President Obama’s Doubtful Grounds for Military Action against Syria

In his speech to the nation on Tuesday evening, President Obama laid out his case for military action against Syria, even as he hit the ‘pause’ button to allow for further diplomacy in light of the Russian proposal to sequester Syria’s chemical weapons.

I don’t disagree that units of the Syrian military deployed chemical weapons against rebellious populations in the outskirts of Damascus, and that this serious breach of international law deserves condign punishment. However, leaked intelligence has raised questions about from how high in the government the command came, and it is possible that a local rogue commander exceeded his orders out of panic at a rebel advance. If Syria really could be referred to the International Criminal Court for this incident, it is not clear to me that prosecutors could get a conviction of President Bashar al-Assad. (Syria cannot be so referred at least so far, because the ICC only has jurisdiction if a country has signed the Rome Statute that created the court. The only way to get around this restriction is for the UN Security Council to forward a case to the ICC, which can be done even for non-signatories, as with Gaddafi’s Libya. Russia and China so far, however, have kept Syria from being so forwarded at the UNSC).

Obama’s case for a US attack on Syria rests on three premises. The first is that a US strike would be relatively risk-free, since the Syrian regime has limited abilities to mount reprisals, and probably wouldn’t dare.

The second premise is that a US strike would deter Syrian military chem units from deploying their deadly weapons again.

The third premise is that the United States is special, or “exceptional,” and has a duty to intervene where it can to uphold humanitarian values.

All three of these premises seem to me deeply flawed. Something like a set of missile strikes on Syria in the midst of a civil war, and at a time of turbulence in the region, can have unexpected consequences. Radical Iraqi Shiites of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq have threatened to attack the US embassy in Baghdad in reprisal. If we had another Benghazi-type incident, we’d never hear the end of it in Congress, and it could been seen as requiring yet more American missile or drone strikes. If the US hits regime air bases, it could affect the outcome of the war, since the Baath troops cannot reliably get up to Aleppo by overland convoy. The youth that have overthrown two presidents in Egypt are protesting US interference in Eygpt. Public opinion now matters in a way it did not used to, and getting making a whole generation anti-American is a definite risk.

If the local military units have access to small warheads filled with sarin, then likely they will deploy it when they feel desperate or panicked. They won’t fear a US cruise missile strike on Damascus afterwards.

The third idea, that the US is ‘exceptional’ and bears a special responsibility to intervene in Syria after the chemical weapons use seems to me not only incorrect but extremely dangerous. The US is a country like any other, and certainly no more virtuous than most others. It blithely polished off 200,000 Japanese women, children and noncombatant men at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Some were made into shadows on the wall as their bodies carbonized. Thousands suffered from lingering cancer afterwards. No US official was ever so much as reprimanded for this war crime, which was carried out at a time when Japanese had been dehumanized and demonized with the worst sort of racism. The atomic bombs did not hasten the end of the war; the Russian advance into Manchuria did that. One could go on with US infractions against international law and shameless killing of innocents, from the Philippines to Nicaragua to Vietnam.

The US helped craft the UN Charter in hopes of deterring ‘exceptional’ naked aggression, making it illegal to attack another country except in self-defense or with UN Security Council authorization. I am not unsympathetic to the idea that the UNSC is broken, and that partisan uses of the veto by the five permanent members warp and deform it, rendering it useless in cases such as Syria. Some have argued that a set of multilateral organizations could legitimately do an end run around the UNSC in such cases of paralysis, where the fate of thousands or hundreds of thousands weighed in the balance.

But in the instance of Syria, the US has no multilateral support for military action, not the Arab League, not the European Union, not NATO. Nada.

Given that a military attack on Syria is an act of war that could have unforeseen negative consequences for the US, given that a few cruise missiles are not in fact likely to be a powerful deterrent, and given that the US is on the wrong side of international law and has almost no effective allies in such an action, it seems to me unwise and even illegal. Obama’s invocation of American exceptionalism (which historians consider a flaw, not a virtue, in American history) is intended to paper over this illegality.

The fact is that the US could inflict far more pain on the Syrian government with nonviolent means such as tightening the financial boycott on its banks, than it could with a few missile strikes. President Obama should show some backbone and buck the war party inside the Beltway, and insist on non-violent but effective punishment of Damascus for its atrocity, instead of the somewhat juvenile insistence that “action” equals violent action.

84 Responses

  1. The US did not display the same enthusiasm for punishing the culprit when it even vetoed the UN resolution in 2009 that tried to stop Israel’s bombing of the hapless citizens of Gaza. For the US, it was just fine for Israel to continue bomb the children of Gaza with white phosphorus. Is white phosphorous is not a chemical agent? It is hard to see the US as anything more than bullies with a bomb.

    • It also did not display much concern when on November 23, 2012 Victoria Nuland, of the US State Department said in an apparent allusion to Israel that Washington would not support a conference (on a Mideast nuke-free zone) in which any regional state would be subject to pressure or isolation.

    • No, white phosphorus is not a chemical weapon under the CWC. It is not defined as such, nor included in the Schedules of chemical weapons.

        • thnx 4 the linx, Jo from Lo.

          the first link defines a “Toxic chemical” as:
          “Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals.”
          I think that includes Willie Pete.

          the second link states clearly at the top:
          “… these Schedules do not constitute a definition of chemical weapons.”

          From these 2 linx, I can’t see how you conclude that:
          “… white phosphorus is not a chemical weapon under the CWC.”

          Not readily apparent.
          Did you think folks wouldn’t check the linx ?

      • White phosphorous, depleted uranium and Agent Orange may not be chemical weapons according to the CWC, but for people exposed to them the consequences can be equally horrendous. For survivors, the destructive elements can continue for generations in the form of severe fetal deformities and who knows what else.

        • Every weapon in the arsenal can do horrendous things to the people affected. That’s not the question. The question is has an internationally agreed prohibition been violated?

      • You want to split hairs like a lawyer?

        “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons …

        Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons prohibits, in all circumstances, making the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat or a combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. The protocol also prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against military targets near concentration of civilians, which may otherwise be allowed by the principle of proportionality. …”

        link to

        “produced by a chemical reaction ”

        Which incidentally does not explain why the USA is against imposing the chemical weapons convention on the whole of the Middle East.

        Can you guess why?

        Hint: Israel has stocks (which is illegal) chemical weapons. Or I should have said “would be illegal if Israel had signed the 1995 convention.

        But then again, neither has Syria.

        Wouldn’t it be real progress if all of the Middle East were free of chemical weapons (not to mention nuclear weapons)?

        • Brian,

          WP causes harm by setting fires, not by its chemical properties.

          I thought you would check the link; I also thought you would understand it.

        • “Which incidentally does not explain why the USA is against imposing the chemical weapons convention on the whole of the Middle East.

          Can you guess why?”

          Because nobody else is gassing people?

          You do understand the difference between a guy having a rifle in his closet, and a guy bringing his rifle into a theater and shooting people, right?

          I would be wonderful if the whole Middle East was chemical weapon free. Right now, however, we’ve got a more significant problem than chemical weapons sitting a warehouse somewhere: we have one – one, and only one, no matter how much you hate Israel – government using them to massacre people, including children, by the hundreds.

          Gee, what could possibly make anyone consider that more important?

    • White phosphorus can be legally employed in battle, however it is a war crime to carelessly expose civilian populations to this chemical agent.

      The U.N. Goldstone Commission report as well as numerous human rights organizations found proof of war crimes due to the IDF deployment of white phosphorus in Gaza.

      • It’s war crime to carelessly expose civilian populations to any weapon.

        But that’s exactly what makes the definition of chemical weapons more than just a semantic point: poison gas clouds cannot in any way be used in a manner that doesn’t carelessly expose civilian populations to them. There is just no way of knowing when the wind is going to change. Everything in the area that the sarin ends up gets “hit.”

        This is why nuclear, chemical, and biological agents gets grouped together: because they work with an area effect, and cannot be controlled and directed in a manner consistent with the laws of war.

        • Although the term “WMD” applies to all 3, Nuke, Bio and Chem, the destruction of a nuke is many orders of magnitude greater than the other two – so far.

          My impression, chem weapons require a lot of things to go right for them to be effective, including weather, vegetation and landforms. Ditto for bio weapons.

          On an individual level, chem and bio weapons can be just as terrifying. On a tactical level, not so much, unless attacking unprepared civilians.

      • “…war crimes due to the IDF deployment of white phosphorus in Gaza.”

        Those were not war crimes because it was our ally who deployed the white phosphorous. It is only a war crime when it is used by people who have the impertinence to refuse to do our bidding.

    • Willie Pete is often not considered a chem weapon.
      It acts by spreading small chunks of material, about half the size of a pea, that burn on contact with the air.
      Either raining down from an air burst, or shooting out from a ground burst, these particles ignite anything flammable that they come into contact with.
      If one of these pellets grazes unclothed human skin, it causes a surface burn.
      If forced into the flesh by the force of a blast, it burns until extinguished, such as if the flesh closes back over it, cutting off the oxygen supply. But it remains pretty hot, even if not burning, so folks tend to try to dig it out, reigniting it.

      If that sounds awful, the reality is much, much worse.


      Never fact-checked this,
      but when I went through Army Basic Combat Training back during the Viet Nam war, our instructors told us that it was a violation of the Geneva Conventions to call in WP artillery rounds on people, so if we wanted the Field Artillery unit providing our direct or general support to use WP, we would have to identify the target as bgeing some materiel that could be destroyed by an incendiary.
      With a nod and a wink, they said to call WP in on the uniforms and LBE that the targeted individuals were wearing, rather than the human beings wearing the clothing.


      In one sense, all weapons are chemicals, eh ?
      The propellant, the explosives, even the steel that fragments into projectiles.
      But in the current discussions, it appears to me that folks think chem weapons are limited to toxic gases.
      In that framework, no, WP is not a gas that is inhaled (though tiny particles do get inhaled, with predictable results – lungs are full of air.)
      So I understand the argument that WP is not a chem weapon, though I disagree.

      I don’t abbreviate “chemical weapons” as CW, because I seem to recall that acronym having another meaning. Can’t quite put my finger on it. But riot control agennt (purportedly non-lethal toxic gases) go by names like CN, CS, CR and CA.

  2. As always, well conceived & well spoken. I just hope people will not fall prey to Obama’s emotional call to American Exceptionalism. Howard Zinn said that every war has been preceded by lies. This seems to be no exception.

  3. I’m surprised Juan that you are taking this tack on Syria after your much appreciated support for US action against Ghaddaffi’s forces by enforcing a no-fly zone. Here in Syria as time progresses things are getting worse for the rebel forces and their message gradually diluted into “Islamist” and “factional” opposition forces.

    The same fate would have befallen the Libyan rebels eventually and there would have been hundreds of thousands of deaths along the way.
    Then the threat to Bengazi made the focus imminent. Here we only have chemical weapons as a trigger otherwise its just the barely newsworthy atrocities of a few hundred casualties here and there and the ignored plight of millions of refugees.

    The reality is that things will keep going in this direction and Assad will cement his grip on the country.

    The use of force to destroy Assad’s capability to control the skies would force Assad to retrench in the Allawite coastal heartland and force him to negotiate a peace likely leading to a decentralized federalized or partitioned Syria that may or may not unify in the future.

    To simply call for non-violent responses here is naive. Bank accounts aren’t needed to slowly decimate the resistance just access to Iranian and Russian arms and overwhelming control of the air.

    What happened to you Juan?

    • The Libyan no fly zone was authorized by the UNSC.

      There is no international legal framework for a unilateral US attack on Damascus.

      It is unlikely that Obama’s symbolic missile strike would be more consequential than closing off the Syrian regime’s loopholes in finances; rather, less.

      My positions are principled.

      • Firstly, I was not implying that you were without principle. I apologize if that was how it came out in my response to your post, that is certainly not what you stand for.

        We both know that getting a mandate from the UNSC is never going to happen with Assad using the strategy of gradualist attacks upon the resistance forces (although just Tuesday he resumed air attacks after a 2 week break as fear of US reprisals has been removed) and Russia will not allow this.

        As you state ” I am not unsympathetic to the idea that the UNSC is broken, and that partisan uses of the veto by the five permanent members warp and deform it, rendering it useless in cases such as Syria.”

        And I agree the symbolic strike insinuated by Kerry, even if taken unilaterally, would achieve little.

        However, I doubt that a US unilateral enforcement of a no-fly zone would be symbolic. It would be absolutely game-changing.

        Would it be “clean”? No. But better than the grinding bloodshed and tyranny implicit in this present course of events.

        The present approach is hopelessly bad. Assad will increase his hold on Syria and make any chance of a brokered peace impossible.

        Much as I do not want to be on the same side as AIPAC on this conflict, I see no benefit to just leaving it be.

        The closest parallel hear is not Iraq, not Libya and not Afghanistan, it is Bosnia, and the more we leave it to fester and appease the likes of Assad/Milosevitch, the more that will die needlessly and on a grand scale.

        We complain that the US breaks international law when they mess up (Iraq) and then use that to justify passivity when that course results in oblivion for millions? Really?


        • Aziz — so you really want to invite “the US,” that congeries of “interests,” to come on down to Arab-town and apply some beat-cop nightstick-and-Tazer-and-Glock Force Structure any time that other parts of “the US” and its “policies,” along with the pathogenic post-neo-colonial behaviors of our corporatokleptocracy and the interlocking directorates of other post-national “interests,” have produced anomic violence? Among and between people armed with weapons “we” sold or gave into the mix? And who the heck is “appeasing” Assad? And do you really think that even “coalition boots on the ground in the millions,” let alone a “No-Fly Zone” unilaterally fired up by “the US,” would bring Peace In Our Time?

          You say this is a “Bosnian” moment? not even close. It’s Iraq and Notagainistan and little echoes of that Vietnam thing and the Shah and et et et et cetera… and even “Sarajevo,” with all its meanings… And Something Else altogether, where thanks to all the groundwork laid over all those generations of wealth-building imperialism and the inevitabilities of “civilization,” all “options” are bad, and all “outcomes” are imponderable, and the little “benefits” of a World Cop beat-down go to the carrion eaters and tumor cells and maggots.

  4. “It [the US] blithely polished off 200,000 Japanese women, children and noncombatant men at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Some were made into shadows on the wall as their bodies carbonized. Thousands suffered from lingering cancer afterwards. No US official was ever so much as reprimanded for this war crime, which was carried out at a time when Japanese had been dehumanized and demonized with the worst sort of racism. The atomic bombs did not hasten the end of the war; the Russian advance into Manchuria did that.”

    As I have stated previously, I agree that the US should refrain from a strike on Syria. Nevertheless, I must take issue with your comment on the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the ending of the war. The Japanese War Cabinet was clearly in charge and had no intent of surrendering at the time the bombs were dropped. In fact, the Japanese clung to the notion of “Ketsu-Go,” the notion that the Americans would invade Japan, but by continuing the fight against the invaders, the Japanese would inflict such punishment upon them that they (the Americans) would sue for terms that would leave Japan relatively intact.

    Hiroshima was considered a good target for the bomb because it contained military facilities. The city contained a military headquarters, and the large port at Hiroshima was the embarkation point for Japanese troops bound for China. That 200,000 people were killed by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is to be regretted, but had there been an invasion of Kyushu and Honshu, far more Japanese would have been killed. And, of course, many more American troops would have been killed as well.

    The Soviet Union invaded Manchuria on August 8, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima and one day before the bombing of Nagasaki. The Soviet move, however, had little effect on the Japanese decision to surrender. All available evidence, including more recent scholarship, suggests that it was the second bomb on Nagasaki that convinced the Emperor to surrender, in spite of the War Cabinet’s desire to continue. By rendering an invasion unnecessary and ending the war, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan resulted in far fewer lives lost, both Japanese and American, than would have been the case if an invasion had been necessary.

    • Of course, there is a set of Serious Historians who state that “all available evidence, including more recent scholarship,” leads to the opposite conclusion: That the A-bombing was a mix of xenophobic retaliation, message-sending to Stalin and the rest of the world, chest-thumping by the New Olympians, some great career and industrial opportunities for folks like Grove, and even that if the US government had just committed to do what in the end was done, leaving the Emperor in place, the surrender would have happened without opening that fateful “Enola Gay” Pandora’s bomb-bay door.

      I won’t leave it as Bill does, with my comforting bare assertion of “the truth:” Here’s just one among many bits of scholarship that belies the jingoist view, the comfortable “received wisdom,” that cushions and supports and underlies so much of “our policy:”

      link to

      But I will concede that the SHOUTING from the Bomb-Bomb-Bomb side is LOUDER and MORE PERSISTENT and certainly serves to validate the very valid sentiments for revenge on the part of people who suffered the actual pains of war at the hands of Japanese troops and their political machinery. The same sentiments that seem to motivate a lot of people who resent and have suffered from OUR system.

      • “… a set of Serious Historians …”

        You’re kidding? Aren’t you? Probably not. I guess you would have been happier with a couple of more years of war. With the Japanese murdering thousands every day. And then millions of Japanese casualties while the US used conventional tactics to defeat the war lords.

        Or do you think the US should have blockaded Japan and starved them all to death?

        So easy from 70 or year years later to say what should have happened. You would be arguing now that those millions of deaths could have been avoided if only Truman had dropped one of those A-Bombs and shortened the war by a couple of year.

      • I suggest that rather than rely on some blog entitled and a comment written by someone hiding under the pseudonym “George Washington,” you read some books and articles on the end of the War by historians and scholars who know something about it. for starters, I recommend the British military historians Max Hastings and John Keegan. Christopher Bayley and Tim Harper are also good. And Wilson Mscamble has written in depth on the decision to use the bomb.

        Admittedly, the above historians and scholars do not blog under pseudonyms, but they are well-recognized for their knowledge and expertise on the issue.

    • Bill,
      Your assertions are not supported by facts. Japan’s peace messages that were communicated to Russia and through them to the West make it clear that the Japanese had decided to surrender long before the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here are a few examples of Japanese peace messages:
      July 11: “make clear to Russia… We have no intention of annexing or taking possession of the areas which we have been occupying as a result of the war; we hope to terminate the war”.
      * July 13: “I sent Ando, Director of the Bureau of Political Affairs, to communicate to the [Soviet] Ambassador that His Majesty desired to dispatch Prince Konoye as special envoy, carrying with him the personal letter of His Majesty stating the Imperial wish to end the war” (for above items, see: U.S. Dept. of State, Potsdam 1, pg. 873-879).
      July 22: “Special Envoy Konoye’s mission will be in obedience to the Imperial Will. He will request assistance in bringing about an end to the war through the good offices of the Soviet Government.”
      The July 21st communication from Togo also noted that a conference between the Emperor’s emissary, Prince Konoye, and the Soviet Union, was sought, in preparation for contacting the U.S. and Great Britain (Magic-Diplomatic Summary, 7/22/45, Records of the National Security Agency, Magic Files, RG 457, Box 18, National Archives).
      President Truman knew of the messages’ content, noting, for instance, in his diary on July 18, “Stalin had told P.M. [Prime Minister Churchill] of telegram from Jap [sic] Emperor asking for peace” (Robert Ferrell, ed., Off the Record – the Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, pg. 53).
      According to the report of a panel that had been requested by President Truman to study the Pacific war, “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” (Bernstein, ed., The Atomic Bomb, pg. 52-56)
      According to William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.”
      When General Dwight Eisenhower was informed by Secretary of War Stimson of the decision to drop the nuclear bombs he opposed the decision. “During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”
      The bombs were dropped firstly to test them and secondly to show the Soviet Union that America possessed them. This was the first shot in the Cold War. The poor Japanese were merely sacrificial lambs in the bigger geopolitical game.

      • There was, of course, differing opinions within the US Government regarding use of the bomb, Farhang. Some thought we should go with a demonstration blast first so the Japanese would see what was in store for them if they did not surrender. But the question came up, “What if the blast turned out to be a dud?” It is not unusual for different opinions to be advanced in such a situation, but in the end the decision was made.

        Regarding your assertion that Japan was ready to surrender, that has been shown to be untrue. The mission of Prince Konoye to Moscow requesting the Russians to intercede is always trotted out as evidence. The problem with that is Prince Konoye (and thus the Japanese Government) offered nothing other than something resembling an armistice, i.e., Japan would not surrender, but hostilities would end with the various forces in place, thus leaving Japan unoccupied and in possession of its remaining conquests. That of course was totally unacceptable.

    • “The Decision To Use The Atomic Bomb” by Gar Alperovitz is the definitive book on the Hiroshima bomb issue. The following are highlights of taht treatise.

      Both Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur recognized that the A-Bomb would cause tremendous casualties of civilians and felt it violated ethics that they were taught as officers during war.

      Most of the senior scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project expressed great regrets about the deployment of a nuclear device against civialian populations.

      There is a reasonable case for the proposition that war crimes had been committed by the detonation of nuclear devices over both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      There is also a reasnoble argument that General Curtis LeMay’s ordering of incendiary raids that destroyed over half of Tokyo and devastated other Japanese population centers also constituted a war crime.

      • “The Decision To Use The Atomic Bomb” by Gar Alperovitz is the definitive book on the Hiroshima bomb issue.”

        Actually, it is not the definitive book on the Hiroshima bomb issue. Alperovitz presents a highly selective, at times fanciful, take on the decision to use the bomb. For a much more balanced and accurate take on the decision-making process under President Truman, I recommend Wilson D. Miscamble’s “The Most Controversial Decision.” Miscamble recognizes that the decision was controversial, and he lays out both sides being argued at the time. He does not ignore elements of the argument that undermine one side, as does Alperovitz.

    • “The Soviet move, however, had little effect on the Japanese decision to surrender. ”

      Two words: Tsuyoshi Hasegawa.

      One sentence (July 30, 1945, written by Naotake Sato, Japan’s then ambassador to Moscow on Stalin’s talks with the US and UK): “There is no alternative but immediate unconditional surrender if we are to prevent Russia’s participation in the war.”

      One untried war criminal: Robert McNamara himself admitted that his involvement in what the US did to Japan in terms of planning and execution of the bombing of civilian targets in Japanese cities was a war crime, and that he had simply had the good fortune to be on the winning side.

      • Ambassador’s are always sending messages and recommendations to their Foreign Ministries, Not Bill. And quite frankly, there were others within the Japanese government who wanted to end the war. But the hard fact is the War Cabinet and all of the military chiefs were adamant about continuing the war and fighting a decisive battle on the homeland if necessary. At the final meeting on the night of August 9 (the day the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki), the Emperor made the decision to surrender.

      • Stalin’s great move of troops and war materiel toward the Japanese front corroborates Hasegawa from the Truman perspective, which was also good reason for the nukes to be dropped right then. The US had had enough of fighting and a US re-deployment in force (by sea) to a brand new Eastern front with the US pitted against the very tough Russian army in contention over Japan was seen to be not be a good thing. The end of the Japan war was hastened by the bomb but ultimately enabled by the decision not to prosecute the Emperor. Had that US decision to except the emperor not been made, Japan as a nation would have fought on. And on the military side, the near military coup that last day is another indicator that Japan the nation was more dear than Japanese suffering.

        • The Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s book “Racing the Enemy” makes several allegations that are not supported by the evidence. He claims Truman felt “betrayed” by Stalin entering the war against Japan on August 8; this, after Truman obtained a commitment from Stalin to enter the war in mid-August at the Potsdam meeting. The Americans expected Stalin to occupy parts of Manchuria and Korea, as it would have been in Russia’s area of operations.

          The Trinity test occurred on July 16, and the bomb was dropped as quickly thereafter as possible, on August 6. The timing was not to forestall the Soviets, it was dropped at the earliest possible time after the test. And there was no thought that the Americans would fight the Russians over Japan. the thought was to prevent the necessity of an invasion of the Japanese home islands that would have entailed additional thousands, perhaps up to a million, casualties on both the American and Japanese sides.

    • Prior to the commencement of the Nuremberg Trials teams of lawyers from the United States and Britain compiled lists of alleged war crimes for which the Nazis could be charged. The lists were sent to Washington and London where several items were deleted because the Nazis could have used a tu coq (you-did-it-yourself) defense against the charges. Among these were bombing of civilian targets.

      Thanks to the other bloggers who spared me the effort to refute the interminable nonsense above justifying the A-bombs on Japan.

      • It was a war crime.

        Rationalize it however you will. Dropping atomic bombs over cities was a colossal atrocity and seeing the way so many Americans shrug it off as regrettable but necessary tells world a great deal about ‘American Exceptionalism’.

        Particularly when paired up with the apparent disinterest in the observable effects of American ordnance in places like Fallujah.

      • “the interminable nonsense above justifying the A-bombs on Japan.”

        Calling something “interminable nonsense” is not an argument.

    • I had never before heard, as Juan Cole states,that it was the Soviet advance into Manchuria that compelled Japan to surrender. Now reading these replies a whole new light has been turned on to me on that period of history.

      • That’s because the Soviet advance into Manchuria was not the primary factor that compelled Japan’s surrender. The primary factor was the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that forced the Emperor to surrender, in spite of the advice of his War Cabinet and military chiefs to continue.

  5. It is my impression that we have already sanctioned Syrias banks long ago, but their real money is in Russian banks. Kind of blows your last paragraph out of the water

  6. But what does it all MEAN?

    “Obama says threat of military strike stays on table”

    Acknowledging the weariness the nation feels after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said: “America is not the world’s policeman.”

    And yet, he added, “When with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

    “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria,” he declared.

    link to (Let’s see, it was “remember the women and girls,” most recently…)

    Wow, stirring words until you look a little ways behind them… Then you have to resist the temptation to just go “BWAAAA-HAAA-HAAAAA-HAAAAAAA!”

    US not the world’s policeman? Maybe in the same way that a bunch of uniformed officers in Chicago were not the City’s policemen: “The Babbling Burglar and the Summerdale Scandal:

    The Lessons of Police Malfeasance
    More than forty years after Chicago’s worst police scandal, the department is again under siege. A look back at Summerdale and its aftermath.”

    link to

    Remember all the parts: corrupt war contractors, an opportunist officer corps, a pathetically credulous yet cynical public, a fiat rulership whose actual motions belie its rhetoric and image-building and peddling, enormous momentum of “special constituencies,” and essentially unlimited access to fiscal resources, all that stuff. That was Chicago, then. Follow the papers and blogs, and take a look at NYPD now. Are those PO-lices what we have in mind when we both embrace the assumption of the role and tell ourselves “that’s not US?”

  7. I really can’t imagine why bombing of Libya was less exceptionalist than attack on Syria. In fact, it was more exceptionalist because the US superiority over Gaddafi’s Libya was much stronger.

  8. I think a stronger case (but still weak) can be made for military action against the Al-Qaeda groups fighting the Syrian government. The only other thing worse than a secular authoritarian leader is Al-Qaeda taking over Syria and getting its hands on lethal weapons. At least a secular government has some self-interest to do the right thing and a sense of self-preservation; however, the Al-Qaeda extremists amongst the rebels are beheading Christians and killing kids are actively seeking “martyrdom”.

  9. Doesn’t the fact that Assad is agreeing to relinquish his weapons de facto proof that the rebels do not have them? Why would he put himself at a disadvantage?

      • There was never a serious question about who launched the attack.

        It’s the equivalent of the “controversy” over Obama’s birth certificate. Anyone can say they believe in a reasonable idea, but to publicly commit yourself to some really implausible, outlandish, and ridiculous really demonstrates your commitment to the team.

        • >There was never a serious question about who launched the attack.

          No one knows who launched the multiple gas attacks. No one knows. There is reasonable information suggesting three attack sources having motivation and ability: Assad authorized, Assad military unauthorized, and anti-Assad forces, to bring in the US white hats. By now the probability is that more than one side did, for more than one reason. Things are a bit stressful in Syria right now and if one’s You Tube connection had been lopped off a month ago by artillery or some more normal but unresolved catastrophe, and one’s respected neighbor or cousin is just freshly killed by whoever, and one has a rifle standing in the corner and good reasons as far as one is concerned, any parallel of rational thought to a distant American far away sitting quietly at the keyboard just might not be a widespread phenomenon. Obama hasn’t mentioned that he would bomb the anti-Assad forces if it were proven they launched attacks, which debilitates his one sided argument. If I missed that specific key Obama phrase please offer a citation. You again hang your argument on your own assertion.

        • You’re right that no one has asked seriously whether Assad ordered the gassing or not. I don’t think Obama and the other hawks want the question asked. But I have some questions I’d like you to answer, if you’re up for it:

          1) It’s been stated that Assad has agreed to give up his CWs because the most powerful military in the world is breathing down his neck. But to believe that he ordered the attacks one would need to believe that he purposely painted himself into that corner. Why would he do that?

          2) Why hasn’t the findings of the German investigation been looked into more vigorously? They determined that the Saudis likely supplied the rebels with sarin and a subsequent accidental release was the purported “attack.”

          3) Why hasn’t the UN investigator that determined that the previous gas attacks were (with near certainty) the work of the rebels been looked into more thoroughly?

          4) Why did Kerry claim that Assad delayed authorizing inspections of the affected areas when it simply wasn’t true?

          Just wondering…

    • Why would he put himself at a disadvantage? Hmm, I don’t know, the US is threatening war and if he takes a look at Iraq, Libya and others countries he might want to do whatever it takes to avoid a situation where the most powerful military in human history doesn’t pound him into the stone age.

      Also, the rebels are not making that much head way. The rebels are losing badly in Syria and retreating for the most part, which means they had the most to gain by a chem attack.

      • That description of the military situation is out of date, Ericrunner.

        As of mid-August, FSA forces trained in Jordan and equipped by the west had reentered the country and were putting pressure on the regime south of Damascus – which just happens to be the location of the chemical attacks.

    • RD Sultan, promising to do something isn’t the same as doing it. I suppose he might hand over some CW and claim it was all, but how can anyone be sure? It’s not as if you can send inspection teams all over the country with a civil war raging. Then the next time CW:s are used Assad can blame the rebels since the government side now doesn’t have any…

    • I guess I’m not smart enough to follow that argument.
      It doesn’t make sense to me.

  10. Bravo! Well said, Dr. Cole. No nation that built its foundations on genocide the way the US has (just ask the next American Indian you chance to meet, IF you ever do) has a right to wag fingers at other nations and preach about higher morality. The illegal and still-unpunished invasion and dismantling of Iraq is an even more recent example of this country’s shameless in advancing its own imperial agenda at the expense of whatever hapless civilians get in its way.

  11. Thanks for the post. I find your writing very informative and I appreciate your viewpoint, but today I have to take issue with your use of “blithely polished off”. I am not beyond hyperbole and perhaps there is a case to be made, but I have a hard time imagining anyone giving that order blithely. Naive?

  12. I think American exceptualism is personified in our unwritten, uncodified “doctrine of limited sovereignty”:

    – The sovereignty of the US is absolute in every aspect of its existence.

    – The sovereignty of any other nation is mitigated to the extent that a nation acts in any way that could contradict or compromise any US interests. (Mr. Snowden provided us ample evidence of this.)

    Our enforcement tool is to ever retain and continually enhance our status as the “world’s most heavily armed nation”. Politically reinforced xenophobia helps too.

    • I would say it’s more a case of nailing his own foot to the floor after he stepped on his tongue and then painted himself into the corner behind that Bright Red Line. “He” being a faux-benign personification for The Whole Imperial System, in all its Bismarckian, Richelieuvian, Disraelian, Idiotic, Destructive, Dead-End Grabbery Complexity. Which I guess fortunately has not quite yet achieved that Matrix-level penetration into everything so as to be fully ready to shut all this unSerious Annoying Discussion down so they won’t have to listen to and tolerate it any more.

  13. The President presented Assad and his Russian enablers with a credible threat to use force.

    He came away with a case study in the use of coercive diplomacy that political scientists will study for decades.

    I am truly disappointed in your obtuseness Juan. You don’t have to cling to your position ever more tightly in the face of fact

    • Your first two lines could be said in support of Zimmerman. Is Juan obtuse because his judgement about what is known and suspected differs from your certainty that you have complete and clear understanding of all the facts? Putin appears to be pretty good at simultaneously playing chess, monopoly, PR-is-Me, and the Russian version of Oil Barrel Polka while walking his mastiffs. Obama’s game, hampered by his enablers, appears to be catch-up.

  14. Juan Cole now supports the US putting sanctions on Middle Eastern countries for their weapons stockpiles?

    Someone tell the Iranians.

    It’s amazing how many long-cherished principles have been thrown out the window by the doves in this debate.

    • Can you specify what Iranian ‘weapons stockpile’ you are referring to?

      Also, when were these weapons deployed?

      • OK, professor, but, what about the children? What about the humanitarian cost? What about the medicines?

        Just to clarify the matter: are you coming out and endorsing such measures, and the humanitarian costs they entail, in response to actual chemical weapons use?

    • The Carter Doctrine, as stated by Zbigniew Brzezinski: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

      I’m not entirely sure how this applies to Syria.

      • Yeah, and then Red Force unaccountably comes up with tactics that send that “absolutely clear” Blue Force to the bottom of said Persian Gulf, and trash the other elements of that whole Indomitable Force Structure (can you spell “IED made from US-made and -donated artillery shells and bombs?”). (Of course, that not-do-overable event becomes a huge profit opportunity for the Industrial part of the MIIC, which will then have the basis for whole new sales pitches for Better Weapons Systems And C5 Functions and the re-building of the 600-ship, 5,000 aircraft Navy ‘n stuff.)

        “The only way to win is not to play the Game…”

        No, I’m not rooting against the Home Team, in the way the Rulers have so fraudulently been selling it. Since at least Korea, there has not been a “home team.” And no, don’t “thank us for our service.”

  15. I’m glad to see Professor Cole “evolve” on the question of who conducted the attacks.

    A “rogue commander” could just as easily be the recipient of foreign bribes and a promise of continuous financial support in defection if he only helped pin WMDs on Assad and lie America into another war.

    So what if innocent “pawns” die?

    The questioned asked at the outset of this farce still stands:

    If Saudi intelligence is behind the murder of children with gas, do we bomb them?

  16. “President Obama should show some backbone and buck the war party inside the Beltway, and insist on non-violent but effective punishment of Damascus for its atrocity, instead of the somewhat juvenile insistence that “action” equals violent action.”

    Nice thought, but it seems more likely that Obama, as in other areas of governance, is merely an agent for the ruling global plutocracy. Trapping the small fish (Syria) is not going to end the pursuit of Moby Dick – Iran.

    • “I have argued before that the (farcical) emperor is just a paperboy – a docile employee. Those who are paying for the upcoming lethal production, as in the House of Saud, or cheering in the sidelines, as in the Israel lobby, simply won’t give up.” Pepe Escobar – link to

  17. “The first is that a US strike would be relatively risk-free, since the Syrian regime has limited abilities to mount reprisals, and probably wouldn’t dare.”

    I am still amazed nobody seems to notice that the plan is to fire missiles over the heads of the Russian Navy. Back in the cold war the Russian presence in Syria would have been called ‘trip wire’ forces implying they were there to cause a war if the country was attacked. US forces in South Korea are trip wire forces for example. So this is not a new or Russian concept.

    Another issue not being noticed is Patriarch of the Russian Church Kirill’s support of Syrian christians. Do you suppose Russia is serious about not allowing the Syrian Church to be destroyed? Why is it that only Christian Evangelicals and Jews are considered crazy enough to blow the world up over a religious territorial dispute. Being the defender of the Syrian Church will also help Russia’s position in places like Georgia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and beyond.

  18. Doubtful? Scholars and international law leave little doubt about the legality of an attack by the U.S.
    A very timely interview with Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now;
    link to

    It leaves little doubt regarding our hypocritical position in the world…

  19. We got Realists and Apologists stamping their feet, and calling anyone who points to different facts than the factoids the R&As persist so valiantly in shoving so insistently out there, “conspiracy theorists” and “dreamers” and such. And abusing anyone who points to Actual Random Badness by “the US,” or those parts of us that are apparently Exceptionally Evil as well as Seemingly Incompetent, and insisting on relativism when it suits the moment of their “case,” but otherwise not.

    As to chemical and biological weapons culpability, might one suggest this little article from another place some Joe from Lowell frequents? link to

    (For a sample of Joe’s other work, look here: link to Where does he get the time to be so, ah, prolific, I wonder?

    So the Realists in the US lined up a bunch of Nazis and adopted them after WW II for their “skills” and “connections,” see well-established facts elsewhere, and covered up as best the Brass could the Japanese-perpetrated chemical and biological and surgical and “scientific” horrors of WW II (some of which “our side” worked pretty hard at, too) and also borrowed some skills from some real Dr. No Strangeloves. Relatively BAAAAD? Absolutely BAAAAD? Evidence of the real nature of “Realism” in the context of the effing Great Game that we have the misfortune to be born into? and due to its nature, sweep and momentum, will almost certainly die of, or out of?

    “We” could do a whole lot better. “We” won’t, far as one can see…

    • “For a sample of Joe’s other work, look here: link to Where does he get the time to be so, ah, prolific, I wonder?”

      Shame, Mr. McPhee, shame!. Apparently it’s not enough that you hurl epithets such as “apologist” at those with whom you disagree, now you dig through the internet to bring up members’ postings on other blogs. This is the last refuge of one who has no intellectual arrows left in his quiver. Pathetic!

  20. With no argument about ‘condign punishment’ there are some issues regarding the pursuit of those responsible for the attack which might be addressed. It seems the ICC referral condition in the proposed resolution is merely a negotiating ploy, for reasons you point out, but it may also be a helpful declaration of intent by the proposing powers.

    Taking the recent administration claims not to be seeking regime change at face value it seems that if Assad, his brother or the regime did not directly order the chemical attack then we should be satisfied if they offer or are made to provide those actually responsible along with corroborating evidence. A strong case could be made that this is a management change they need to make in any instance.

    If they can’t do even this then it seems Russia needs to be formally pressured to intercede with its ally and bring their stockpile under sovereign control as a matter of urgency. One senses an authority dynamic something like this already emerging from close parsing of recent statements by Lavrov and al-Mouallem.

    Even though the ICC referral may be moot as a condition of this resolution the legal prosecution of the incident would seem to be worthwhile though not urgent, whomever is responsible, as a matter of justice and a deterrent. The proposing powers seem to have set, at least, a useful marker here. It would also probably be a good idea to continue examining motive and opportunity and collecting evidence as circumstances permit in consideration of a future case.

    • Shaun, you touch on one of the key missing elements in all of our current human dysplasia: NO CONSEQUENCES FOR BAD ACTS. Lots of people with lots of explosive and destabilizing and anti-social and personally profitable advice and exhortation, and for those in the right spots, ACTION, suborning governments, “building world militaries,” coup-ing elected leaders, blasting stuff, kicking in doors, and tossing bricks of $100 bills and Viagra and weapons around like Warlord Candy, and well-documented et cetera.

      But whether it’s Sidi or Sisi or Assad or Cheney or Blankfein/Dimon or any of the hundreds of Others who CAUSE all this crap and have no incentives to make it any better for the Ordinary Mortal, rather just the opposite, THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES, other than maybe occasional temporary exile from the cocktail party and “eyes only” circuits.

      In the meantime, us mopes who fund and staff the mercenary armies of the night and build and struggle to maintain that huge and dying Imperial carcass find ourselves with less and less of the stuff that supposedly makes life worth living, while more and more of “it” flows up and in to people who sneer at us and don’t even say ‘thanks’ because “that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
      Five-year-olds know that without consequences, there is no reason to change any behaviors. Whether it’s rocks through windows, bullying the girl with pigtails, or sassing teacher or parent with dirty words and blows… Which is why “the US” ain’t subject to the ICC, and stuff…

  21. Arguing against the assumed first premise of the administration you have posited, “that a US strike would be relatively risk-free, since the Syrian regime has limited abilities to mount reprisals, and probably wouldn’t dare,” you mention a number of things; uncertainty, asymmetrical terrorist counter-attacks, tilting the outcome of the conflict and consequent public opinion in the Middle East.

    One is tempted to add the very real possibility of escalating military confrontation with Russia, as has been noted elsewhere by your readers.

    Excluding generic uncertainty as an ever-present hazard and overhead of military action, while noting the risk, let’s look at the rest more closely. The threat of retaliatory action by asymmetrical actors is very real but can the US in good conscience let this be a determining factor in its geopolitical activities? Obama argued, plausibly, that we face these threats in any case. But even where they are increased by a controversial action doesn’t allowing one’s options to be governed or constrained validate exactly the strategy of the perpetrators? One might argue that we should seek the optimal strategy for the correct reasons and pursue it irrespective of the violent attempts of our adversaries to deter or distract us.

    The same applies in lesser degree to public opinion, such as it is, in the Middle East toward American policy and actions though acknowledging that gaining trust and tolerance is something that our optimal policy should embrace where possible. We could argue further how badly that effort has failed and where a military response in Syria would fall on the popularity scale but it might be suggested that our status could barely worsen. It seems hard to argue that local public opinion is the principal issue at stake in a military strike threatened primarily as leverage behind a determined diplomatic effort to contain a chemical weapons stockpile. And of course there is the public opinion of other nations to consider.

    One doubts that tilting the war in favour of one or another of the factions is really at issue here, whether it is intended or not, though one supposes that disabling the regime to some degree is necessary to legitimise the punitive nature of the attack.

    Assuming the complete breakdown of diplomacy the issue also arises of a possible military escalation by the Russians and to a lesser degree the rump Syrian regime. We need to think hard about this and it surprises me that it is not been mentioned more often; it doesn’t seem likely but yet the possibility must remain part of our calculus.

    Of course then it comes down to a pretty naked choice about power; the sleeping giant of superpower confrontation awakens and we remember what ‘blink’ really means. Personally I don’t think the Russians are fully prepared to go there but with a leader like Putin it is hard to say.

    Given the apparent military and naval ambitions of the Russian leadership if this is going to be a problem going forward we might want to consider dealing with it now as against later. There is no point proceeding without resolve and if we are going to baulk at such a confrontation we need to soberly consider the consequences of that too. The 20th century is rich with examples of both.

  22. The second assumed premise of the administration you have posited is “that a US strike would deter Syrian military chemical units from deploying their deadly weapons again.”

    Your argument is simply that if local military units already have decentralised access to sarin and delivery systems they won’t be deterred by cruise missile attacks. If this is true it is also arguable that these weapons are also already in the hands of the opposition factions or soon will be. This is a very bad situation and if we have any evidence that this is the case it seems a problem for the Russians to resolve with their errant ally, and promptly. They have Sunni insurgents too. I could see considerable leverage brought to bear on this point and an awakening of support for action among those who have correctly argued that some opposition factions are aligned with al-Qaeda.

    On circumstantial evidence this seems unlikely, however. Anyone who has looked into the physical evidence of the likely rockets and launchers would assume it required an overt logistics ‘tail’ to support these weapons and that if they did get away from the regime’s tactical control they would not physically get very far in operational order without being noticed or traceable. Watching the video of the loading and launch process it seems rather protracted and clumsy and the range of these weapons is short.

    If there are no other arguments against this assumed premise it would seem a reasonably plausible one; the real issue is whether it is wiser not to target the actual chemical weapons themselves. Fulfilling this precaution while actually degrading the ability to use these weapons seems a more immediate challenge for planners.

    It might be pointed out also that between August 21st to present the use of these weapons has been de facto prohibited by the claim of innocence by the regime, on the one hand, and the threat of attack on the other. In the face of the unfulfilled US threat the one makes their use counter-productive and the other arguably is disrupted by dispersal of infrastructure. This calculus might have changed with the defeat of the AUMF in Congress, for example.

  23. Your third assumed premise is controversial, “that the US is ‘exceptional’ and bears a special responsibility to intervene in Syria after the chemical weapons use.”

    Its clear that the US is a country like any other, and certainly no more virtuous than most. And like most it will always act strictly in its own interests, sometimes accompanied by plausible narratives of generosity and sometimes in the face of the protest and obvious detriment of others. The issue is how to clarify, as citizens, what is truly in our own interests as opposed to what is selfish, short-sighted or ill-advised. We sometimes recruit great minds to ponder these issues and argue their conclusions for our consideration.

    For almost a century the notion of “collective security” has rated highly as an aspiration of Great Powers and the League of Nations was founded, and foundered, on our understanding of the usefulness of that idea. We failed and tried again.

    Would it be safe to say that collective security underpins the rationale of the United Nations and the chemical warfare convention? And the NPT and any one of a number of other international agreements which we enjoy? We have enjoyed the benefits of this security without, perhaps, always seeming willing to pay the premium when it comes due.

    Your sympathy for the notion that intractability has hobbled the Security Council is helpful, as is the idea that multilateral action can possibly be a useful alternative at times. And one supposes collective security is still applicable to a degree.

    But let us say that in this instance there seemed to be no other Great Power willing to step forward; what then? Is the notion of collective security negated because it has only one champion?

    As you point out the crafting of the UN Charter and the composition of the Security Council was intentional. Where would the diplomatic support of the UK and France stand without the arguably essential leverage provided by the unilateral position the US had already staked out on this issue? It is a difficult question.

    We now have a majority of the permanent members of the Security Council in support of this recent proposal which will probably undergo a number of revisions and alterations before it can provide a resolution to this incident. This is arguably how the process is intended to work, is it not?

    We will never know if we would have gotten to this point in other circumstances but is this really the moment you would suggest the US stand down and surrender the option of a unilateral military response?

    • “[The US, as just another country] will always act strictly in its own interests…]”

      The problem, as always, with personification/reification/hypostatization of the Great Nations, is that there is no perceptible “it” when you get down to it. There are people who claim to be able to perceive some set of “national interests,” but what you’re really talking about is a large gang of bureaucrats, politicians, thugs, thieves and occasional saints who have a whole large often conflicting set of their own interests that often are completely at odds with what the Narratives tell the rest of us is “the national interest.” What, for example, is the “national interest” in having an NSA with all the “capabilities” that are drip, drip, Chinese water torture drip, coming to light, in that so-apt phrase? And thousands of “bases” scattered across the planet, tied together by a gigantic and becoming-infinite Thingie named, in best Milbabble, the Global Interoperable Network-Centric Battlespace, that reduces the entire planet to nine, count ’em, “areas of responsibility” presided over by speaking of Mandarins, how ’bout those cosseted General Officers who run the ‘COMs that rule these mandates? “Capabilities” defining the “mission.” Whatever that is. In a world where some folks have become aware that the history of the military is “Stupid.” And now Huge and Voracious and Clumsy.

      So I keep asking, can anyone, for purposes of sensible discussion and choice and not just as a shut-up line or a toss-pot line for someone pretending to be all Serious and Wise and In The Loop, define “the national interest(s)”?

  24. I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. So I am disturbed and yet amused that civilians here and on other websites when they argue about a “limited, tailored” airstrikes either for or against have no idea about basic physics and what really happens when a bomb or a cruise missile does when it explodes. Shrapnel from the blast area flies through the air the length of several football fields and can kill or injure innocent civilians. In fact, it was from the Vietnam War that the military coined the Orwellian term “collateral damage” for the death and injury of innocent civilians. This bloodless term is only used as a defense mechanism to make the people dropping the bombs or firing the cruise missiles feel better about it and allow them to sleep at night. So the underlying premise of “limited, tailored” or “surgical” air strikes is basically an act of denial when discussing the issue.

  25. From the beginning of this problem, I never believed that the President wanted or would order a punishment attack on Syria. I still do not think he will. I do think he is probably disinterested in the posture of the US as the military Dutch Uncle of the world.

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