'Shut Up, He Explained': More on Syria

"Credibility is a fraud," and other reader views.

For those joining us late: I have run a whole skein of posts expressing my own deep skepticism about US/UK military action as a proper signal, punishment, solution, or response to the Syrian disaster. Then I quoted many readers who had a similar point of view. Then a few hours ago I quoted a group of readers making what they considered strong rebuttal cases in favor of intervention. [In keeping with the theme, that's U.S. gas-mask gear from WW II.]

Let's go for at least one more round.

(1) I can't resist beginning with a note from a U.S. military officer who has served during the Iraq and Afghanistan eras. He answers reader #8 in the previous batch, who argued that we had to get over the idea that all wars would turn out as badly as the one in Iraq. From the officer:

In response to the guy who says, in bold
 "We do not know war."
please let me be the first to say, Fuck you.  We do, in fact, know war.

(2) About the claim that American credibility over the "red line" is at stake, and will be lost if the U.S. does not respond, a reader writes:

Here's one obvious question to ask those who claim "credibility" is a reason to intervene in Syria.  When we intervened in Libya, did that have a positive impact on our credibility?  If so, why did Assad decide to use chemical weapons?  Why didn't the credibility from intervening before cause him to refrain?

The obvious answer is that credibility is a fraud.  Failing to go to the aid of an ally who has been attacked would be a different story.  But simply not acting in a country when you have neither treaty obligations nor real and obvious national interests is not going to do anything.  Except, perhaps, convince the rest of the world that you are daft.

3) From a reader in Chicago, about the pro-intervention arguments as a whole:

It seems none of the "for striking Syria" arguments addressed the "anti-strike" side:

1. America lost its 'credibility' not by taking 'no action' over the past 12 years, but through an ill-advised aggression in Iraq, prolonging a deadly war in Afghanistan and backing Israel right or wrong against Palestinians. Obama drew a dumb line on chemical attacks, but urging him to bomb Syria to restore American 'credibility' by taking yet another non-strategic, military action in the ME is laughable.   

2. None seriously looked at the potential 'mess' that a strike could cause.  If you think Iraq was a mistake, you have the obligation to carefully weigh arguments the opponents of intervention in Syria make:  intensification of the war, sectarian strife, rataliation against Israel, retaliation against US troops and civilians, massive refuge upheavals in neighborint states, that Hussein was severely isolated in Iraq but Assad still has many followers, etc.

3.  None addressed the intercept released by the WH in which a commander is outraged at his underling for allowing the massive chemical attack to happen. That doesn't mean the Syrian government is innocent, but it does mean there are question of who ordered the attack, whether it was a rouge act or part of Syrian strategy, etc.  If there is any doubt on these issues, that is reason enough not to attack.  The US puts the entire region at more risk with an impetuous response. 

4.  Unlike Libya, the Arab League, the UN and general global opinion is against a strike.  The President has no intention of submitting the question to Congress.

5.  None addressed the historical results of past interventions, from Iran in 1853, Vietnam, as well as above.  The shame of Libya intervention is that we will never know how many lives were saved from Hillary Clinton's potential 'genocide' vs. what the body count was a year after the strikes.

4) And a constructive suggestion:

This is what I think about Syria.

The US can't afford another war.  Can anyone really, given how in debt most countries are these days? 

However, if this is so unacceptable as to warrant some action and countries are willing to put up money to back said action; it shouldn't be war.  Getting involved in the Middle East has currently been more trouble than was originally thought.  War is not going to solve the problem, it might actually open more opportunities for using the very chemical weapons that are unacceptable.  The main concern is the health and safety of Syria's civilians.  Would it not be better to spend the money on evacuating, helping and protecting it's citizens? 

Intervening because chemical weapons have been used on civilians (by either side), is intervening for the civilians; it is taking over responsibility for their welfare because their own government cannot, at this moment, provide it.  I think it would be easier to just remove those civilians from the war zone until their government can provide for them better.  It would make more of difference to those people and it would be safer for countries getting involved.  

I will wrap it up for now by saying that, like this last reader, I am struck that the range of "serious" options under discussion seems to begin and end with bombers vs cruise missiles vs drones,  and not touch on the vast array of other means -- aid, diplomacy, pressure -- through which most of the world's dealings are carried on. (As for this post's title, it is of course an allusion to Ring Lardner, in appreciation of the edge in the officer's response.)

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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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