The Very Worst Syria Analogies

It's hard to get Americans interested in another country's civil war, and this has held true for Syria. To compensate, some people have tried to get creative with their arguments. Too creative. 

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It's hard to get Americans interested in another country's civil war, and this has held true for Syria. To compensate, some people have tried to get creative with their arguments. Too creative. 

Some arguments are stronger than others. And some seem a little half-hearted — at The National Review, Larry Kudlow argues that while it would be bad for America to look weak by not bombing Syria, it would have the perk of derailing Obama's domestic policy agenda. But the weakest are the ones that try to punch up the Syrian conflict by throwing in an analogy to a topical story people are more likely to click on, something that involves child rape, or teen murder, or leftists paranoia about agricultural chemicals. Here are the worst topical analogies for Syria:

If Obama doesn't bomb Syria ...

... then America is like a bystander to Penn State child rapist Jerry Sandusky

If McQueary had intervened, he could not be sure what he was getting himself into. So he concluded he should not enter the shower area alone. I’d guess he would have acted differently in the boy being molested was his son. But he wasn’t. So McQueary left.

That logic is similar to those who say we shouldn’t intervene in Syria.

President Obama and other politicians argue that we should not stand by while a bully picks on innocent people, even if those people are not Americans.

Comparing your ideological opponents to the villains of the Jerry Sandusky story, a la EJ Montini of AZCentral, might be an effective image, but little else. For one thing, the analogy relies on the idea of stopping an ongoing, specific atrocity, while the U.S.'s intent and capability for military action is this point is more or less a retaliation for something that's already happened. But, painting all non-interventionists as indirectly complicit in child molestation (which, by the way, is not even a fair use of McQueary) is a pretty sure-fire way to stop any cocktail conversation on Obama's proposal. 

If Obama bombs Syria...

... then America is like George Zimmerman

"Where Syria Is Concerned Let’s Not Become a Global George Zimmerman," Hrafnkell Haraldsson writes at Politics USA, comparing us to a self-appointed neighborhood watchman who shot an unarmed teenager. Haraldsson suggests an interesting thought experiment:

Ask yourself this: if the U.S. government used chemical weapons on American citizens, would we want Russian or Chinese troops to step in and overthrow our government?

Well, probably yes, right? British troops at least?

In the end, just as one man’s good is another man’s evil, one man’s hero is another man’s bully, and by intervening in Syria we run the risk of being a George Zimmerman — who saw something he didn’t like in HIS neighborhood and eradicated it — writ large, a George Zimmerman on a global scale.

We might note that unlike Trayvon Martin, Syrian President Bashar al Assad is armed with more than Skittles.

If Obama doesn't bomb Syria ...

... then Syria is just like Kitty Genovese

A historical parallel for the Syrian Civil War is the Spanish Civil War, Boulder Weekly's Paul Danish writes. "There is also a good moral parallel for how the Western world has reacted to the Syrian civil war: Kitty Genovese’s neighbors." Who? Danish explains the famous story:

Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old woman who lived in Queens, New York. In the wee hours of March 13, 1964, she was attacked by a street thug while walking from her car to her apartment. He repeatedly stabbed her. As she lay dying, he raped and robbed her. Her neighbors, dozens of them, ignored her screams. No one came to her assistance or even called the cops for more than half an hour.

This is a frequently told story, however it is a myth. Police did not find dozens of witnesses, but about six. People did try to help. Setting that aside...

Obama’s problem is that for the past two and a half years he’s been telling the country that the morality of Kitty Genovese’s neighbors should be the moral foundation of American foreign policy toward Syria: It’s none of our business.

The problem with this parallel — even if the Genovese myth were true — is that Obama has very much made it our business by arming and training Syrian rebels. What is being debated now is whether an airstrike on Syria will save Syrian Kitty Genoveses or cause the deaths of thousands more.

If Obama bombs Syria ...

… then Obama should bomb abortion clinics.

Or as one of our right-wing email forwarders who wrote at the top of an Erick Erickson column:

Obama and his lapdogs would like us to believe it's patriotic for Obama to attack Assad for allegedly funding and authorizing the use of chemical weapons on 2,000 of his own people. Wouldn't it then be acceptable for Assad or any other Country to attack Obama for actually funding and authorizing the abortions of 4,500,000 of his own people?

OK. This one's more about drawing attention to abortion by inserting a popular conservative meme into the conversation: asking about abortion any time a liberal finds something morally objectionable. LifeNews went a bit deeper with this comparison, applied to DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

It is an unimaginable tragedy and utter injustice that hundreds of Syrian children appear to have died at the hands of the man who is designated to look out for their welfare. Wasserman Shultz overlooked fundamental flaw in her argument when she observed America’s moral responsibility to respond: Wasserman Shultz has spent her career ensuring that chemical and other forms of death continue to be protected by law and carried out on the babies in her own country.

If Obama bombs Syria ...

… then Obama should bomb Monsanto.

Rodale CEO Maria Rodale made the common case that Obama should turn his attention to bigger problems at home. What made Rodale's argument unusual was that she claimed forcing people to eat non-organic food is exactly the same as being gassed to death. She wrote for The Huffington Post on Wednesday:

Yes, Syria has undoubtedly used chemical weapons on its own people. Maybe it was the government; maybe it was the opposition; maybe you know for sure. But here's what I know for sure: We are no better. We have been using chemical weapons on our own children -- and ourselves -- for decades, the chemical weapons we use in agriculture to win the war on pests, weeds, and the false need for ever greater yields.

She demands action — against pesticide producers:

We've been trying to tell you for years that chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer Crops Sciences, and others are poisoning our children and our environment with your support and even, it seems, your encouragement. Just because their bodies aren't lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn't mean it's not true.

As with the abortion argument, this is more about drawing attention to a pet cause than advocating for or against intervention in Syria.

If Obama doesn't bomb Syria ...

… then we haven't learned the lessons from Munich in 1938. 

This one comes from John Kerry, who told a conference call of House Democrats that the decision to intervene in Syria was a "Munich moment," referencing the accord between Adolf Hitler and Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin. Kerry has also repeatedly listed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein as the three big users of chemical weapons against their own people.

As the Atlantic previously explained, the analogy doesn't work for all sorts of reasons — in part, because the standard set by the analogy would lead us into many, many more wars.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.