The Always Wrong Experts

Middle East

Scott Lemieux

The Weekly Standard has an open letter explaining that blowing up lots of stuff in Syria is a great idea:

The signatories on the letter addressed to President Obama inlcude Senator Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, and many others.

The “other people” include Max Boot, Paul Berman, Dr. Clifford D. May, Marty Peretz, and Danielle Pletka.

If this crew is for it, it’s a bad idea. Need more be said?

Well, I’ll say some more, anyway. The always-wrong experts want the U.S. to arm the insurgents. My understanding is that there are several different insurgent groups, some of which are hard-core Islamists, although some are not. John Cole writes,

And then we get to look forward to the whole liberal hawk debate, and then the diehards who will support whatever intervention Obama engages in, should he, and call everyone else closet Republicans, someone will force me to read the fucking New Republic again, and then, the best part- if Obama does intervene, and the mostly secular Assad regime leaves, there will be elections in Syria, and a muslim government will be elected. We can then be treated to years of hearing how Obama and the Democrats lost Syria, just like they did Egypt, all of which will be more proof for the necessity to invade Iran.

The expectation is that the U.S. will drop a few bombs on Assad and then tell him to behave. Max Fisher writes,

What’s about to happen, if the United States and allies do go through with the strikes, is less of a war and more of a ritual. This isn’t about defeating Assad, it’s about punishing him. And that calls for being really precise about how much punishment the United States imposes.

If the U.S. military just fired off a bunch of missiles, it would probably cause more civilian causalities than with its current approach, and the amount of damage it caused would be tougher to predict. Maybe it causes less damage than the United States wants, and then Assad is not sufficiently deterred from future chemical weapons use. Maybe it causes more damage, and then Assad might feel compelled to respond, perhaps by striking Israel, and that’s how things spiral out of control.

No, what the Obama administration appears to want is a limited, finite series of strikes that will be carefully calibrated to send a message and cause the just-right amount of pain. It wants to set Assad back but it doesn’t want to cause death and mayhem. So the most likely option is probably to destroy a bunch of government or military infrastructure — much of which will probably be empty.

If it’s ritual that’s called for, I say equip Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, et al. with some drums and bagpipes and drop them into Damascus. That’ll learn ’em.

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  1. Stephen Stralka  •  Aug 28, 2013 @11:45 am

    If you’re not entirely sure who to arm, or who to blow up, or why, it’s generally best not to.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:00 pm

    Yes, if “The League of the Perpetually Wrong” – aka: “The Confederacy of Putz’s” – is FOR something, anyone with any sense should be AGAINST it!!!

    But this time, not all of the rubes, or KKKeyboard KKKomando’s, or usually gullible members of the MSM, are on board behind raining down drones and missiles on the roads to, and from, and around, Damascus.

    But that shouldn’t be surprising.
    I suspect that’s because we have that EEEEEEEBIL MOOOOOOOOZLIM FASCIST COMMIE, President Barack Hussein ObaMao-LeninStalinHitler, in charge, and not some partriotic Real ‘Murkan Preznit, like W.

    If President Cruz-ader, or Paul, or Rubio, or Walker, were for not only raining down missiles, but actually invading and occupying Syria, they’d all be picking up drums and bagpipes, and storing up Cheeto’s and Mountain Dew, for the long haul – only to pound hard and blow hard, and crunch and guzzle, at a safe distance, far, far away.
    Maybe from next to Kristol, Rove, and Lieberman. They’ve never been in any fight, except one of the political variety.

  3. goatherd  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:20 pm

    “I say equip Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, et al. with some drums and bagpipes and drop them into Damascus.”

    That would make a great “Reality TV” show.

  4. uncledad  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:45 pm

    The signatories on the letter addressed to President Obama inlcude Senator Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, and many others.


  5. Bonnie  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:46 pm

    Love the solution! 😀

  6. Lynne  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:49 pm

    I’m for it.

  7. biggerbox  •  Aug 28, 2013 @12:51 pm

    I can think of nothing more devastating Obama could do, in order to send a message to the Assad regime, than to pack up the entire Weekly Standard list and send them to Damascus to advise Assad. (Though doing that would be so horrific it would probably be a war crime against Syria.)

    My feeling is, if you want to send a message, use email. Paper, even. With a nice wax seal maybe. Not cruise missiles. They have a very low bandwidth, and are often misinterpreted. For example, I think the message they would send is “It’s OK with us if you slaughter women and children indiscriminately, but you have to do it inefficiently with conventional weapons. No chemicals.” It’s like some macabre call to be organic and eco-friendly.

    That’s probably not the message the White House has in mind, which is why I suggest using an improved communications medium than aerial munitions.

    This whole idea of “sending a message” is stupid though, based on the false assumption that you can train a dictator like a dog and that you can neatly predict responses. Give Assad a quick rap on the snout, so he knows not to do that again. Despots are not dogs in the literal sense. They don’t work that way. Assad is not going to read any “message” we send him ‘correctly’. He may decide we’re telling him he should try gassing non-Syrians instead. Who knows?

    The sad fact is that the message Obama would be sending is really to the GOP and the Weekly Standard crowd, saying that he’s such a wimp and a wuss that he’s willing to do something amazingly stupid just to keep them from being able to say he’s a wimp and a wuss.

  8. biggerbox  •  Aug 28, 2013 @4:19 pm

    While we’re at it, does Obama actually have authority to do anything against Syria? I mean, Syria hasn’t attacked us or our allies. No one is saying Assad is covered under the AUMF – he had nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda.

    I mean, I realize it’s not in fashion to have Congress declare war anymore, even though it’s supposed to, but doesn’t the War Powers Act still have some kind of notion of “emergency”? Did that go away after Kosovo? Are we now down to “the President drew a line in the sand he now regrets” as the definition of a sufficient emergency to commit our military to open warfare? We get to be at war in Syria for 60 days, or something, before Obama needs approval?

    So, basically, a President can open a war anywhere, and it’s cool?

    I saw that some Congresscritters have a letter going around begging Obama to consult Congress first, and I wondered, um, why do they need that letter? Doesn’t he at least need a fig-leaf resolution, or something?

    (Is it a sign that I am a hopeless fool that I even care about such things anymore?)

  9. Bardi  •  Aug 28, 2013 @4:23 pm

    Love it.

    Equipping them with weapons? Probably shoot each other before they got there.

  10. justme277  •  Aug 28, 2013 @4:33 pm

    “If this crew is for it, it’s a bad idea. Need more be said?” – Um no, I think that sums up the situation perfectly.

  11. moonbat  •  Aug 28, 2013 @4:36 pm

    So, basically, a President can open a war anywhere, and it’s cool?

    I find that very disturbing. There’s sort of a tacit acceptance that we’ve been at war ever since 9/11, and nothing needs any approval any more. One by one the features of our government have been stripped out, and the whole thing is on auto-pilot.

  12. moonbat  •  Aug 28, 2013 @4:45 pm

    Especially when our country is trying to derail the UN probe regarding the use of chemical weapons. If you recall, George Bush did the same thing – brushed the UN weapons inspectors aside – to get his war on, in Iraq. All this is happening, when the rebels our country is supporting, are losing.

  13. Swami  •  Aug 28, 2013 @6:02 pm

    Will Lieberman be playing Scotland the Brave or Glengarry ?

  14. maha  •  Aug 28, 2013 @6:55 pm

    Swami — not Scotland the Brave. That’s like, you know, for Scots who are brave. I can’t think of a bagpipe tune for weenies. But maybe we should send this guy —

  15. Bill Bush  •  Aug 28, 2013 @6:05 pm

    I think that crew would resemble this one:
    And Stephen, NAILED.

  16. maha  •  Aug 28, 2013 @7:16 pm

    Bill B — Still funny after all these years …

  17. Swami  •  Aug 28, 2013 @9:11 pm

    I don’t see Curveball’s signature on that letter to Obama. Is he no longer in the club? I see Elliot Abrams is still stirring the shit pot.. he’s been at it a long time.

  18. Doug  •  Aug 28, 2013 @9:17 pm

    I am troubled. While I do NOT want to get involved with a new war or nation building, if Assad is using chemical weapons against civilians – (I said IF) – that’s not a trivial offense. What the appropriate response should be… I don’t pretend to know.

    Ignoring the situation does not seem appropriate. The question was raised if slaughter of civilians by conventional means should be considered a misdemeanor. a good question, and I don’t know what the threshold of acceptable collateral damage should be. Nor is the US government eager to have such a limit clearly defined because we are notorious (speaking globally) for collateral civilian fatalities which we shrug off.

    Still, the crowd here is brighter than I am.. and quite as moral or ethical as any random group I know. So tell me – should we do NOTHING when a desperate regime is using wholesale slaughter as a means of resisting a revolution?

  19. uncledad  •  Aug 28, 2013 @9:43 pm

    So tell me – should we do NOTHING when a desperate regime is using wholesale slaughter as a means of resisting a revolution?

    Yes we should do nothing. We have involved ourselves in conflict in the Mideast since the 50’s at least, tell me how any of our adventures have helped? All we have done is enrich the war profiteers, elevate the fundamentalists and impose one despot after another. It simply is not only in our national interest to act and our actions will only make matters worse for the innocents on the ground. That is what history tells us. This is not our fight, never was never will be. Let Israel and Saudi Arabia deal with it.

  20. Doug  •  Aug 28, 2013 @10:57 pm

    Clinton intervened in Kosovo – and that stopped the genocide. I’m not advocating A Kosovo solution in these circumstances, but I reject the idea that careful, prudent, measured action can’t make a difference and end needless bloodshed by civilians. If the armies want to kill each other, let them have at it.

    Perhaps, unkledad, you have proposed a workable intervention. Can the Arab League be prodded into taking action? That way it’s not an invasion by Christian nations with ulterior motives… If the consensus on the left is that the US should NOT do what the morons are advocating.. then what IS the appropriate move?

    Yeah, I’m not joining the choir here. Large numbers of dead civilians is not OK. When it’s likely to repeat, and it will repeat if Assad decides the military action succeeded, one has to ask, when is it too much? and what CAN we do???

  21. maha  •  Aug 29, 2013 @7:03 am

    I don’t think there’s going to be an invasion, or even anything that rises to the level of “war.” If any military action is taken at all, it will be an airstrike or two against military targets, and that will be the end of it. And while I think this will be a stupid, expensive exercise that probably will have little effect, neither am I ready to take to the streets about it. Talk about war and invasion is way premature.

  22. Swami  •  Aug 29, 2013 @12:10 am

    Although it might be fun to watch a good bombing of Assad’s military it will only be an exercise in futility if Obama doesn’t target personal responsibility directly to Assad, meaning he has to issue a death sentence to Assad by declaring him a terrorist and pursue him as such.

    If Obama is sincere in his outrage for the use of chemical weapons and hopes to effect a meaningful lesson to the civilized world he has to show the world that whoever uses chemical weapons will be destroyed by the civilized world. Assad needs to pay with his life… forget the alliances, the balances of power, the what ifs, the who’s gonna fill the void and what’s the future gonna bring.. Just focus on the use of chemical WMD’s and hold those who use them responsible at the price of their own lives.

  23. Lynne  •  Aug 29, 2013 @7:31 am

    The UN is at least one venue – if it can’t agree (as apparently it can’t) – we should not commit ourselves to unilateral action.

  24. Swami  •  Aug 29, 2013 @1:52 pm

    Obama is going to use the whipping boy principle. Attack the Syrian military so that Assad learns not to do it again. Yeah, that’ll work! At least it will get the egg off Obama’s face by way of making a token gesture in putting some meaning behind his words..