Nob’s Syria Reading List for 8/28

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Nob, the reasons to intervene in Syria are pretty much the same ones as the reasons to intervene in Iraq.

    Hey, there is a tyrant in charge of the country. As such, the tyrant should be overthrown. Sic Semper Something, right? Assad should be toppled.

    Hey, if *I* lived in a brutal regime, *I* would want someone intervening on my behalf. Sure, if I had the strength to overthrow the tyrant by myself, I would. I don’t. I’d like someone else to topple him more than I’d like to be told to pull myself up by my own bootstraps.

    We’ve even got a new one!

    The Arab Spring only got kicked off because Dumbya pushed the first domino. The fact that there is a revolution going on now is our fault. We should follow through and finish the job. We broke it, we bought it.

    But we aren’t going to be good at it this time. Maybe we’ll have fewer anti-war protests for some reason. But there is no reason to believe that, this time, we’ll do it right.

    Unless, of course, we’re just talking about shooting a handful of $2 million missiles at a $10 empty tents and hitting a few camels in the butt. That should be fine. (It’ll let us save face as well!) But we should be realistic about what we’re trying to accomplish here and compare it to what we’re likely to accomplish given our accomplishments so far and bet on the side of “more of the same”. No matter how awesome the humanitarian arguments for going to war actually are.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Yes, I suppose the use of chemical weapons to kill a thousand people fifteen minutes ago, which we condemned in advance, is pretty much the same as the use of chemical weapons to kill a few thousand people fifteen years ago (at the time – now 25), which we silently condoned as it happened.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        So… what’s the argument? That if we didn’t want to do anything this time, we shouldn’t have condemned the use of chemical weapons in advance?

        Or that it’s shameful that we took as long as we did last time?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        What’s whose argument?

        My argument is that while you may actually from some vantage point be right that the reasons to intervene in Syria are pretty much the same ones as the reasons to intervene in Iraq, it can also be the case at the same time that they are quite different at the same time. (It’s also unclear what kinds of reasons you’re talking about here – the actually publicly offered ones by officials of government or other leading advocates, or the best ones that can be offered by a rational observer trying to come up with the best possible justifications for a position she may or may not actually hold. I think both of those sets of reasons are actually pretty different for these two cases, even while they might at the same time be, from some vantage point, pretty “much” the same (though I’m not conceding that they in fact are), but, again, perspective.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Why does it matter whose argument it is?

        If the argument applies, it applies. If it doesn’t apply, it doesn’t apply. If it’s valid, it’s valid. If it’s fallacious, it’s fallacious.

        The arguments to invade Syria mirror the arguments that we ought to have invaded Iraq. (I assure you, there were more arguments given than merely “Saddam has WMDs!”)

        Now I’m asking why the arguments against invading Iraq don’t also apply to the invasion of Syria in the same way that the arguments “for” do.

        I’m certainly wondering why “the same thing will happen as the last couple of times” isn’t taken more seriously. Have we abandoned the Pottery Barn Doctrine?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        It matters whose arguments they are only because that’s a good way of figuring out what argument you are referring to when you ask “what’s the argument?” I don’t know what (whose) argument you’re asking me to clarify. I only can really clarify my own at this moment, but I’m pretty sure the one I clarified wasn’t the one you were asking after. You can read “whose” as asking you to clarify what purpose the argument you’re asking after is pursuing, so that I can figure out which one you’re asking after. But even within any given purpose, such as, say, “trying to justify missile strikes on Syria,” there wil be various kinds of such argument, varying, among other variables, by… wait for it… who is making said arguments. So in trying to figure out what argument you are asking after, I think that asking whose argument you are asking after is a pretty efficient way to do that.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        The arguments are different in no small part because here the aim is (presumably) to stop an indisputable ongoing practice of utilizing chemical weapons against civilians; in Iraq, the (alleged) aim was to eliminate alleged – but unproven – stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that hadn’t been used in 15 years.

        Additionally, at least at this point, and thus unlike Iraq, “regime change” is not what is being proposed.

        None of which is to say that intervention is the right policy; just that the arguments for intervention are meaningfully different than the arguments for invading Iraq and thus should be addressed differently.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        …On the substance, I believe that a faithful restatement of either the reasons to do or the arguments actually given for doing each action would end up having very significant differences, especially when you take into account the difference in the fact patterns that those arguments purport to apply to (but not only when doing that). (I.e., I don’t regard an identical argument that is made in two significantly different factual situations to actually be identical arguments… there’s is a similarity of course, but the difference in the background facts constitutes a potentially important difference as well.)

        (I don’t deny that a number of the arguments, apart from the difference in factual context, or even accounting for it, might well echo each other, and if that’s the position you’re trying to defined, I don’t dispute it. But the position you articulated was that ” the reasons to intervene in Syria are pretty much the same ones as the reasons to intervene in Iraq.” Meaning, the entire set of is pretty much the same (even after adjusting for factual context. I simply don’t think that would prove to be true if you assembled them all and put them side-by-side. Certain members of each set would resemble members of the other set, but all in all, the sets would be significantly different, not pretty much the same (again, accounting for the difference in factual context).

        On whether identical or very similar arguments not to do these actions may apply to each situation… I believe they might; in fact I believe some number of them do! But they do because of the nature of those arguments against, not because of the similarity or lack thereof of the arguments to (including factual context). For example, an argument against built around Prof. Hanley’s (brought to us by him in any case) structures of SMART goalsetting or SWOT analysis could apply to either situation, even if the set of arguments for each action were significantly different (including in factual context).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        …That was pretty meta for an ostensible treatment of substance, I’ll grant that. Mark and I have articulated one main contextual difference that (I think in our shared view) renders different some arguments for each action that may on their surface appear similar. Again, I believe there will be a number of other significant differences, both facial and in context, among the sets of reasons given for each of these actions. But at the same, time, as I said, I think there are probably a legitimate perspectives from which it will appear to some that the differences are not significant at all, or even real, so I’m not sure it’s really a worthwhile use of time to go into them at length. Ultimately, I don;t think I’m going to convince someone who won’t see them as significant that they on fact are just by listing them, so from there the discussion would become even more involved (what is significant about that? why do you take such a long view when asking for differences that are bound to be detail dependent? and so forth). I’m not claiming to be persuasive, but just to state that in fact there are significant differences between the sets of reasons (either that exist or that were/are being given) to invade Iraq in 2003 and to bomb Syria in 2013 in full expectation of being told that I haven’t persuaded anyone of that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Mark, there were a *LOT* of arguments given for why we need to take Saddam down and many of them were, in fact, humanitarian. I assure you, the arguments that *I* used when *I* argued for Saddam being overthrown had to do with totalitarian states and secret police and whatnot. “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy!”

        The fact that the protests focused on the WMDs doesn’t invalidate the other arguments given nor does it erase how much they sound like the arguments given for why we ought to intervene in Syria.

        Wait, regime change isn’t being proposed?

        So we have an example of a tyrant using WMDs against his people and removing him from power is not one of the goals?

        Here’s my argument: *IF* we intervene in Syria, we should KILL THE TYRANT WHO USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST CIVILIANS. Shooting rockets at a handful of buildings that may or may not contain a percentage of the weapons he used won’t be sufficient here to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons a second time. I feel silly even saying that out loud.

        If that isn’t on the table… what is? The moral argument seems to have evaporated (it’s not about removing Assad from power, after all). The pragmatic arguments were never the strongest ones, given our history with the rest of the region. What’s left? Obama gave a speech a few months ago and doesn’t want to look like he was lying? What’s different this time?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        *IF* we intervene in Syria, we should KILL THE TYRANT WHO USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST CIVILIANS. Shooting rockets at a handful of buildings that may or may not contain a percentage of the weapons he used won’t be sufficient here to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons a second time. I feel silly even saying that out loud.

        If that isn’t on the table… what is? The moral argument seems to have evaporated (it’s not about removing Assad from power, after all). The pragmatic arguments were never the strongest ones, given our history with the rest of the region. What’s left? Obama gave a speech a few months ago and doesn’t want to look like he was lying?

        Up to there that all is quite substantially similar to my own position (though I’m not sure what our history in the region does to make the pragmatic arguments for limited strikes meant to degrade the ability to do this again, or just meant to be a quasi-punitive “shot across the bow,” worse) for whatever that’s worth. It’s just where you then say, “What’s different this time?” where I become unsure what “last time” you’re saying that’s all like and how.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        …Wait, you argued for taking down Saddam?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, there’s a whole bunch of comparisons to make…

        We’ve got the three countries Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. Pretty much the three different options on the table: holy crap a lot of intervention, minimal intervention (limited to diplomatic, really), and “pick a side and pick the rebels and back them them up sufficiently to let them win.” (Gross oversimplifications, of course, but good enough for a blog comment.)

        We know what Iraq looks like 10 years later. We know what Egypt looks like 2 years later. We know what Libya looks like 1 year later.

        We don’t have a whole lot of apples to apples here but which vector are we hoping to nudge Syria in? (For definitions of “nudge” that include “killing thousands”.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Wait, you argued for taking down Saddam?

        Yep. Humanitarian reasons.

        Hey, there is a tyrant in charge of the country. As such, the tyrant should be overthrown. Sic Semper Something, right? Saddam should be toppled.

        Hey, if *I* lived in a brutal regime, *I* would want someone intervening on my behalf. Sure, if I had the strength to overthrow the tyrant by myself, I would. I don’t. I’d like someone else to topple him more than I’d like to be told to pull myself up by my own bootstraps.

        We should have liberal democracies everywhere. To the extent that we countenance countries that still employ secret police, that stain is on our hands.

        Why, the Iraq War II won’t be that different from Iraq War I.

        We’ve got congress on board, we’ve got the UN on board, we’ve jumped through all of the hoops… what more do we need?

        And so on.

        As it turns out, I severely overestimated the desire for freedom that surely beats in every human heart.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        This is me thinking with my fingers…

        Seems to me that if chemical weapons are what are required to keep Assad in power, then “preventing Assad from using chemical weapons” and “removing Assad from power” is something of a distinction without a difference. Assad isn’t going to refrain from using chemical weapons only to be overtaken by his own people. I’d expect that he would rather go down fighting against the Americans than Syrians. Maybe that’s projection.

        That said, removing Hussein wasn’t the hard part. So, too, would removing Assad. The hard part of Iraq was post-Hussein. I’d expect the same to be true of Syria. The question is to what extent we will be committed to be involved in that. My guess is that’s why the distinction between chemical weapons and removing Assad may be important. If we weren’t seeking to remove Assad from power, then by-golly it’s not our fault if post-Assad Syria turns into a basket case.

        I can live with that. Though it seems that would undermine the case, somewhat, for this being humanitarian in nature. If we’re positioning things for a disregard of the consequences of our actions.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        At this point it seems to me like your argument is breaking down into a statement that you can make a similar set of arguments and proposals for intervening in Syria to the one you made for intervening in Iraq, and, whatever anyone else may think about it, the underlying situations are not saliently different (despite the presence of an ongoing civil war involving the use of internationally banned weapons in the one and the lack thereof in the other).

        To be very frank about it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        To be quite frank about it, I’m saying that the counter-arguments to the Iraq intervention (well, the ones that weren’t “he doesn’t have WMDs!”, anyway) apply every bit as much to Syria as they do to Iraq.

        There were humanitarian arguments against going to war as well, remember.

        To the extent that they applied to Iraq (and, indeed, it turns out that they did… funny), they will also apply to Syria.

        Hey, maybe this will be different. We’ve got Obama, after all.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Wait, you argued for taking down Saddam?

        Yep. Humanitarian reasons.

        Ouch.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        If we weren’t seeking to remove Assad from power, then by-golly it’s not our fault if post-Assad Syria turns into a basket case.

        I can live with that.

        Really? You can live with the pretense of not being responsible for causing what we expected to happen, and which we in fact have been trying to help cause in multiple ways?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        James, it beats what happens when we do take responsibility.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        How about if we just stop doing the things that cause us to be responsible for what happens?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        James: I’m sympathetic to that in some ways, but I’m also not entirely sold that staying away from the fray entirely is either possible or desirable.

        That said, I suppose, too, that my ambivalence toward non-intervention in general comes from the academic environment I first started in. While Iraq and Afghanistan were unfolding disasters at the time, much of the literature (and really ongoing speakers and lecturers) were the 90s folks who were the ones who struggled with the waves of ethnic cleansing and civil wars of that period. The Congo and Rwanda still remain pretty fresh in my mind despite the fact that they’re 20 days away, and I can’t help but wonder if we’ve just simply failed in norm construction since then.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Also, I don’t know why people keep using the term “invade”. No one is talking about putting boots on the ground except for the super crazies at The Weekly Standard.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Sorry for the delay.

        I’m saying that the counter-arguments to the Iraq intervention (well, the ones that weren’t “he doesn’t have WMDs!”, anyway) apply every bit as much to Syria as they do to Iraq.

        As I said, that isn’t in fact what you did say. You said the arguments for each intervention are pretty much the same. But if that (above in italics here) is what you really think and you have changed the assertion you are really trying to defend to that, then, as I said, I agree that any number of the same arguments against intervening are good arguments against both interventions.Report

  2. Avatar krogerfoot
    Ignored
    says:

    Executive summary of the answers to the questions posed by the (quite short) Monkey Cage posts:

    Do Interventions Reduce Civilian Casualties? No.
    How much does history predict success for a Syrian intervention? History is not helpful here.
    When do interventions actually work? When conditions are quite unlike those that obtain in Syria.
    Do military interventions hasten the end of civil wars? No.

    As Jaybird said, the current debate is largely a retread of the Iraq War run-up, but with more effort required to ignore hindsight.Report

  3. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    Saw this today:

    Don’t worry, hipsters. Obama is only being a chickenhawk neocon ironically.
    — David Burge (@iowahawkblog) August 28, 2013Report

  4. Avatar George Turner
    Ignored
    says:

    Yesterday on PBS Obama said “We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on – or chemical weapons of that sort.”

    Well, I’m glad he doesn’t think Al Nusra has atomic weapons yet, but you never know…Report

  5. Avatar Fnord
    Ignored
    says:

    Is the logical conclusion of that first article that we ought to be intervening to support Assad against the rebels?Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Fnord
      Ignored
      says:

      There’s an argument made that the expectation of intervention actually prolongs rebel movements and therefore might cause substantially more civilian deaths. So if every rebel group thought that they’d face international support to regimes facing a civil war, they might not fight as much.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        says:

        If a noninterventionist norm and expectation prevailed, then the amount of fight that occurred should be independent of expectations of intervention on either side. That seems to be the most humane norm to pursue, so that rebellions aren’t prolonged to no end out of vain hope for outside military assistance. The issue is that there has to be, or is bound to be, room made for exceptions in cases of extraordinary atrocities and threats to regional stability and international security, which allows for a norm and expectation of intervention to slowly develop. And we’re living in the world where the exception has swallowed the norm (even if in the case of Syria, the particular facts would have satisfied the initial vision of what kinds of conditions would rightly trigger the exception).Report

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