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Is Obama Planning Intervention in Syria?

It appears that President Obama is preparing a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We have no idea what sort of military response. I doubt it will be boots on the ground, at least not yet. More likely some strategic bombing of specific targets. Here’s the evidence that such planning is taking place:

All the action and body language over the weekend suggests that the United States is preparing for some kind of military response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The question is: Just what kind of response will it be? On Saturday, President Obama met with his national security team, and he called British Prime Minister David Cameron. “The two leaders expressed their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime… The United States and UK stand united in our opposition to the use of chemical weapons,” the White House said per a readout of the call. And on Sunday, the president spoke with French President Hollande. (These are the types of calls a president makes to both build support and inform of upcoming plans. Also of note, Secretary of State John Kerry spent the weekend briefing and speaking with a slew of Arab allies, particular the folks in the Gulf States, who could drive an Arab League decision that gives the U.S. the international legal justification it is currently looking for.) Indeed, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY,” the United States and its allies are considering military options — most likely, cruise missiles from Navy destroyers and submarines in the Mediterranean or U.S. fighter jets targeting Syrian airfields from where chemical attacks could be launched. “I do think action is going to occur,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said on “TODAY.” The question no longer seems to be “if”; rather, it’s “when,” “how,” and “how long.”

And there will be barely a peep from Congress. As Patrick Appel puts it at Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

War is the one area where the normal rules of politics are suspended. A president need not convince the American people or Congress that war is advisable. He need not explain the costs and benefits of force. Popular domestic policy proposals are routinely killed thanks to the fillibuster or the House’s ideological fanaticism, but deeply unpopular foreign policy interventions are carried out without haste…

Hawkishness is Washington’s default setting – it remains one stubborn bit of bipartisan agreement in an era of deepening partisanship.

Even though only Congress has the power to declare war (and hasn’t done so since WWII despite the many wars that have happened in the meantime), the president now does so pretty much unilaterally. And Congress likes it that way. It absolves them of responsibility. If it all works out fine, they can praise it; if things go bad, they can blame the president.

What about the public? So far, the polls show very little support for intervention:

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it. That represented a decline in backing for U.S. action since August 13, when Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found that 30.2 percent of Americans supported intervention in Syria if chemicals had been used, while 41.6 percent did not.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned historically, it’s that the American people almost instinctively jump on the bandwagon for war once the bombs start flying. The government is very good at marketing war, using the same tools — fear, insecurity, groupthink, nationalism — used to sell toothpaste and cars, and Americans as a group are very prone to such manipulation. We only jump off the bandwagon if it becomes clear we won’t “win” an easy victory.

Comments

  1. Lofty says

    The oil barons must be salivatating, I heard the oil price jumped $3 on the news that the US is planning an intervention.

  2. says

    Unilateral actions by the US always comes back to bite us in the ass, hard. If we are going to do anything, it should be by the UN, with as little US involvement as possible.

  3. colnago80 says

    Unfortunately, the president opened his big mouth and drew a line in the sand over use of chemical weapons, despite the fact that conventional explosive weapons were doing an effective job in Syria (>100,000 dead, probably an equal or greater number wounded, 2 million refugees). Now it has happened and it’s put up or shut up time for Obama (e.g. make it or get off the pot). The pressure for a bombing campaign is becoming overwhelming, coming from the neocons in Congress, some European allies, and some Arab states. Let’s face it, all the alternatives stink. It appears to me that the best strategy here would be to give Assad and his minions the bump, if their location can be ascertained. Removing them from the equation might convince the disputants to go for a negotiated settlement.

  4. eric says

    The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it

    I guess on this issue I’m not in the mainstream. I don’t consider myself a hawk, but a country using CW in a civil war seems to me like a pretty damn good reason for an intervention using force (and yeah, I think we should’ve intervened against Saddam when he was attacking the Kurds with them). Though I agree with Gregory about unilateral actions; intervention here (if any) really should be done under the aegis of the UN or NATO. As a country, we have pretty much lost all moral credibility or claim to neutrality in other people’s conflicts. Nobody’s going to interpret the US bombing some Syrian chemical factory or military base as “merely” being about CW use; they’re going to interpret it as a sign that we are supporting the rebel cause or have some underhanded empire-building motive for doing so (and they very well may be right. Still, a stopped clock…).

  5. left0ver1under says

    It’s not so much Obama’s planning as wall street’s. He only does what he’s told, as both party “leaders” do.

    When oil is involved, you can bet an invasion is possible, if not a certainty. As I pointed out on Mano Singham’s blog, it’s only 350km from the largest Iraqi oil field to Israel’s northeast border. That’s 2000km less to travel by tanker to the Mediterranean and through less hazardous territory (past Iran, Yemen, and Somalia). It won’t surprise me in the least if a pipeline is under construction within two years. An occupation of Syria means no more worries about sailing through the Persian Gulf or not being allowed to fly over countries’ territory.

    An invasion of Syria also provides a US “ally” (co-conspirator is more like it) with a supply of oil, and a reason to occupy Syrian land for water. Syria’s Orontes River borders Lebanon and the Yarmouk River borders Jordan, both are major supplies of water for Syria, which is mostly arid, and both within a short distance of the border with Israel. Annexing Lebanon’s water supply was a major part of Israel’s invasion in 2006.

  6. doublereed says

    This is not just the US. Several countries, including France and the UN, want to intervene because of the chemical weapon usage.

  7. colnago80 says

    Re leftOver1under @ #6

    Do you seriously think that Iraq is going to allow its oil to be pumped through a pipeline running through Israel? Just for your information, there’s already an oil pipeline that runs from Iraq through Jordan and Israel that’s hasn’t been used since 1948. Why build a new one?

  8. says

    a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria

    As if the thousands of lives already lost in Syria to more “conventional” means (bombs, guns, etc.) didn’t matter. All of a sudden it’s a “grave concern.” This disgusts and angers me.

  9. CaitieCat says

    I’ve been mulling lately the idea that the issue with guns in the US (trust me, I’ll get there) is similar to that of having a massive army: once you’ve paid for it, you almost have to use it for something, or you end up sort of feeling a bit foolish for having wasted the money/time/effort on it.

    It’s the sunk-costs fallacy: well, we bought those B-2s for a billion apiece, or whatever it is, and that money would just be wasted if we don’t use them!

    My opposition in this case isn’t so much opposition to US imperialism; there’s a strong consensus, i think, among the western democracies that Assad has crossed some sort of moral line. I don’t get why gassing civilians is a moral line and killing them with simple HE shells isn’t, but fine. There’s an urge to intervene.

    The problem is that, what are you going to do that’s the least bit effective, and also doesn’t make things worse? I hope we’ve all learned by now that “surgical” strikes tend to have a fairly high rate of “complications” (i.e., people you didn’t intend to kill being dead), and realistically, gas delivery systems can be remarkably simple technology – that is, hard to destroy without boots on the ground, because bombing the depots where the gas is kept can be, ahem, counterproductive for the single-factor weapons (multi-factor weapons have two parts which must combine to produce the gas, and tend to be safer under fire for the troops using them).

    Boots on the ground is, I hope people know by now, a bad, bad idea. Not least because one of the main elements fighting against Assad effectively are Al Qaeda-related groups; the US would be making common cause with them. But also because of blowback, and Iraq/Afghanistan, and a whole bunch of other reasons.

    Short of a major UN effort to deploy huge numbers of peacekeepers – and good luck getting that one past Russia and China’s vetoes – I don’t see any viable way for outside forces to help out only the ‘good’ rebels, and not end up more materially helping the organized and effective rebels, who also tend to be extremely anti-US.

    I also worry about this becoming literally like Vietnam, in the Russias providing “advisors” to the one side, while the US drops carpets of bombs for the other side so as to keep American boots out of Syrian dirt.

    It’s what we called, when I was in the CF, “a fustercluck of truly ridiculous proportions”, and I don’t see any way that any intervention (possibly including no intervention) is going to end well for anyone.

    One of those times I’d love to be wrong.

  10. Synfandel says

    I heard the oil price jumped $3 on the news that the US is planning an intervention.

    Yes, we love that in Canada. The consumer price of gas goes up because of oil hoarding and speculation. Then the Canadian dollar drops because of fears of reduced oil demand in the wake of the instability. And the price of gas goes even higher because oil is traded in US dollars and the Canadian dollar is weakened. So here we are, the biggest supplier of oil to the US, and we’re getting doubly gouged at the gas pumps. Ain’t free trade grand!

  11. David Marjanović says

    Pretty much everything CaitieCat said.

    it should be by the UN,

    Well, yeah, except Putin and the CCP block the Security Council just like the Reptilians block Congress. They’re Assad’s bestest buddies, and they think there’s really enough democracy in the world already.

    An occupation of Syria

    I really don’t think Obama is quite that stupid. He’ll find some vaguely pro-western rebel, hand Syria over to him, get all the troups out (if any ever land in the first place), and put up a banner saying “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”… well, maybe not quite in those words. :-þ

    As if the thousands of lives already lost in Syria to more “conventional” means (bombs, guns, etc.) didn’t matter. All of a sudden it’s a “grave concern.”

    All of a sudden it’s almost grave enough to make Putin and the CCP rethink.

    Yep, disgusts and angers me too.

    No Tsar anymore for all the Russias.

    Yeah, Putin isn’t vainglorious enough to get himself crowned. He’s more of a pragmatist.

  12. sigurd jorsalfar says

    There is no principled reason for intervening now that chemical weapons have been allegedly used but not intervening back when only bullets and explosives were being used.

  13. says

    once you’ve paid for it, you almost have to use it for something, or you end up sort of feeling a bit foolish for having wasted the money/time/effort on it.

    The object of power is power. There is no benefit to accruing power unless you plan to abuse it; the same applies to weapons. That’s why rational people should always see those who want power, and weapons, as a threat to them – because they will inevitably wield the power or the weapon against someone.

  14. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    Even though only Congress has the power to declare war (and hasn’t done so since WWII despite the many wars that have happened in the meantime), the president now does so pretty much unilaterally. And Congress likes it that way. It absolves them of responsibility. If it all works out fine, they can praise it; if things go bad, they can blame the president.

    I find the facts don’t bear out this characterization. Congress voted on our adventures in both Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush Administration’s tenure. President Bush sought out their approval and got it, albeit based on false premises in regards to Iraq and with the help of the Administration, Fox News, the New York Times, and I’m sure others; all falsely characterizing the premises used to make a decision on Iraq. I don’t recall Congress’ role in Kosovo during the Clinton era.

  15. Michael Heath says

    I think all policy arguments should be presented within the context of what’s going on in Syria and its neighbors both recently and now, along with the possible ramifications for the future. I don’t see any good actions, nor can I even develop a position on the best bad solution.

    So the default position of doing nothing seems like a classic example of avoidance or denial; while intervention seems to be an argument that we ignore history where the negative blowback from our intervention would almost assuredly be enormous. But also where we have a catch-22 since the suffering now occurring is already enormous.

  16. colnago80 says

    Actually, the Johnson Administration treated the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as a declaration of war against the Viet Cohg.

  17. slavdude says

    I heard on NPR this morning that there actually could be doubt that it was the Syrian government that did this. Sarin is not difficult to make, and Assad would be really foolish to launch a chemical attack while UN inspectors are present in the country and could easily verify that he did it.

    So, what if we are wrong?

  18. colnago80 says

    Re slavdude @ #10

    The headline is misleading. The consensus from the “experts” cited was that it was highly likely that it was the Assad government that did the deed and that the opposition doesn’t have any chemical weapons nor the expertise to use them.

  19. Reginald Selkirk says

    Yes, Obama is planning action on Syria. Don’t expect him to hurry though, he needs to put in some time polishing his Nobel peace prize medal first.

  20. francesc says

    @3 KevinKat. In your link. From a democrat:

    “What I want for us here is to be very sober in our understanding of what a targeted military strike means. It may mean a long-term very expensive, very costly engagement for the United States,” said Murphy on Monday’s All In.

    It seems to me that your senators have a very low concept of the people that voted them. As if they were only moved by economical arguments, so that he is not trying to say “are we sure it would be good for Siria’s people?”, or “it wouldn’t be fair”, or “US can’t decide to intervene on his own” or “we need to be sure who are the good ones in that war” or “do we have a plan for the aftermath?”. Nope. His argument is “it would be expensive”.

    I get angry when the politicians that allegedly represent me think of me worse than I deserve -wich sadly happens on a daily basis

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