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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

 
The liberal dilemma

by digby

I think this piece by Paul Waldman is a thoughtful rundown of the way many liberals are sorting out the difficult question of Syria (and why they've moved on to the discussion of the politics of it instead):
I’m paid to have opinions, and I can’t figure out what my opinion is. On one hand, Bashar Assad is a mass murderer who, it seems plain, would be happy to kill half the population of his country if it would keep him in power. On the other hand, if he was taken out in a strike tomorrow the result would probably be a whole new civil war, this time not between the government and rebels but among competing rebel groups. On one hand, there’s value in enforcing international norms against certain kinds of despicable war crimes; on the other hand, Assad killed 100,000 Syrians quite adequately with guns and bombs before everybody got really mad about the 1,400 he killed with poison gas. On one hand, a round of missile strikes isn’t going to have much beyond a symbolic effect without changing the outcome of the civil war; on the other hand, the last thing we want is to get into another protracted engagement like Iraq.

In short, we’re confronted with nothing but bad options, and anyone who thinks there’s an unambiguously right course of action is a fool. So it’s a lot easier to talk about the politics.
I honestly don't find this quite that difficult although I am sympathetic to the emotional need to "do something." For the second time today, I'll offer my maxim: "If it's not obvious that violence is the only answer then it's not the answer."

And in this case, it's actually pretty clear to me. Violence is being proposed as a symbolic gesture that virtually no one expects will change a thing for the Syrian people and which could make things worse. That's just not good enough.

This, from FRONTLINE, is instructive:
If the U.S. moves forward with limited air strikes, what happens next?

“It seems pretty clear that we’re not looking at an end to the fighting any time soon as a result of anything the administration is contemplating,” said Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division.

The conflict in Syria has now claimed at least 100,000 lives, according to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The U.N. has said its estimate is conservative, since so many deaths have likely gone unreported amid the violence.

Another 1.7 million Syrians have fled, seeking refuge in neighboring countries like Jordan, who fear being drawn into the conflict. Air strikes would only increase the flow of displaced Syrians, Stork said.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine how the military strikes that are being considered will improve the situation,” he said. “It’s likely to make it worse. The question is how much worse.”

A scathing report (pdf) in June from the International Crisis Group on the international response to the Syrian conflict so far said that targeted air strikes would be “half-way measures” that at best might erode the regime’s military capacity or shake up the balance of power among the rebels.

After a strategic military victory in early June, the regime has been gaining momentum in recent months, said Randa Slim, a political analyst at the Middle East Institute. Airstrikes could check that.

But, the ICG report found, limited airstrikes “would not produce what its promoters typically claim as justification: moving the regime to seriously negotiate a genuine transition.” It suggested that the U.S. and its allies would be miscalculating in thinking they could now persuade Assad — either militarily or otherwise — to agree to some kind of political resolution.

“Ultimately it would mean getting further sucked into a dangerously intensifying and malignant Sunni-Shiite sectarian regional conflict in which the West would be running a risk by picking favorites,” the report said.

Earlier this year, FRONTLINE embedded with both rebel forces and military troops for Syria Behind the Lines, and found an increasingly divided, embittered nation — and a rift that will take more than air strikes to heal. Watch it below.


Watch Syria Behind the Lines on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.
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