Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Fog of War!

I regularly read a few columnists.  I might not agree with their opinions but I often learn something.  This is true, for example, of David Brooks.  So when it came time to dive into today’s Sunday Review in the New York Times I assumed Syria would dominate the columns and hoped I would be enlightened, since I’ve not yet decided what I think the U.S. should or should not do in Syria.

I was mindful (and amused) by what Sarah Palin recently had to say on the subject:  “So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria?  Let Allah sort it out.”  Give her credit – that wasn’t bad.  Maybe one of the Times pundits could do better.

Tom Friedman knows more about the Middle East than most and I’ve found him particularly useful in recent months.  Today he said:  “Spare me the lecture that America’s credibility is at stake here.  Really?  Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting since the 7th century over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual and political leadership, and our credibility is on the line?  Really?  Their civilization has missed every big global trend – the religious Reformation, democratization, feminism and entrepreneurial and innovative capitalism – and our credibility is on the line?  I don’t think so.”

OK, good so far.  How about Nick Kristof, who I’d think would shy away from any kind of military action:  “Syria is today the world capital of human suffering . . . So while neither intervention nor paralysis is appealing, that’s pretty much the menu.  I favor a limited cruise missile strike against Syrian military targets (as well as the arming of moderate rebels). . . Syria will be bloody whatever we do.”

Maureen Dowd:  “As commander in chief, Obama knows that if he doesn’t punish Bashar al-Assad, America and his presidency will be forever reduced.  He thinks a limited strike – not a war, as some are calling it – is the right thing to do.

“But as Barry talked to the press in St. Petersburg, his lack of enthusiasm came across.  He was not thundering from the top of the moral ramparts.  He made his usual nuanced, lawyerly presentation, talking about the breach of international ‘norms.’  It’s a weak, wonk word.

“Norms don’t send people to the barricades.”

Frank Bruni, not usually a foreign policy maven, also chipped in:  “The stakes are huge.  Bomb Syria and there’s no telling how many innocent civilians will be killed; it will be the first chapter in an epic longer and bloodier than we bargained for . . . we’ll be pouring accelerant on a country and a region already ablaze.

“Don’t bomb Syria and there’s no guessing the lesson that the tyrants of the world will glean from our decision not to punish Bashar al-Assad for slaughtering his people on whatever scale he wishes and in whatever manner he sees fit. . . What will our inaction say about our morality, and about our mettle?”

Finally, Ross Douthat, the most conservative voice among regular Times columnists:  “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a foreign policy fiasco.

“All along, it’s been clear that President Obama has nothing but bad options in Syria’s civil war.  Now, though, he’s found a way to put Congress in a similarly unfortunate position.  When the House and Senate vote on whether to authorize strikes on Bashar al-Assad, they’ll be choosing between two potentially disastrous paths: either endorse a quasi-war that many constituents oppose and that this White House seems incapable of justifying on the merits, or vote to basically finish off the current American president as a credible actor on the world stage.”

OK, so much for the pundits.  Did all that help you make up your mind?  Me either!


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