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Bacevich Asks Obama On Syria

Andy Bacevich has three questions for the president [1]before he pulls the trigger on Syria. Excerpt:

First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose “crime” was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?

Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?

 

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30 Comments To "Bacevich Asks Obama On Syria"

#1 Comment By Liam On August 27, 2013 @ 11:53 am

Also ask Congress.

#2 Comment By Bernie On August 27, 2013 @ 11:56 am

Obama foolishly drew a “red line” in the sand regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Now he is going to try to save face by reacting in some way. How on earth are we going to really change the situation in Syria? And if we toppled Assad, what would we get? NOBODY knows. This President has no cogent Middle East policy. It’s high time Bush stopped being blamed for these current decisions and policies.

#3 Comment By Bob Jones On August 27, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

Rod, why leave out the third question, which is possibly the most important. Basically, what is the legal, and more importantly Constitutional basis for declaring war on Syria. If we fire missiles, or bomb anything directly that is exactly what we would be doing.

Atrocities happen all of the time in this world (yes I now that sounds cold), so why should we engage in this one and not in some other. Why care about a neighborhood in Damascus, but not Cairo, or Uganda, or anywhere else where a government, or other significant force engages in atrocity?

In this country we love to condescend about folks in the Middle East who are backward or “hate us for our freedom”, but really it is our continual interference that drives them to despise us. Just like you would despise a neighbor who consistently interfered in your family affairs, your property, your personal business etc. People do not want to be interfered with by outsiders. You want the folks in the Middle East to stop “hating us”, then leave them alone, give it a generation or two and let ti work itself out.

Besides, if we stop pissing away billions of Quixote-like adventures in the Middle East and beyond we might actually be able to achieve that smaller government that so many politicians pretend to crave.

[NFR: I left it out because I didn’t want to quote the entire Bacevich quote, and deprive him of the click. — RD]

#4 Comment By Charles Cosimano On August 27, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

If Obama had a working brain he would persuade the Russians to do something and then stay out of it. Syria is a Russian client state, not ours. And it would give the Russians an opportunity to feel important.

#5 Comment By Anderson On August 27, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

Charles, the Russians already feel important by opposing what we want in Syria. Why would they want to “do something” against Assad?

#6 Comment By Ed O On August 27, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

Why the double standard? Two words: Suez Canal

#7 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 27, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

KING ARTHUR: “One, two, … five!”
PAGE: “Three, sire.”
KING ARTHUR: “Three!”

[Yes, I saw Rod’s explanation. I can never resist.]

There was no declaration of war against Afghanistan or Iraq. Congress did not declare war on Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Serbia, or Bosnia either. One might sarcastically concede in some of those cases that there wasn’t really a nation on which to declare war, but the fact remains that however much a president can justify committing acts of war on a sovereign nation, Congress has been derelict in its duties.

I understand the diplomatic expediencies behind it, but I continue to see it as worthy of outrage… for which the vast majority of my fellow citizens themselves are derelict.

#8 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On August 27, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

at the risk if using a “four letter word” why doesn’t the UN sanction/take action against Syria? why not “lead from behind”? why not convene the Security Council major players and say; “this is bad – what should we do about it?” all this hyperbolic indignation and shock on the part of the US is insulting to anyone with half a brain (or anyone who remembers the run-up to Iraq). same holds true for the “punitive” angle. as RD points out; two weeks ago the Egyptian government killed hundreds of citizens. let’s be honest, is this about slaughtering citizens or the nature of the weapons used to slaughter civilians?

#9 Comment By Scott in PA On August 27, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

What is the political objective?

If you have to ask that question, you aren’t paying attention.

It’s clear that Obama prefers Islamic dictators (who would impose sharia) to secular dictators. That’s what the Arab “Spring” hath wrought.

#10 Comment By Stephen Hoffmann On August 27, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

Would Bacevich support any kind of military intervention in Egypt . . . or anywhere else at any time for any reason?

#11 Comment By mrscracker On August 27, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

Folks have been dieing in African conflicts for years and we don’t intervene.Unless there’s oil involved.No natural resources, no US intervention it seems.So, I don’t think it’s just about chemical warfare.

#12 Comment By J On August 27, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

My question to Bacevich is: If not us, who?

#13 Comment By Sands On August 27, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

Right now the insurgency supposedly consist of two factions — Sunni islamists and more secular minded rebels. Is there any doubt what would happen if Assad were to fall? I think it’s safe to say that those two factions would, along with the Alawites loyal to Assad, continue their bloody struggle for power. So where does that leave the US post-Assad? If we played a hand in Assad’s downfall with the intention of ridding Syria of an evil mad man, are we going to just move out of the way and allow the secularists to battle it out on their own. Or are we going to get more involved in order to form a more perfect union in Syria? I think we know the answer, but, as usual, those clamoring for intervention can’t think a minute ahead.

#14 Comment By SDS On August 27, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

“Would Bacevich support any kind of military intervention in Egypt . . . or anywhere else at any time for any reason?”

Considering his miltary history; I should think so….

“If not us, who?”

In short- NO ONE- Unless someone wlse feels it in their interest- BUT KEEP US OUT OF IT!

#15 Comment By Gerry On August 27, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

Oh, puhleeze – can this clown spell “chemical weapons”?

#16 Comment By Beyng On August 27, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

J:

My question to you is: who cares?

I don’t want to minimize the moral atrocity of chemical warfare, or the tragedy of civil war in general, but why is this America’s problem?

#17 Comment By David J. White On August 27, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

My question to Bacevich is: If not us, who?

No one. It’s their war, and their problem.

What would have been the result had Britain chosen to intervene in the American Civil War on the grounds that Sherman’s March to the Sea had “crossed a red line”? Not a very pleasant one, I imagine, for us or for the British.

#18 Comment By AndrewH On August 27, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

My question to Bacevich is: If not us, who?

If not us, who will save Palestinians? If not us, who will save Egyptians from military dictatorship? If not us, who will save……..? The US can’t even save itself.

#19 Comment By James Canning On August 27, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

Great piece.

#20 Comment By James Canning On August 27, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

Beyng – – And is it fair to say the US ignored Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran?

#21 Comment By mrscracker On August 27, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

David J. White says:

What would have been the result had Britain chosen to intervene in the American Civil War on the grounds that Sherman’s March to the Sea had “crossed a red line”? Not a very pleasant one, I imagine, for us or for the British.”
*************************************
But possibly a less unpleasant one for the folks in Georgia & other locales in the path of destruction.

#22 Comment By Charlieford On August 27, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

Franklin Evans, you are correct–we haven’t been in a declared war since 1945.

But just to put in context, we began fighting undeclared wars almost immediately–Adams’ Quasi-War with France in the 1790s, Jefferson’s war against the Barbary pirates in 1804-05. It’s not exactly without precedent.

And declaring wars has little effect on their moral qualities or justness, or guarantee thet they are good ideas. There’s only five: 1812, Mexico, Spain, WWI and WWII.

1812 was a fiasco; Mexico a land-grab; Spain had some very ambiguous outcomes; WWI is often considered a useless unnecessary horror. Only WWII seems to stand as necessary and just (at least with most analysts).

#23 Comment By KC On August 27, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

Something must be done!

This is something!

Therefore, this must be done!

#24 Comment By Peggy On August 27, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

I’d like to second that question. Why is this particular act a crime against humanity but the act of reducing neighborhoods and villages to rubble with conventional weapons is somehow not? Where has everyone been while some 100,000(!!!) Syrians have died at the hand of Syria’s conventional armed forces??

This is not to say that we should have put boots on the ground at any time in Syria. The way to have avoided all of those deaths was surely passed by a long time ago. The very recent discovery of the West’s conscience about it is going to do nothing for those people and will cause even more death and a wider war.

#25 Comment By Laser On August 27, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

Does John Kerry have any self respect? He makes the exact same arguments he mocked George Bush for making in 2002/2003.

#26 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 27, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

Charlie, the historical context is important, but my practical view (complete with personal outrage) is that which is within my personal reach as a citizen.

I have a mild hypocrisy to confess. The congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force coupled with the international sanctions (formal and informal) were all I needed for our IMO morally justified invasion of Afghanistan. Rationally, I still wanted the US to issue a formal declaration of war against the Taliban regime, but emotionally I no longer think about it.

I fully agree that the moral component has no necessary connection to the legal and diplomatic components of a declaration of war… and I certainly maintain that the invasion of Iraq was not only a bad idea, it was an immoral act.

#27 Comment By peterc On August 27, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

We all remember Collin Powel flanked by George Tenet stating that Irak has WMDs. We all remember what the facts were.
In Syria, first make sure that chemical weapons were used. Second, verify who really used them. And – regardless of what we find out – let’s stay away from a military involvement.
Syria has a sectarian war. Most of us have heard from a Muslim co-worker – usually a Sunni – what their opinion is about Shia.
If we get involved, what is the exit plan: assist the Sunnis to convert the Shia? How about the Syrian Christians? Or the Druze?

#28 Comment By J On August 27, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

My question to you is: who cares?

I don’t want to minimize the moral atrocity of chemical warfare, or the tragedy of civil war in general, but why is this America’s problem?

Because in this generation we’re involved in the wars that directly or indirectly result in the democratization of West Asia in the longer term. Bush Sr. made this our problem back in 1990 and we’re stuck with some sort of finishing the job.

America was involved in the wars that resulted in democratization in Western Europe for about a generation (1917-1945), the like in East Asia for about a generation (1941-1974), and the same in Eastern Europe for about a generation (1955/1980-1998). This isn’t new.

It’s what America does and has been doing since the last Indian wars in the 1870s and 1880s. The popular enthusiasms and unenthusiasms about it historically have little relationship to the merits. The merits of intervention in Syria in 2013 are not that different from the merits of intervention in Iraq in 2003. Iraq probably wouldn’t have become the mess it became for Americans if Dubya had held elections and withdrawn troops quickly and left matters to Iraqis to sort out on their own after the capture of Hussein. But Dick Cheney and Halliburton, Don Rumsfeld, Tony Blair and BP, Pat Robertson and the Arlington Group, and Achmed Chalabi insisted otherwise. And the Coalition of Dupes and Corrupts played along.

What would have been the result had Britain chosen to intervene in the American Civil War on the grounds that Sherman’s March to the Sea had “crossed a red line”? Not a very pleasant one, I imagine, for us or for the British.

What if the French fleet hadn’t shown up and formed a blockade of Yorktown in 1781?

You’re a historian and are probably aware that the North had a lot more resources it could have mustered in the Civil War than it actually put on the battlefield. It was just uninterested in and unprepared for war in 1860 and not even very seriously engaged until Shiloh and Antietam ran the body count up into socially painful territory. But when the North got serious it built up a pretty powerful war machine quickly. I don’t think the British would have enjoyed the experience or the outcome of intervening for the South- which they never seem to have seriously contemplated doing in any expensive, large scale, fashion.

#29 Comment By df On August 27, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

I will add that Dr. Bacevich lost a son in Iraq who had volunteered to fight.

In 2007, he wrote this on Memorial Day and it is very much worth your reading. It is titled, “I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.”

[2]

#30 Comment By David J. White On August 28, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

But possibly a less unpleasant one for the folks in Georgia & other locales in the path of destruction.

It’s also possible that the South could have turned into a battleground between Federal and British troops, or that Federal troops would have staged even more savage reprisals against the civilian population of the South in response to British attacks on the North.

Somehow I don’t think that our attacking the Assad government will make things better for the rebels.

I don’t think the British would have enjoyed the experience or the outcome of intervening for the South- which they never seem to have seriously contemplated doing in any expensive, large scale, fashion.

No, but I advanced the hypothetical as another possible example of an outside nation intervening in someone else’s Civil War. And the British could have harassed the North from Canada, requiring the US to fight a two-front war.

What if the French fleet hadn’t shown up and formed a blockade of Yorktown in 1781?

Not really a relevant example, unless you consider the American Revolution to be a civil war — which is was, to an extent, though the “government” side had to ship most of its troops and supplies from overseas, which is not the case with either the American Civil War or the current Syrian civil war.