Dear Congressman Huffman: Syria Thread Part i

I will do this only very rarely, but this is entirely new content under this post.  THIS POST IS NEW TODAY – 9/6/13 and completes this series for this post.  Comments on Syria from dJon, dAlex, dRams – 3 brothers are now found below the fold in the comment zone.

Here’s democratic Dad who was born and lived in Tunis, Tunisia until his mid twenties (I think).  Recently he has lived and worked for international non-profits in Yemen off and on, but mostly on, for around 10 years.   He is an American citizen with roots in this region and has lived and worked here for many years.  I think his opinion carries weight!

1- if we are trying to uphold an international law, we should get an international request (approval does not sound good for US ego). Why should we feel that we have to be the police of the world against everyone else’s view? It is significant that no other country has yet joined the US in support of the strike (Israel does not count). Are they less “compassionate” than we are? Or are we just more prone to use force against other nations than any other country?

2- our congress hopefully will do what the Brits did, Obama will not lose face and better be refused than make a blunder ,  kill more people and drag the country into a new war.

3- a no vote does not mean doing nothing, it keeps the door open for working on international pressure and consensus and in the meantime Obama should look into covert action specifically to eliminate Assad (including using Israeli help),  providing arms to the opposition and making a big gesture to help Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and those internally displaced. Each bomb not dropped is a few million dollars than can be used for humanitarian aid.

4- it is embarrassing that Putin is now giving us lessons on respecting the international law!

5- above all else Obama as a Nobel peace laureate should think twice before engaging into a war no one else is supporting. Remember they gave it to him preventively so he would be a peace advocate.

Righteous! and with an added dig at Vice Presidential Candidate Palin too.  Excellent – Thanks democratic Dad.

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7 thoughts on “Dear Congressman Huffman: Syria Thread Part i

  1. I agree with Alex. I also agree with the NYT Editorial. Mostly I will agree with whatever Congress decides. I do hope Congressman Huffman backs Obama on this, but I hope if he and Congress does, they make the authorization as limited and defined as possible.

  2. This was the header post on 9/3 and sadly demoted to the comment zone when democratic Rams’ views entered the inbox.

    So today we get our first guest post – everyone say hi to my most righteously awesome (and definitively unemotional) brother democratic Alex. Here are his views on Syria. He lives in Washington D.C. so he doesn’t have a congressman, I hope Humboldt’s Congressman Jared Huffman (California’s Fightin’ 2nd!) will pay some attention to his views despite the fact dAlex lives outside his district. Who knows, maybe we can talk Congressman Huffman into supporting representation for The District!
    Anyhoo, back to Syria – some wise and rightfully cautious words from dAlex – here they are…

    There is an increasing recognition in int’l law of a “duty to protect.” National sovereigns have this duty to their people, and if they are not fulfilling it, the in’tl community has a duty to protect those citizens. In cases where that duty is applied, it seems to me you want to inflict the least harm while maximizing the deterrent effect of your action on future scofflaws. It seems to me that going directly for the assassination of Assad would not only target the individual who is most likely responsible for the violation of international law while minimizing direct harm to other individuals, but would also have the highest likelihood of deterring future leaders from doing something similar.

    The downside is that we do not know for sure that Assad ordered the chemical weapons attack that killed so many people and violated international law. But we likely have a reasonable basis for assuming that action of this magnitude would not take place without his tacit or explicit assent. Ideally, there would be an investigation or some other deliberative process to determine if assassination was warranted, so it would not simply be the US president deciding who lives and who dies. Perhaps a Congressional or UN process of some kind could help with this aspect, but would be very tricky politics especially at the UN. We don’t need a political process, we need a judicial/fact finding process that provides a sense of procedural fairness. This may be very hard to do in the fog of war, however, and the risk of targeting the wrong individual has to be weighed against the harm of doing nothing. In the case of Assad, I’m less concerned, because we already know he has very, very dirty, tyrannical hands, and the chemical weapons attack likely gets him over the line.

    It strikes me too that Assad does not even have the cloak of democratic legitimacy to protect him. I think if he did, that would be an additional thumb on the scale against direct action to attack him, but not necessarily dispositive in its own right.
    Those are my two or three cents late at night and cognizant of the delicate balance between punishing the abuse of power that Assad demonstrates…. And creating a different abuse via an injudicious response……

  3. Yesterday was a guest post by my righteously awesome brother Alex. Today is a post by my other righteously awesome other brother democratic Rams. (now also in comment zone) Apparently the guy is a huge St. Louis fan? I don’t get it. Anyhoo, here are his thoughts on Syria. Congressman Huffman, feel free to read this too, but he is already spoken for. His Congresswoman is the great former Speaker herself. Here’s dRams…

    I have nothing insightful to add beyond what everyone else said. I will only say that Obama going to Congress is, to me, actually more of a punt than anything related to a newfound understanding of the actual powers of the Executive branch. Obama actually does have limited authority to engage in limited armed conflicts and he has not hesitated to use that in the past without congressional approval. (e.g., killing Osama Bin Laden.) I think the UK parliament vote along with the low public approval for a strike forced him to make a political move rather than a Presidential one. Now, if we attack, it is owned by Congress AND him, whereas before it was just him. He didn’t want to shoulder that risk alone and in typical Obama fashion he chose the middle of the road, don’t ruffle any feathers path. Articles out today (editor’s note: yesterday) also hint that his foreign policy advisers were not even in the loop when he made this decision and none of them wanted it to go through Congress.
    On what we should do: I support an internationally based action focused more on the criminal elements of using chemical weapons rather than any sort of broad military support for the rebels. This is a crime against humanity. I am usually pro-peace and anti-intervention but the international community is responsible for enforcing international war crimes laws. This is a pretty big breach of those laws. So something more along the lines of what Alex said although I would actually more be in favor of a (perhaps more risky) detention and prosecution of Assad. Failing that, destruction of chemical weapons facilities, factories, military bases and equipment that could be used to deploy it in the future, attacks on the command infrastructure of the military itself, that sort of thing.

  4. dRams very insightful (IMHO). democratic Leila should be proud.

    I had a little blurb here comparing and contrasting our views, but it appears it was eaten. Doh! Anyway, it appears we all agree on Alex’s “duty to protect”. We also agree that use of the U.S. military should be a very high bar – either through Congress or the U.N. or both.

  5. Post for 9/5 from me, d Jon. This thread has probably been pretty confusing for the (one) person trying to read my blog. Thank you reader! So I posted this on 9/5 above the fold and removed this on 9/6 for the final post in this series. All the previous posts are above, having been demoted to comments to make space for democratic Dad’s input. Thanks again Dad.

    Someone said yesterday. I won’t say who, but his initials are R.M. and his name rhymes with Clichard Parks. This anonymous person said that it’s better not to make an emotional decision on this. Sad but true. As bad as I feel for not responding to this multi-month ongoing massacre by the Assad regime, any action will require strong support from both Congress and the U.N.

    And increasingly, despite the chemical attacks it is looking like the best military action will be inaction – at least in the immediate future. An article from the NYT today is persuasive. It has an April video of rebels ritually murdering government soldiers. It is gang warfare. As bad as Assad is, and he should be shunned on the international stage for as long as he is in power, when he is gone we will suffer another power vacuum where the most armed is the most powerful. This is not an auspicious beginning for a new start in Syria. Same is true for Libya.

    Some quick calculations. During the 2011 Civil War in Libya using very uncertain numbers from Wikipedia and Google, say 15,000 people died out of a population of about 6.4 million = 0.2% of the population died. In Syria, the numbers so far are about 100,000, and 20.8 million = 0.4%. That is about on in every 500 people for Libya and about one in every 200 people for Syria. Since the actual number of deaths is so uncertain, these can be considered approximately the same IMHO.

    What they tell me though is there is a very high violence factor associated with their transition. This is not hopeful for their future as it promotes tough-guy leaders instead of civil or democratic leaders. The near future for Egypt and Tunisia is much brighter, but each still suffers from authoritarian brutality in Egypt’s case and political assassinations in Tunisia’s.

    I’m sure most Americans’ unspoken take how lesson in all of this is – it’s The Middle East – what are you going to do? That isn’t the true narrative here. The reality and proper narrative to understand the unrest in the Middle East (IMHO) is this is mostly about economics. The flash point that started the Arab Spring is a great illustration of that.

    But anyway, that was a big-picture aside – back to Syria. The time when we still had a chance for a good outcome was early on when good people like Fidaa al-Baali were still alive and/or still in Syria. I’m not against military action, I am resigned to inaction as the best course for Congress right now. Obama and his administration should continue to lead on this and not take what will probably be a vote against authorization as a set back.

    They should see it as a chance to continue to strengthen the case against Assad on the international and national stage gathering evidence and building coalitions. Also, there should be groups coordinating Syrian refugees and expatriates envisioning and planning a Syria without Assad. It’s not going to be easy with the ethnic tribalism and inevitable thirst for revenge, but it just has to happen. Somehow. Inshallah.

  6. Well Syria is getting a lot of attention, and this is great. I really like the national dialog on Syria actually. I think it is smart, cautious, yet is leading the international community in condeming Assad. Good on you President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Here is a great Google Hangout webcast with Secretary of State Kerry yesterday. I just can’t help but think how different Democrats and Republicans are on foreign policy. Democrats are nuanced, intelligent yet resolved. Republicans are … just resolved.

    Here are some more thoughts from dDad – thanks d Dad!

    The latest news on Syria is that the leadership is accepting to put its chemical stocks under international control and thus guarantee its non-use ! the Russians brokered this deal and obviously Syria accepted primarily because of Russia’s influence, but it must be kept in mind that neither of the two would not have done it without the threat of being hit by US bombs. In a way Obama’s threat worked even though he did not ask Syria for anything as an action on their part to avoid being hit. May be it would not have worked if he gave them the alternative of giving up their chemical arsenal. It is normally what gunmen do in western movies, they ask for your gun and if you refuse they shoot you, right? Not here, were going to shoot period.

    In any case despite the Russians and the US not talking to each other (or were they?) they seem in combination to have played together the role of the carrot and the stick or bad guy good guy. It is the outcome that counts and if Russia has helped to prevent a war they have done us and the Syrians a good favor. But I can’t help feel sad that the image of the US that will result from this is that of a warring president that was stopped by the Russian intervention, a peaceful one, going straight to the point and because of that a more effective and sure one since Syria is participating and handing out its chemical materials, whereas a military strike could not guarantee that we will eliminate those materials. Now why did we not think of that FIRST? We were intent on punishing Syria rather than going to the root of the issue and solving the problem, our #1 diplomat, was working hand in hand with our secretary of defense to promote war and so was our President and Nobel peace prize winner. I could have imagined a scenario where Kerry would be on the other side of the solution spectrum proposing a peaceful alternative through DIPLOMACY – his job- and our defense secretary offering a military solution as he is expected to do. But it is unfortunate that diplomacy got left out and became the mouth piece of the military.

  7. Here is a link to the President’s address to the nation re: Syria last night.

    Grade? 5 out of 5 old-growth redwoods. My only distraction was being skeptical about the narrative of Assads use of chemicals, but that’s GW’s fault, not Obama’s as GW was the one who used our intelligence toward political ends.

    But really, the narrative was strong and compelling. The reaction was rightfully indignant. The request for approval and international support was spot on.

    It is so nice to have a Democrat in the White House. It just makes me even more upset that the Supreme Court disallowed further counts in Florida 2000. To think what might have been, or more precisely, what might not have been.

    Here is a great quote from the speach.

    “And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just. To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”

    Oh, and this …

    “Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.” Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.”

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