited understanding, I tend to think that State works best when it’s filled with pessimistic idealists.

    Either way, I think we can all agree that in Foreign Affairs, it’s the “optimists” on both sides, that are the most dangerous problem.

  49. Dave Schuler says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    From my limited understanding, I tend to think that State works best when it’s filled with pessimistic idealists.

    Thanks. That’s how I characterize my own views.

    The four groups I mentioned, by no means exhaustive, have also been characterized as Hamiltonians (mercantilist optimistic realists), Jacksonians (pessimistic realists), Wilsonians (optimistic idealists), and Jeffersonians (pessimistic idealists). I do not have a Wilsonian bone in my body.

  50. dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I always thought Jefferson the ultimate optimistic idealist. Cheered for the French Revolution, imagined a country made up of highly educated peasant farmers…

  51. Dave Schuler says:

    Cheering another country’s reach for its own freedom is one thing. Committing troops or bombing another country to aid in its getting its freedom is something else again.

  52. TastyBits says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Have you seen anything in the Russian press about Saudi – Russian discussions?

    Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria

  53. Dave Schuler says:


    I’ve looked and been unable to find anything in the Russian language media about it. Nothing in the English versions of Gulf online media, either. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. I honestly wouldn’t expect much in the official media one way or another.

  54. TastyBits says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Thanks. It sounds plausible, but it seems too convenient.

  55. DC Loser says:
  56. Dave Schuler says:

    @DC Loser:

    Sadly, there’s no way to tell whether there’s one, two, or many sources for that. It’s interesting nonetheless.

    The open question is whether the Russians are amenable to a deal. I think they probably are.

  57. dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I suspect him to have been but a Wilsonist with no power.

    Commenting on the continuing revolutions in Holland and France, retired Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson predicted: “this ball of liberty, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe, at least the enlightened part of it, for light & liberty go together. it is our glory that we first put it into motion.”


    The cheering of violence to achieve political victory’s shine in other things he has written. Thirsty trees of “Liberty” and such.

    Taking Canada “a mere matter of marching.”


  58. markm says:


    White House advisors indicated Tuesday that they were unlikely to seek either a vote in Congress or at the U.N. Security Council to authorize use of force

    One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity “just muscular enough not to get mocked” but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.

    They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic,” he said.

    Astonishing, no?.