August 24, 2013

Unhappy Saturday

The weekend is opening with CBS reporting that the US is preparing for a cruise missile attack on Syria.

Given that Syria decided to nerve gas a town on the one year anniversary of the President's 'RED LINE' speech this may be the least bad option.

I don't believe that proportional responses are generally advisable or ethical. If one must use violence one should, as a rule, use overwhelming force. Such a policy is more likely to have a deterrent effect and save more lives in the long run (either through quick victory or deterring violence in the first place) than a predictable escalation of response which can be planned for and factored into cost benefit analysis by bad actors.

However, an overwhelming response in the case of Syria might topple the government. This would ordinarily be a good thing, but give that the opposition forces are AlQuaeda and similar groups, such an outcome would result in wast quantities of weapons including nerve gas plus Syria's stock of radioactives to fall into the hands of a bunch of feral crazies who dearly want to kill us and our Israeli allies.

So a painful but not crippling attack may be the least terrible option.

Of course, this supposes that the President, in his zeal to thwart the execrable Assad regime has not allowed himself to become blinded to the threat posed by its collapse, and doesn't actually intend to bring it down...which as we have discussed before would probably make things even worse.

We wouldn't been in this pickle and this nerve gas attack might not have occurred if the President had not given his "Red Line" speech. That bit of election year chest pounding  has been described (accurately IMHO) by Glen Reynolds as 'speaking loudly and carrying no stick'. He links to a Facebook post by Ken from Popehat, who so pithily sums up this rotten situation that I quote it in full....

How to know that Syria is, in fact, using chemical weapons on its people: They did it on the one year anniversary of the "red line" warning. Anniversaries mean things.

I don't support a Syrian intervention. I'm not sure a fascist Iranian-Russian puppet is any worse for America than the Al Qaeda superstate that would follow it. In fact it's probably "better."

But if you're going to give "red line" warnings, you should kick ass when the line's crossed. We're just taking names. We've gone from the world's policeman to the world's hall monitor.

...which pretty much sums up the situation we're in.

Had Obama not gone with a chip on his shoulder to someone who desperately needs to look tough to survive...and mockingly dared him to knock it off, the gas attack might not have even happened (especially given the timing). 1300 people, mostly women and children would not be dead. Of course now we need to send in cruise missiles, which (assuming a ridiculously optimistic 1% failure rate) will, for every hundred missiles, put a thousand pounds of high explosive where we didn't intend it to go. Even the ones that hit their targets are likely to kill more civilians, especially if a chemical arms depot is hit.

While tragic, such an attack would not be nearly so troubling if it had a good chance of greatly shortening the conflict and bringing about real peace..which it almost certainly does not.

However, given the nature of the atrocity, the need to restore our needlessly lost credibility in order to deter future threats, and the hope that an attack will prevent future use of such vile weapons on civilians...this looks like the least terrible option on the table.

...and that says a lot about the alternatives.

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