Thursday, 12 September 2013

“The United States Military does not do ‘pinpricks’…”

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The quotation in the title starts at 08:13, and is a response to members of Congress who “have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.” The President is right, of course – the US Military doesn’t do “pinpricks” well. At the same time, I have always felt concerned with the idea that raining missiles down on a country from afar will do anything but create chaos in the targeted nation.

[Incidentally, the only decent place to get the transcript, on a single web-page, is on the New York Times website. The other main news sites insist on splitting it over multiple pages without a Single Page option.]

Not a bad speech, but not wholly convincing. I have never been a supporter of war, and only more so in the wake of the Iraq debacle. My general position on the use of force, and the use of force by the United States in particular, are perhaps too long and convoluted to include in this blog post, but I thought I’d offer a couple of the key take-away comments from the president’s marks.

“Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”

This is a worthy sentiment, but what does “we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution” entail? How would the United States do that? President Obama continued,

“I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.”

I am deeply skeptical about this premise. I have yet to read a convincing argument that ‘proves’ air-strikes are enough to smack a dictator down. It hasn’t exactly worked in the past – Saddam Hussein, whose regime was a long-time target for US airstrikes, stopped for a bit, then started again, for example.

Andrea Mitchell picks up some of this in the post-interview portion of the segment, above. And, I must say, Rachel Maddow provides the best commentary in the discussion afterwards, with Chris Hayes a close second. [As an aside, I strongly recommend their latest books – Drift and Twilight of the Elites, respectively.]

“… several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

“However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.”

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