The Hubris of the Syria Interventionists

The hawks who are deeply disappointed that diplomacy has likely forestalled a US military intervention in Syria in the foreseeable future often attempt to tug at our heart strings by pointing to the over 100,000 dead and the millions of displaced, implying that the US has a responsibility to intervene to stop the carnage on humanitarian grounds.

If the world were such that the US could in fact do so, perhaps they might have a point. The problem is that social engineering on that scale is currently beyond even a superpower. We need a humanitarian realism to forestall the utopians from taking us into quagmires. There is nothing wrong with doing good where you realistically can. Trying to do good by military means where you cannot can be deadly to both you and the victims.

Syria resembles Iraq in many respects. It is a multicultural country with 60% Sunni Arabs, 10% Kurds, 10-14% Alawite Shiites, 10-14% Christians, and smaller Twelver Shiite, Druze and Ismaili communities. Iraq is a mirror image, with a Shiite majority and a Sunni Arab minority.

Both countries were ruled for decades by the Baath or Resurrection Party, which claimed to be socialist and Arab nationalist. The Baath Party insists on a one-party state. In both countries, an ethnic minority captured the upper echelons of the Baath Party, using its control of the state to reward coreligionists. In Iraq, the Sunni Arabs disproportionately dominated the higher ranks of the Baath Party and officer corps. In particular, the Tikriti clan of Saddam Hussein took the highest posts. In Syria, the Alawite Shiite Arabs were disproportionately represented at the heights of power. In particular, the al-Assad clan took the highest posts.

The Neoconservatives accused Saddam Hussein of having killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maintained that the US had a duty, which trumped international law and the UN Security Council, to invade and overthrow him. While it is true that Saddam Hussein was responsible for a lot of deaths, it wasn’t clear that he was killing any significant number of people 1992-2003. The killings had come as a result of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the internal war against separatist Kurds (1985-1989), and the repression of a massive Shiite uprising in March-May of 1991. The US was complicit in much of this, having encouraged Iraq and having allied with it during the Iran-Iraq War, which might have ended sooner otherwise. The Reagan administration also used its clout at the UN to protect Iraq from sanctions for using chemical weapons on Iran, which encouraged the regime later to use them on the Kurds. George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam in 1991, and when they did he left them twisting in the wind and allowed the regime to use helicopter gunships against them.

The pretext for the US war on Iraq was its alleged chemical and other weapons programs and stores, which did not exist and which UN inspectors such as Scott Ritter, a former Marine, explicitly said did not exist.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, who has never been right about anything (and is now cropping up on corporate television again) wrote on January 15, 2003 in USA Today:

“As war with Iraq nears, the chorus of those claiming Saddam Hussein is contained, the United Nations process is working or the U.S. must address other, more pressing problems, grows louder. Some hate war or mistrust any expression of American power, but by far the largest group of naysayers is well intentioned. Their mantra, if they had one, would be: “Why now?” . . . Why now?”

She says critic bring up al-Qaeda and North Korea as threats. She answers,

“But these are not reasons to defer action. They are reasons for the U.S. to act now and remove Saddam from power. Only then will al-Qaeda’s followers grasp that the U.S. is a power to be reckoned with, committed to destroying its enemies. Only then will North Korea step back and assess the fate of dictators committed to amassing weapons of mass destruction.”

How’s that North Korea deterrence working out for you? And, didn’t the invasion of Iraq reinvigorate al-Qaeda to the point where it came into that country and is still blowing it up and is now ruling some of northern Syria?

Pletka was doubtful that Iraq had really destroyed its chemical and biological weapons and mothballed its nuclear program:

“Since 1991, there have been repeated “full, final and complete” disclosures of Iraqi weapons programs, each of them incomplete.”

The idea that the US could by invading and occupying the country forestall another 300,000 deaths, which is what the Neoconservatives were arguing, was simply incorrect. The US created a power vacuum in Iraq and by playing favorites helped provoke a years-long (perhaps decades-long) guerrilla war. The Sunni Arabs were fired from their jobs, their state-owned factories were abruptly shut down, and they were removed from positions of power and authority in favor of Shiites and Kurds.

Yesterday, on Sunday, car bombs in Hilla, Basra and elsewhere killed 58 people. Hilla is a Shiite city, and some of its notables had had their land to the north taken away from them by Saddam and given to Sunni families. Since 2003 they have been reclaiming it, expelling Sunni farmers who had come to see the land as theirs. Some of what the US used to call the ‘triangle of death’ was produced by this dynamic. Most likely, the al-Qaeda that Danielle Pletka was certain she could frighten out of existence by invading Iraq was behind the bombing in Hilla, in September of 2013. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq in early 2003.

Euronews reports on the recent wave of violence in Iraq

Since April 1, 4,000 people have died in political violence in Iraq. That is over a decade since the great Neocon Jihad against Saddam. It is not clear that the Syrian death toll at this moment is greater on a monthly basis than the Iraq shaped by the tender ministrations of Washington.

Guerrilla wars are fought in back alleys and inhospitable terrain. The fighters hide, strike, then fade away. The US never was able to defeat them, either the Shiite ones or the Sunni ones, and mostly had no control over what they did. There US was occupying Iraq with 150,000 troops or so in 2006 when a civil war broke out that was killing as many as 2500 noncombatants a month and displacing tens of thousands each month abroad. It was in charge of the security of the country. It had the troops, the tanks, the planes, the electronic surveillance. But it was powerless to stop a civil war from unfolding under its nose. The deaths tapered off by September of 2007 not because of Bush’s troop excalation (‘surge’) but because by that time Shiite militiamen had ethnically cleansed so many Sunnis from their neighborhoods that they would have had to drive for a while to find more Sunnis to kill. Baghdad under the US went from being half Sunni to being 20% Sunni. There were huge American bases in Baghdad during these events, with on-base McDonalds and Burger Kings. They may as well not have existed for all of their ability to stop the carnage.

So the hawks, whether of the manipulative and vicious sort or of the humanitarian sort, who keep squawking that the US needs to do something are beginning with the premise that the US can do something effective. It can’t.

That the Syria situation is so like that in Iraq makes the analogy compelling. I am not saying that all interventions are doomed. Kosovo and Bosnia aren’t paradise, but they turned out just all right. But Syria is not like Kosovo, where you had a compact territory being invaded by another ethnic group. Syria is all mixed up. The tanks are inside the cities. The cities are multi-ethnic for the most part. There is nothing you could bomb without killing the civilians you were hoping to protect (Syria differs in this way also from Libya).

It is human nature to think, when we see an ongoing great slaughter, that something must be done. But because of the ease of availability of high explosives and other weapons and the breakdown of social consensus, there is little the outside world could hope to do. Arming the rebels, as Obama has pledged to do, will not, let us say, reduce the death rate.

It may be a positive that the question is even being broached. Millions were polished off in Congo in the 1990s and it didn’t get mentioned on the evening news in the US. Likewise, the Algerian civil War of the 1990s and early zeroes passed without comment in America.

But if the US couldn’t stop a civil war and a growing guerrilla war in Iraq while actually running the place, it can’t likely do anything about Syria. It is a sad fact of 21st century life.

What the US and its allies can do is improve the conditions of the 2 million Syrians displaced abroad, and try to figure ways of getting food and necessities to internally displaced noncombatants. The US hasn’t been bad on refugee aid, but it can do substantially more, as can Europe and the Arab League. Ignoring the plight of a third of the country (the DPs) while strategizing how to scramble fighter-jets is the opposite of humanitarianism.

Posted in Syria | 60 Responses | Print |

60 Responses

  1. Woodrow Wilson style ethnic carveup would work in many places. With the ethnic integration of Syria, unfortunately, likely the only form of outside intervention which would work would be Stalin-style ethnic carveup.

    The US will not do Wilson-style redrawing of the map in any case, and certainly not with Russia objecting to it.

    So, best if we just stay out of it.

  2. Sad to see Juan join ranks of the Assad apologists. It’s all fine and dandy to let Russia, Iran, and Hizbollah intervene on the behalf of a child torturer like Assad, but it only furthers bloodshed to help the Syrian people defend themselves.

      • Since American aid has been targeted towards the Syrian opposition, and the CIA has been actively working to prevent the Gulf States’ weapons from ending up with the al Qaeda terrorists, he clearly means the former.

        It is a bit amusing to watch people who’ve spent years insisting that al Qaeda is not al Qaeda if it’s in the Arabian Peninsula flip-flop so dramatically, and describe everyone fighting the Assad regime as Osama bin Laden’s twin brother.

    • You don’t have to be an Assad apologist to be against military strikes on Syria. I think that is a simplistic, ad-hominem argument. It is also unfair and simplistic to label everyone who supports a strike on Syria as Al-Qaeda sympathizers or apologists.

      The question is: would a US strike/and or war on the Syrian government end or reduce the bloodshed? If you think it would reduce the violence let’s hear your arguments. Looking at recent history of US wars in the middle east I don’t think military intervention reduces violence.

    • Russia, Iran and Hizbollah can intervene and the USA can not stop this is a story (Hubris.)

    • IHS Janes just came out with the numbers, half of the “Rebels”, are “hardline Islamists’s”, which means that your “cure” will surely “kill the patient” ie. the Secularists. I disagree with Juan frequently, yet I do not see him maintaining a bias or “apologist” side in this conflict.

      • One little picture is worth a thousand words, even without subtitles and context. What “intervention” is supporting:

        link to

        Joe’s unsupported and humorous claim that US players are somehow keeping US-source-involved weapons out of “al Quaeda”/Crazy Islamist hands is a fraud. Even the organs of state propaganda can’t obscure the fact that delivering weapons and ‘nonlethal aid’ into the chaos of Syria can’t be “controlled.” link to

        • Something you learn when you argue with libertarians: when somebody who does not want the government to accomplish something insists that it is impossible for the government to accomplish that thing, you shouldn’t take them very seriously.

          From JT McPhee’s computer, all those people look alike, so there must be no way for the people on the ground to tell the difference, either.

  3. For the most part, I should agree with you Juan, but the U.S, has been supplying the ‘rebels’ with arms for some time, through Qatar, but the opposition movement has become so splintered now that it has become too hard to control or to predict who will come out on top.

    It is this, I believe, that is the real motive for the requirement for direct intervention. Forget humanitarianism. You’ve got that right. Crocodile tears and no more. There are too many interests represented. Too many factions.

    The whole situation needs to be brought under control in order to serve the interests of U.S. foreign policy and nothing short of direct action will do it now.

    Putin, brilliantly, has robbed them of that!

  4. Yes, military involvement is a step too far.
    But do you really think they have the brains to see that?
    They never have before.
    They’ve lost every war they’ve ever participated in.
    They were only on the winning *side* in the second world war.
    Tell me what other war they have won.
    They’re even losing the one in Okinawa!
    They’re the most over-equipped, totally incompetent soldiers on the planet.

    • As a former US Army Infantryman, I lack objectivity. Stipulated.

      I think our soldiers in combat units have, for the most part, acquitted themselves well. The failures in Iraq and A’stan to my view are ALL attributable to Colonels and above.

      The first responsibility of a Colonel is NOT to say, “Yes, sir, yes, sir, 3 bags full.” That’s the job of a Lieutenant.
      The first responsibility of a Colonel is to know his unit, his soldiers, their capabilities; and his second responsibility is to push back when asked or ordered to do something beyond their capabilities.
      Infantrymen are trained to kill people and break things.
      Infantrymen are not capable of “nationbuilding.”
      We lost the war in Iraq because Colonels and Generals didn’t do their jobs.
      Our Army is broken at the top levels, and it was broken by fascists in the WH and Pentagon.

      Golly, Colonels and Generals don’t even know what their jobs are anymore. They all think that serving in the combat arms is preparation for a career in the war contractor industry, or in politics.
      In fact, leading troops in combat is the only important thing they will ever do, and they give that duty short shrift while their gaze is fixed on future aggrandizement and riches.
      Did I mention that our Army is broken ? Eric Shinseki or John Singlaub may have been our last competent General.

      30 years ago, I had to conceal my knee pads and elbow pads under my fatigues, because wearing them on the outside was prohibited. Squad radios 30 years ago rarely worked. I would navigate combat patrols in the Korean DMZ with a lensatic compass and 1:25,000 DMA map.
      3 months before I took over command of Guard Post Collier, the preceding Commander lost 11 soldiers to a DPRK minefield and defensive fire, because a US patrol wandered across the MDL in the fog.
      I don’t see much use for the networked vision that Boeing has for letting the battalion commander see where each individual solidier is on a display in the TOC, because pretty soon we’ll have a re-run of LBJ choosing targets in Hue from the WH situation room.
      But I’m all for giving that grunt on point as much ballistic protection, firepower and situational awareness as he can handle.

      • Once again, ” the troops are being sent to do a task that is both wrong and impossible. There is no numder of troop that is either right or large enough to build a village, let alone a nation. Mechanized and electronicized warriors may have, individually, insights and moments of humility and comity that let them reach across the US-THEM divide. But the institutional idiocy of that colonel who, before jumping in his Black hawk and flying away to his air conditioned billet, tells the Troops that going into Wardak and kicking ass and taking names was going to be the linchpin of the way and they would all be proud to tell their grandkids that they had been there and been a part of the great decisive battle blahnlahblah.

        These same O-5s and up who are all studying up on why the Empire cannot and never will “win” any “4th gen” wars. Massive, clumsy, evil incompetent idiocy. Did I say also ” grotesquely expensive as well as incompetent”?

      • “But I’m all for giving that grunt on point as much ballistic protection, firepower and situational awareness as he can handle.”

        I have friends with very personal experience of that.
        New Zealand SAS working forward of forward, spotting, sending back accurate coordinates, then getting repeatedly shelled by their U.S. allies.
        That’s when they sent home for their own 25 pack howitzer crews, who could use artillery, and they made a name for themselves.

        They had long given up on joint exercises with ‘grunts’ taking a stroll through the jungle, coked to the eye-balls and tape-players – the ghetto-blasters of the day- up to their ears, setting everybody up as a target.

        Once experienced, twenty times shy.

    • >They’ve lost every war they’ve ever participated in.

      Thats completely inaccurate. No serious historian who looks at the situation in an honest way would come to such a conclusion.

      >Tell me what other war they have won.

      Grenada, Libya, the first iraq conflict, panama, the spanish american war.

      • DMOL

        I had a friend on the ground in Libya and got daily feed back that told me exactly how incompetent the NATO (that’s *not* U.S.) forces operated.

        He was a doctor from Egypt who drove a truck across the border and followed the rebel forces, patching thoings up as he went and keeping in touch with me on his Ubuntu laptop as he went to keep his sanity level together. At one stage he had his tent hospital set up outside the city of Misrata and the NATO jets were kind enough to strafe and rocket that for him.

        What they couldn’t understand was with accurate intelligence being fed to them, it took NATO jets longer to get to the targets than the road speed of the Russian tanks from Tripoli. They were wondering whose side they were on.

        The first Iraq conflict?
        Very common mistake.
        There was only one with two fronts, with the naval blockade between the two, which amounted to no more than a siege.
        Wheelbarrows were not permitted into Iraq because ‘they could be employed to build plants to manufacture nuclear weaponry’. Vaccines were not permitted in ‘because they could be employed to manufacture bacterial weapons’, although, as most high school science students could tell you, the majority of vaccines employ dead bacterium. The pleas of the doctors from the Iraqi hospitals went unheard and 200,000 children below the age of five died during those years.

        The only kind of war you can win and you weren’t in that alone either.

        Maybe it’s you that needs the history lesson.

      • Serious? You’re joking, right? Grenada? Operation “Urgent Fury?” link to (The foregoing link also covers “successes” in Panama and of course Lebanon.)

        As to the Operation “Just Cause,” which included Operation “Nifty Package,” that “regime change” in Panama to slap down “Our CIA Asset Noriega,” with, as in Grenada, all those units and troops from different branches getting all those medals ‘n stuff? link to

        Or, is it fair to ask how the word “won” is being used and defined in this particular context?

  5. We may be back to the 19th century in that the US cannot act unilaterally. But, the Syria of today is not the Syria of 1860. If it were, the threat of European intervention would work.
    In 1860, Druze killed thousands of Christians in Mount Lebanon, and Muslims killed many in Damascus. The French came to protect the Christians. The fear of European interference motivated the Ottomans to restore order in Greater Syria. The Ottoman governor of Damascus was hung for failing to prevent the massacres. The Muslim Ottomans executed scores of Muslim Ottoman officials and soldiers for particpating in the murder and looting. Christians were compensated and given aid. The French did not need to leave their campsite on the Lebanese coast.
    This was an early example of humanitarian intervention.
    But, the situation in and around Syria today is not like it was then.

  6. “…internal war against separatist Kurds…”
    I’m sorry, Mr Cole, but I find this phrasing deeply dishonest. The Anfal, and most of the actions that preceded it, dating from the ethnic cleansing post-1975, constituted genocide, not war. And the vast majority of victims weren’t “separatist Kurds” – this phrasing implies they could fight back – they were innocent civilians.

    link to

  7. And after the US and its allies try to improve the conditions of internally/externally displaced Syrians, maybe it then can help us create and maintain a sufficient balance of power to ensure system stability amongst the regional powers (Arab, Persian and Turkish)? That would be nice.

    I think that this NI piece below is excellent and a great compliment to Prof. Cole’s timely and important post.

    link to

  8. Thanks for this. I know it was tough to write but someone must speak the truth. Anyone with a trace of humanity wants to do something to stop unfolding tragedies, but sometimes we are as helpless in the face of human disasters as when we face the forces of nature — floods, earthquakes, drought.

    • Actually, there is a great deal we could do that would advance our interests.
      But since it would be impossible to present this sort of aid to the American Public as some sort of military victory, it would be political suicide.

      • The United States has many times provided military assets and manpower to assist in humanitarian disasters overseas. None of them had anything to do with “military victory.”

        After the 2004 Tsunami that wreaked havoc in Sumatra, Indonesia, the US initially dispatched P-3C Orion patrol aircraft and an aircraft carrier to assist with relief operations.

        After the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, the US military provided helicopter support to deliver relief supplies to the victims, as well as a MASH type field hospital to assist the wounded.

        There are many more examples of the US providing military assets to assist victims of disasters worldwide. It hardly requires a “military victory” to justify these activities.

        • Bill, I chose my words poorly.

          I meant to say that the American public doesn’t want the US military employed on losing causes,
          and they don’t want their tax dollars spent giving foreigners stuff that makes their lives better over the long term.
          Short-term Disaster assistance is OK, but actual development that might lead to sustained growth and improvement is off-limits.

          Of course the obsolete CVN weapons platform can be used for humanitarian good.
          We conduct a wide range of “window dressing” disaster assistance efforts to convince the American public that we are the world’s saviors, so we can pat ourselves on the back.
          It’s like WAL-MART 10 years ago, spending $50 Million on a PR campaign to brag about a $50,000 charitable contribution.

          I was part of mostly Afghan team that offered to implement a USAID development program in Herat Province 2 years ago, “Stability in Key Areas.” We would have employed 2,200 Afghans and 6 Americans.
          The award went to one of the ten contractors that get 90% of all USAID dollars, and they employed 45+ US Expats and 7 Afghans.
          USAID finally pulled the plug when local Afghans demanded the charade end.

          USAID spent $5 Billion on developing electrical power in A’stan, almost all of it on humongous projects that had no chance of ever actally working. These turned out to be driven by what the multinationals like GE and Siemens wanted to do, not based on what Afghans needed.

          USAID could have ended the conflict with the Taliban –
          USAID could have won the Afghan war by themselves, without any help from the military –
          – if they would have just spent a fraction of that money on local energy development projects.

          2,000 small renewable energy stations (about $100 K each) sprinkled along the trails connecting Pakistan to A’stan, through Paktika and the border provinces, and in Waziristan and border FATA’s, would have kept the young men doing the fighting home.

          Our government bureaucrats don’t understand the problems they are trying to solve. Nor do they understand human nature. Dr. Shah, USAID Administrator, promised to shake up the Agency. I can’t see one thing he’s changed.

          USAID would be the most powerful tool that the USA had to change the world, if it had better leadership.
          But right now, all we can do to help foreign peoples improve their prospects is to employ our magnificent military to kill them.

          USAID remains mired in the mode of a wealth transfer mechanism intended to benefit only those 10 USAID contractors, and the $250,000 per year expats working for them. If a local in the foreign country where USAID operates actually benefits, then it is probably an accident, or through accepting bribes or such.


          I was responding to John Ballard’s statement that we are helpless to do anything to improve the lives of people stuck in messes like the proxy war in Syria.

          The way things are right now, he is right.
          But if we had more competent folks running our federal agencies, and more competent folks staffing those agencies, we could do a great deal to help them.

          It’s an option.

          USAID seems to do pretty good work when not in a conflict environment.
          But EVERYTHING they’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade has failed.
          If they went into Syria, with the same leaders at the top and the same bureaucrats who were in charge in A’stan, they would screw that up, too.
          This is not a problem with the folks implementing in the field, just like the Army’s problem isn’t the front line soldier.
          The culture in the Ronald Reagan Building is sick.

  9. How anyone at the AEI can still show their faces in public after the disaster they unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq is beyond me. The Danielle Pletka’s of the neocon right ought to be hiding in shame, preferably under a rock.

    After all, Iraq worked out so well for everyone: Thousands of Americans were killed and tens of thousands wounded for life, all in vain and a vainglorious folly based on the 935 documented lies told by the Bush administration to justify 10 nightmarish years. And if that wasn’t horrific enough, tens of thousands of Iraqi’s were killed, hundreds of thousands wounded and millions were displaced. For what?

    What is in the DNA of not just Ms. Pletka but people such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham that makes them think we still live in a 1945 world where America stood strong while the rest of the world was reeling from the effects of war, and so we thought we could kind of do what we wanted? That myth was damaged by the Korean War and should have been dealt a death blow by Viet Nam. And Afghanistan. And Iraq.

    Even more astounding is that George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, and Jay Bybee, and John Yu still walk the Earth as free men, rather than languishing in a cell in The Hague which is where they belong.

    • “How anyone at the AEI can still show their faces in public after the disaster they unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq is beyond me. The Danielle Pletka’s of the neocon right ought to be hiding in shame, preferably under a rock.”

      A sense of what is morally right or wrong is necessary to trigger shame. No moral component – no shame.

      “Even more astounding is that George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, and Jay Bybee, and John Yu still walk the Earth as free men, rather than languishing in a cell in The Hague which is where they belong.”

      Not only that, they are in the estimation of many people, including TV producers, distinguished citizens, and when John Yoo is appointed as a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley you know that institution has made a U-turn – big time.

  10. There is a great deal we could be doing to improve the humanitarian crisis, starting for example with sanctioning the Saudis and Qataris for actively supporting jihadi death squads in the country. This is the elephant in the room of all these discussions.

  11. This has to be one of the worst pieces Ive yet read regarding the question of intervention in Syria.

    Its the worst primarily as it manipulates the constant assertion from the Left that this is like Iraq. The basis for this argument is a rather loose argument that it is equally sectarian and multi-ethnic hence prone to the factionalized warfare seen there.

    Implicit too in this argument is that like Iraq intervention would be hopeless even though no occupation force is being remotely suggested. (Hence nothing like Iraq at all on the most pertinent difference)

    Not long ago you were, commendably, in favour of action to attack the Ghaddaffi’s war machine. Your argument then was one that relied heavily on the immanent threat to Bengazi. Here in Syria you fell on the other side of the fence and therefore use the same argumentation that was used AGAINST you when Libya was in the midst of its revolution.

    Bizarrely, you even try and count bodies to maximize the Iraq present situation and minimize or make ambiguous the bloodshed’s size in Syria.

    You claim that there would be no positive benefit for bombing Assad’s military because there would be too much collateral damage. The same military problem was indeed found in Libya and the collateral damage was greatly minimized. It is always unfortunate whn civilians are killed by air strikes, but the greater benefit is that a dictator willing and capable of killing masses of “his” own people was ended.

    The Libyans were begging for intervention, the millions in camps around Syria’s borders are begging for intervention and you have the gall to suggest the best action is no action just improve refugee relief?

    Your attempt at consistency by minimizing similarities with Libya and maximizing similarities to Iraq is disingenuous at the very least.

    This mass killing is happening irrespective of the CW hooha that we are witnessing now. Failure to use the intervention for R2P will haunt the West just as the slow burn in Bosnia did until action was finally taken and atrocities too heinous to fall silent (particularly the Sarajevo atrocities).

    Inaction keeps Assad in power and ends the Arab Springs hopes for good in Syria.

    • Perhaps, A Meshiea,
      you do not believe that the various “rebel” factions are committing atrocities against civilians ?

      If the point is to protect Syrian civilians, its not clear that just striking against the al-Assad forces will do the trick.
      To me,
      it appears that we would also have to do something to get many “rebel” groups to cut back on atrocities.
      And how do we get Israel to stop interfering and killing Syrians ?

    • Most observers say that air strikes on Syria will not produce a regime change. Even the pro-strike folks admit this. Boots on the ground along with strikes will produce a regime change.

      The American people are overwhelmingly against military air strikes and even more against “boots on the ground”. The President is lucky that the Syria vote was cancelled in Congress because it became real clear that the votes were not there, even in the Senate.

      Basically what you’re saying is President Obama should unilaterally, against the wishes of the international community, congress and the America people, proceed with an uncertain war on Syria.

      Now, let’s say the war happened without the Russian cw agreement. You have a situation where the Al-Qaeda factions amongst the rebels could theoretically get their hands on CWs. Not to mention air strikes could inadvertently explode the Cws on civilian populations.

  12. The chicken hawks will scavenge for a way. They would like the Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Israel-Lebanon-Syria gas pipeline to get a green light. The irony is such a pipeline could contribute to security in the region, but as always, its the crazy way the Chicken hawks go about things. Their poorly made plans often negatively impact their own objectives. No, the public hasnt forgotten Yellow Cake or the Iraq “study” group malarkey. The chicken hawks are going to have to put effort into this one

  13. Yes, the hubris of our government.
    I get the distinct impression we are no longer in control of said government.
    The arrogance and presumption of knowing “better” than the governed is disturbing in the extreme.
    Which is something I saw a long time ago; and I elected to find a way out.
    More than a decade later I see no evidence “the people” have done much of anything to reverse the deterioration of the U.S. democracy.
    And more importantly their representation in said democracy; which, frankly, I view as a standing joke.
    I’m hearing Taps playing, in the not too distant future.
    I’m old; but I think of the children; what of the children?

    • “Which is something I saw a long time ago; and I elected to find a way out. More than a decade later I see no evidence “the people” have done much of anything to reverse the deterioration of the U.S. democracy.”

      As I recall your previous posts on the subject, you found your “way out” by leaving the United States to reside elsewhere. That “way out” certainly took no courage and did nothing to, in your words, “reverse the deterioration of US democracy.” You are hardly in a position to chide “the people” in the US for a failure to execute a responsibility that you yourself abdicated ten years ago.

      • “As I recall your previous posts on the subject, you found your “way out” by leaving the United States to reside elsewhere.”

        I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a hike. They may be more realistic. The odds are high that people who are attempting to turn the United States around from its trajectory towards fascism and a police state might just be tilting at windmills. Age and other factors preclude my joining the exodus, but if I were a young man with children I would give it serious thought. Tom Paine would have relished fighting our corrupt and corrupting government, but look at what happened to him. He died a pauper, ignored by an ungrateful nation. Look at what has happened to Chelsea Manning and other courageious whistleblowers. They are persecuted, the criminals they exposed go free and remain in power, and the vast majority of Americans don’t care.

        • “I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a hike.”

          If he wishes to leave the US that’s his business. But then he loses any standing to chide and hector those who choose to remain and live in the US because he doesn’t think they effectively oppose the US Government. He not only did it in his post above, he has done it in previous comments as well.

          Such a stance reeks of hypocrisy. And the definition of hypocrisy applies: The homage vice pays to virtue.

        • “If he wishes to leave the US that’s his business. But then he loses any standing to chide and hector those who choose to remain and live in the US because he doesn’t think they effectively oppose the US Government.”

          There are countless examples of exiles around the world engaging in critical comments about their native lands, and many of them have been supported by the US government when it suited its perceived interests.

        • “No, it’s not the same. Not even close.”

          But the drive to consolidate power within a small group and a willingness to sacrifice others for the cause are similar.

      • I imagine you’d think the same of the citizens who left Germany just prior to WWII.
        Oh wait, it’s not the same; or is it?

        • “I imagine you’d think the same of the citizens who left Germany just prior to WWII. Oh wait, it’s not the same; or is it?”

          No, it’s not the same. Not even close.

        • Such a stance reeks of hypocrisy. And the definition of hypocrisy applies: The homage vice pays to virtue.

          Really? I follow my principles with action. I don’t agree with supporting a government that commits war crimes as a matter of policy.
          I have thus withdrawn all moral and material support.
          Hypocrisy indeed, not…

  14. A Robert Gates quote…”Some people have a cartoonish view of what our military can accomplish.” When you hear psuedo military experts like Krauthammer and Kristol talk about “surgical” airstrikes, you know what Gates is referring to.

  15. You were overly kind not to repeat your 22 April 2003 writing on Paul Wolfowitz’s great ignorance: “Religious Shiite parties and militias in Iraq have recently stepped into the gap resulting from the collapse of the Baath Party, especially in the sacred shrine cities. This development must have come as a shock to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who in early March preferred Iraqis as US allies to Saudis, saying that they are secular and ‘overwhelmingly Shia, which is different from the Wahhabis of the peninsula, and they don’t bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory.'” link to

    Also, the following question is revealing: How many suicide bombings had Iraq experienced before the 2003 US invasion?
    Answer: None. link to

  16. George Bush and the PNAC thought they could topple the Saddam Hussein regime and install a cooperative puppet, as if a large, oil-rich Middle Eastern country in the 21st century was pretty much the same as a Central American nation in the 1950s.

    Madness. Madness and hubris.

  17. Regarding your first paragraph; you would not be talking about Samantha Powers, perhaps? Maybe with some Susan Rice thrown in for good measure?

    • Try John McCain and Lindsey Graham; that is, the people who were calling for direct US intervention for years before the chemical weapons attack, and continue to call for it today.

      Whether you thought the case for force in response to the chemical attack was strong or not, it was a very different case from that which has been made by the Iraq hawks for the past 2-1/2 years.

      • “Try John McCain and Lindsey Graham; that is, the people who were calling for direct US intervention for years before the chemical weapons attack, and continue to call for it today.”

        John McCain and Lindsey Graham notwithstanding, Bill H makes a very important point in that both Susan Rice and Samantha Powers have long been supporters of intervention for humanitarian purposes. Both have been critical of the US for not intervening in Rwanda, and both have made the case for intervening in Syria. They are what are known as “humanitarian hawks,” i.e., they place a high premium on intervention if it involves humanitarian goals, even if it does not involve US national interest.

        • “supporters of intervention for humanitarian purposes”

          The form of intervention has a great deal to do with the outcome. Going into areas with humanitarian aid as in Sumatra and Pakistan as mentioned above is welcomed and greatly appreciated. Going in with bombs and bullets is a whole different story.

        • Both Powers and Rice criticized the US for not intervening in Rwanda, which definitely would have required armed force. They are not talking about delivering food aid and evacuating victims via military choppers.

        • And yet, Bill, those humanitarian hawks are not out there calling for direct intervention in Syria, while the neo-con hawks are.

          All of which is to say, there are meaningful differences.

        • In the September 7 edition of the Washington Post, Max Fisher reported on Samantha Power’s speech to the Center for American Progress, Joe. I have quoted his initial paragraph, but will spare you the entire manuscript.

          “U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivered the following speech at the Center for American Progress on Friday advocating for the Obama administration’s plan to launch limited off-shore strikes against Syria. The complete transcript, well worth reading in full, is below.”

          Cruise missile strikes are about as direct an interventionist activity as exists. Power and Rice have a history of advocating for direct US military intervention, whether it take the form of troops in Rwanda or missiles in Syria, as long as it is for “humanitarian” purposes. They are far less inclined to support military intervention on behalf of US national interests.

  18. Thats exactly what I wrote to my Congressman and both Senators. I urged them to vote NO on Syria because if our real true purpose is to save lives, we should stop picking sides in this civil war and stop prolonging their misery by arming the opposition, but increase our aid to the refugees.

    Also bring our weight on the international community to do more for the refugees and bring our weight down on the outside patrons of the warring factions so that a cease fire can be reached followed by a political settlement.

  19. US intervention in Iraq resulted in more Iraqi’s killed in a shorter time than Saddam was responsible for. The conflict created an Iraqi brain drain of people needed to rebuild, huge numbers of refugees in desert camps the US ignored, and huge populations of refugees fleeing to neighboring countries which upset their stability no small amount. Iraq’s borders became porous for arms and Al Qaeda fomenters because the Iraq military was disabled from keeping them, and the US didn’t care and didn’t even try. In its flawed attempt to “fix” Iraq the US destroyed tremendous portions of Iraqi infrastructure which it then abandoned as too costly for the US to fix. Hardly a humanitarian effort. But a good predictor for what the US would do in the future.

  20. Hear! Hear!

    Oh the hypocrisy, the War Party is at the head of the line endlessly kvetching about domestic programs in the US as social engineering yet when it comes to destroying and rebuilding other cultures, nations, ever at the ready.

  21. Thank you Professor Cole for putting into words what I was trying to convey to people around me who fret about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Military intervention is not going to fix anything, it’s just going to cause more death and destruction. Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said something like: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”?

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