Cognitive Dissonance on the Road to Damascus

Let’s start with a couple of stipulations: Assad’s government dumped neurotoxins on civilian neighborhoods in Damascus, and Obama is not interested in joining the Syrian civil war on the ground.

It seems very unlikely that anyone else would gas what are effectively their own rebel populations, although the complexity of internecine strife in Syria doesn’t rule out some kind of rebel vs. rebel scenario. But the apparent means of delivery by rocket makes this far less likely.

I also believe Obama has zero appetite, regardless of political pressure, to get tangled up in Syria. He has no next term to protect, and he must know from years of intelligence briefings (to which I’m sure he listens closely, unlike some of his predecessors) that there is absolutely no upside.

What I would expect from him at this point, consistent with his actions in Libya for example, would be a deterrent response to the use of chemical weapons, clearly defined as different from some kind of intervention in the civil war. I would expect his policy to be one which raises the cost of any future use of chemical weapons by direct retaliation against Assad’s military infrastructure, carried out as far away as possible from the urban, civilian-occupied battlegrounds of the civil war. This is what our so-called “smart” weapons, like drones, are good for. For such a one-time strike, I would have expected him to brief key congressional chairmen and members, rather than looking to some kind of Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. All he has to tell us is that he is whacking the Syrian military in order to make it clear that they cannot gas civilians with impunity. We are one of the few powers that can effectively create this sort of deterrent.

This clearly defined, limited, single-strike policy of deterring chemical warfare, against a regime that is essentially genocidal, would have my support.

Instead, what I’m seeing is all the trappings of selling a broader intervention. The effort to establish simple deterrence is getting swallowed up in the circus of gaining allies (which produced a humiliating defeat in Parliament), selling Congress, and a bunch of pure bullshit from Secretary Kerry, who really, really should know better. Kerry’s most spectacular performance, just today, has been to claim that this is a “Munich” moment, which means that anyone voting against intervention is helping Hitler. Obama’s vocal Senate allies are John (“That One”) McCain and Lindsay (“Huckleberry”) Graham.

At this point, I think a lot of the resistance to Obama, at least from non-Obama-haters Democratic and Republican, is based on the undeniable resonance of all this ballyhoo with our memories of getting sucked into Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is a very rational and well-informed reaction of a broad base of our fellow citizens.

I don’t support Obama’s proposed intervention, because it is not clearly defined as a deterrent, I don’t know what good any other military action would do, and I don’t trust the rhetoric.


On day later, we see what ThatOne McCain’s support amounts to (NYT)—

Sen. John McCain says he will support President Barack Obama’s request to intervene in Syria if the move would “reverse the situation on the battlefield.”

Is this what Obama is signing up for?


This is an excellent summary of what we think we know and what it might mean by William Polk, printed in The Atlantic.  Polk had a security policy role at State during the Kennedy administration.


1 Comment

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One response to “Cognitive Dissonance on the Road to Damascus

  1. Firstly, I am sad and sick to hear how many people are so unhappy. I am sure every situation is a little different. Here is my story……. we joined in 2003 for a 40 year term for 10,000.00. We used it and things were fine until the letter to increase dues by approx. 40%. They would not rspond to my letters telling them this was against my contract. They even refused to book any weeks until I paid.I knew I was right so I went to a lawyer which cost me 500 dollars for a letter telling them the same thing I was telling them. They listened to the lawyer and sent me a letter saying there was a computer glitch. Yeah, right. So more time went by, then the energy costs, another fight. I got so going there was very unpleasant. I wrote them for my legal costs back. Back and forth communication and finally I told them to cancel my membership and I would be over. My husband was acranky about walking away from our 10,000 but my mental health was in jeopardy because this was all I could think about. Now it is over. Again I feel sad for each and every person dealing with place. I never signed for their points program when they seemed to force that on people either. With many situations different it will be difficult to go after them but I wish you every success. I just could not believe them wanting you to pay to move from one program to another. Good luck to you all. Click

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