Public to White House: You Can Go It Alone, but You Shouldn't

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This is a last-for-now recap of Syria reactions from readers and the world. 

1) 'We don't know war.' Yesterday I quoted a very hostile response, from a serving U.S. military officer, to another reader's previous pro-intervention argument. That pro-intervention argument included the assertion that "we don't know war," modern American life being so far removed from the era of massive conscription and world war. Many readers who have served in today's war theaters wrote in to complain.

The original pro-intervention reader, who has said that I should use his name, Tim Russo, asks the right of reply. Here is his response:

As the target of your quoted officer, I find being told to "shut up" and "fuck you", a fine summation of the entire anti-intervention position.  Americans at large (the "we" I refer too) in fact do not know war. That members of the armed forces and their families are the only Americans who do is part of my point.

Further, if you were able to reach into the grave and inform a World War I victim of mustard gas, that a treaty would be concluded in 1925 against the use of chemical weapons to forever prevent a repeat of his hideous death, and that almost 100 years later, a member of the military that treaty was created to protect, would hide behind George W. Bush's incompetent framing in Iraq to argue against its enforcement by telling others "Fuck you", that doughboy would weep.

It is another cost of the Bush lies that chemical weapons killing children against every value, treaty, and international norm to which we are signatories, are met with nothing but regurgitations of Bush's logic, even to the sublime irony of being told to shut up.

Do you not see how enslaved this argument is to Bush's? Every argument you make against intervention is how Bush built his lie. Must have proof. Must have "slam dunk" even. Must have UN. Must have Britain. Every one else shut up. Bush had, and did, all that. And it was a lie.

If the lie is no longer there, why are you arguing within its entire framework? Why not argue this case on its own merits, instead of saying "shut up" and "fuck you", requiring us to cross the same fraudulent thresholds Bush set up for himself to tick like boxes on a checklist?

We have an opportunity with Assad to reclaim the moral authority our country built over two centuries which Bush squandered in Iraq. We should take it.  The Syrian people are begging for it.

2) Shut Up, He Explained. More on the lovely Ring Lardner line:

I have a fondness for the full paragraph.
"Are you lost, Daddy?" I asked tenderly. "Shut up," he explained." 
― Ring Lardner, The Yong Immigrunts

3) "More Appropriate Comparison is Kosovo." A pro-intervention case from a reader in Europe:

I live in Germany but was born and raised for the most part in America. I left the states in 2005 for [a UK university] and have been living abroad ever since. So its an interesting debate, .. particularly since I am now living in a country paralyzed by their own military history--so dubious about the prospect of military conflict, they´d rather buff the heels of China and Russia than get involved.

You can examine the number of refugees and displaced people,  the number of whom are children,the number that have died. You can look at the images, the live videos--listen to pleading on the radio... But for those who don´t dampen to sensationalism, I can understand how the thought of being dragged into another war is enough to turn their ears and eyes off---at least this time around.

But in arguing for intervention, I think its short sighted to associate Syria as similar or the same as Iraq and Afghanistan--a grouping that has little reality to the situation and more to do with the simple fact that its in the "Middle East". A word and place that is permanently warped in the American psyche to reflect the wars we have recently fought there and the terrorist attacks leveled against us on our own soil. Iraq was not in the middle of a violent and destructive civil war (that had already happened ten years earlier), like one of your respondents pointed out, Iraq, like other countries in the region, was stable albeit a dictatorship...

A more appropriate comparison would be the wars of the 1990s in Bosnia and Kosovo, which were both cases where civil wars were occurring and where US intervention was strategically similar to the air strikes that Obama references now. [JF note: See Chuck Spinney on the limits of this comparison.] Neither Bosnia nor Kosovo provide outstanding examples of political transformation, Kosovo which I have visited is propped up by an omnipresent international guard and ethnic tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina remain real. However, the grave injustices that were occurring there (genocide and mass rape) were extinguished as a result of intervention....

With refugees and stories infiltrating communities around the world, I feel that there is a distinct responsibility for the global community to act. 

4) When has "signaling" worked? The aforementioned Chuck Spinney notes this passage, as I did, from President Obama's interview about Syrian options, with the PBS Newshour:

"If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict -- not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about -- but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," the president said.

That would send the Assad regime "a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again."

Spinney responds, in an email:

Now ask yourself three questions: 

(1) When was the last time this type of signalling worked? (hint - begin with Vietnam)  

(2) Given the twin failures of five-years of Obama's "limited tailored" approach to the drone wars to (a) alter the behaviour of our adversaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia: and to (b) extricate the United States from a strategic decision-making process that is driving up deeper into the state of perpetual war launched by his predecessor;  how can the President really believe what he is saying?

(3) If he does not believe what he is saying, what political pressures (including home grown pressures) are driving his march to folly?  (hint: these pressures do not include public opinion, which is decidedly against intervention)

5) OK, Mr. Wise Guy, what's your idea? I don't know the answer to Spinney's last question. But if I am going to be critical of the rush to intervene, what's my plan?

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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