Wednesday, September 04, 2013

between assad and a hard place

I am really confused, so I thought I'd try to work things out in this post and get some help from our always astute commenters.

Months ago BHO said chemical weapons were a red line and warned Assad not to use them.

Recently, according to BHO, Assad did just that.

Now, virtually everyone I know is going nuts, vociferously objecting to a strike against Assad.

I don't get it. To me, if you are against US military retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, the time to go nuts was months ago when BHO said what he said.

Given that he said it, with no take back, what the hell else is he supposed to do but strike Assad?

Now sure, he's making a complete bollox of it, and it is likely to be militarily weak and ineffective, but really, he has no choice but to do it. What's he supposed to do, say, "LOL, I was just kidding. Gas away, my friend."

So I don't understand why people waited until now to go nuts.

Maybe they think BHO is pulling a Bush-Cheney and fibbing about the use of chemical weapons?

God help me, but I think that's unlikely. BHO clearly doesn't really want to do this, so I think the evidence is likely pretty strong (NB: Jeff Sachs disagrees).

Maybe people think that BHO and by extension US foreign policy already has zero credibility, so it doesn't matter if BHO walks this back?

Certainly many people I know are 140 character mocking the argument that US credibility is at stake. But BHO has also told the ayatollah that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. If he doesn't follow through with respect to Assad, it certainly won't help his efforts to keep the ayatollah out of Club Nuke, will it? And that's a club we don't want the ayatollah in, do we?

So while I would not have ever gone about it the way BHO has, I do think that chemical weapons use deserves a strong sanction (not necessarily military though), and given where BHO has put us (see post title), I think he has no choice but to strike Assad.

BHO should have had a response prepared for this eventuality before he ever talked about the red line.  He was reckless and arrogant to think his words would not be tested. But it is what it is and we are where we are......

What's your solution? Tell me in the comments.


Samuel Wilson said...

My solution? Do like Sweden and offer immediate, unconditional asylum for Syrian refugees.

"Action" need not be synonymous with "hellfire from the skies".

Anonymous said... contradictory evidence about responsibility for the attach.

Angus said...

Indeed Sam. I agree that sanctions don't have to be military or unilateral. But given that BHO said what he said and that we are where we are, I still don't see how he has any choice but to follow through.

John Thacker said...

I did complain about it at the time, as did others who paid attention. I saw a lot of criticism of it myself, personally. I assume that a lot of people either thought that he wasn't serious-- honestly, he said a lot of other stuff, like "Assad must go," that also could be interpreted as threats-- or weren't paying attention. They also could think that criticizing the President too much for making the statement would make it perversely more likely for Assad to use the weapons, thinking that it wouldn't be heeded.

Outside from Syria, the President makes a lot of threats. All Presidents do. People don't raise a huge stink about all of them because there's too many, and people expect that some of them are just negotiating tactics. For example, just as the Republicans have threatened to shut down the government or breach the debt limit if certain spending cuts weren't agree upon, the President has threatened to shutdown the government or breach the debt limit if the Republicans attached those spending cuts to the debt limit increase. But I don't think anyone seriously thinks that he'd breach the debt limit-- and people who oppose the spending cuts don't want to make them more likely by criticizing the President for that negotiating tactic (but they'll criticize the Republicans. Vice versa for people who want spending cuts.)

John Thacker said...

You favor spending cuts, but you certainly don't think that the debt limit should be breached in order to get them. Yet the Republican House leadership made that threat. Does that mean that you favor breaching the debt limit if the President doesn't agree to the spending cuts, simply because that threat was made? To "maintain credibility?"

Gerardo said...

I wonder why foreign policy "experts" don't get the same grief that economists get. Is Obama's foreign policy "credibility" somehow different than Bernanke's Fed "credibility"?

Anonymous said...

Given all of Obama's flip flops on foreign policy and wars, I don't think not striking will affect his credibility. I don't believe a word he says on these matters. I would also be surprised if any foreigner believes his statements on these matters.

Anonymous said...

In my mind, credibility isn't even an issue. The U.S. has by far the most powerful army in the world. That gains us credibility whether we carry through with any particular threat or not.

Let me give you an example. If Russia threatened to nuke us over Syria and then didn't. Then they later threatened to nuke us over something else. Would we take it lightly the second time? I think not. Not as long as Russia has thousands of nukes anyway.

It is the ability to carry through on ones threats that make them scary. Oh, I suppose a tripwire attitude towards threats is even more intimidating (if you keep winning all the wars you will be in that is), but it degrades ones ability to carry through on other threats. A U.S. bogged down in Syria and Afghanistan actually has less military capability left over to take on Iran as well.

Sometimes you just have to pick your battles. I don't even blame BHO for making the threat. Nice try, but it didn't work. From what I can see we don't have any national interest at stake in this civil war. As I claimed, credibility is a weak reason because we have a very scary military regardless. Getting involved just isn't worth it.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Larison did get pretty upset at the time.

Anonymous said...

How is a 'shot across the bow' following through on his red line threat? The trick with deterrence is to find a punishment the person would really like to avoid, otherwise they will treat the punishment as the cost of doing business, which is no better than not following through.

Dropping a few bombs on Syria with the express intent of NOT hurting the Assad regime does nothing to strengthen our other red lines with Iran. Military operations rarely stay limited, and without a clear objective military strikes are ineffective. He risks a spiraling military conflict for an ineffective military strike with no real deterrence value.

He is trying to thread a needle with no eye hole here. Either get egg on your face because you believe it's the least bad option, or follow through on your red line with actions capable of future deterrence.

Anonymous said...

Terrorists make far more threats to attack us then they carry out. Yet the U.S. finds the threat of terrorism credible. Maybe we should just start ignoring them.

Anonymous said...

The problem is saying something like that doesn't limit you to a military response. But more importantly, when choosing to respond, make sure you're responding to the right catalyst.

There's no proof, none whatsoever, that Assad did this. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that the rebels themselves did it. Assad was beating them, why throw a monkey wrench into the situation? It was in hand, and chems would make things go against him.

My guess? The Saudis and Al Qaeda benefit and get the US to do the dirty work and take the blame. Why not push for this, because Obama is clearly completely out of his depth. Obama is in such a mess right now, a good military strike MIGHT help. It won't, but it MIGHT. So yeah, he likes this idea just a little.

The answer? Let them kill themselves and have Obama respond that he doesn't have enough evidence that it was Assad. Simple.

Simple.Machine said...

America's credibility isn't on the line, BHO's is. If the President had received Congressional approval, then it would be different. But he didn't, and one of the reasons you don't sound and thunder without America's support is precisely that you weaken the credibility of the Office as a representative of the American People, something that actually should instil a little fear in the hearts of tyrants from time to time.

But he didn't, and it isn't America's job to come to the Presidents defense to protect him from the consequences of his own credibility and contempt for our right to decide when to go to war. We're not killing people to cover for his stupidity.

Jim D said...

The moment BHO made his "red line" comment, what I heard was, "Read my lips - no new taxes."

The 1990 budget compromise didn't sink GHW Bush; the memory of his having said that years earlier did.

Same deal, much more deadly stakes.

John Thacker said...

Saddam used poison gas against the Kurds in Iraq after the first Gulf War. We didn't invade.

It doesn't seem to have caused others to use chemical weapons.

LowCountryJoe said...

"Given that he said it, with no take back, what the hell else is he supposed to do but strike Assad?"

So when U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 was created in 2002, does your same reasoning apply?

Anonymous said...

For the same reason I don't get upset every time one of my kids threatens to run away. I'll worry about it when one of them actually does it.

Anonymous said...

Solution? Easy: Send in Dennis Rodman

Anonymous said...

Since 1991, notes University of Chicago security scholar John Mearsheimer, the U.S. has been at war in two out of every three years. If we haven't secured our reputation by now, it's hard to imagine we ever could.

Tom said...

As I write, the latest US drone strike is about 4 hours old. At least 6 people killed. You are worried about "America's credibility"?! Let's try stopping killing people willy-nilly, just for a little while, and see if THAT helps America's credibility.

VOA says "drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan". I'll bet.

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