Because you asked for it, here’s my ill-informed, not-terribly-thoughtful, completely unsatisfying post on Syria

I have absolutely nothing of value to add to the debate on whether or not we get involved in the Syrian civil war. I know that. And I’m inclined to just keep my mouth shut. But, as people keep writing to me, demanding that I take a stand, as though what’s said on a tiny blog in Ypsilanti, Michigan will have any effect at all, I do have one observation that I’d like to share.

To any Syrian rebels that might be in the audience…

syriarebelsIf you want our help, it might serve your interests to stop eating the hearts of your enemies and telling your Christian countrymen that they’ll be beheaded unless they convert to Islam.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have my finger on the pulse of the American people, I can tell you with some certainty that we, as a people, tend to shy away from violent fundamentalists who want to cut off our heads and eat our hearts, even if they are fighting against ruthless dictators. Yes, I know that stuff like that never stopped us in the past, but my sense is that, in 2013, you might be better served by hiring a publicist and investing in some “I heart George Washington” t-shirts. And, the next time you feel the urge to eat a heart, harness that energy and use it to do something like build a secular grade school. That’s the kind of stuff that will win you points with us.

Of course, given what I just read about your organization in today’s news, I doubt you’ll act on my advice.

The following is from USA Today:

Saudi Arabia has sent death-row inmates from several nations to fight against the Syrian government in exchange for commuting their sentences, the Assyrian International News Agency reports.

Citing what it calls a “top secret memo” in April from the Ministry of Interior, AINA says the Saudi offered 1,239 inmates a pardon and a monthly stipend for their families, which were were allowed to stay in the Sunni Arab kingdom. Syrian President Bashar Assad is an Alawite, a minority Shiite sect…

Yes, I realize that not all of the rebels are insane, fundamentalist cannibals. (Those folks just tend to rush in whenever there’s a conflict, looking to advance their causes.) Furthermore, I understand that many of these stories could have been placed by individuals and organizations with a vested interest in keeping us out of Syria. But, guess what… It doesn’t really matter to me. Even if the heart being eaten was a prop, and not a single Saudi inmate had been sent across the border to fight, it wouldn’t change my opinion. I’m burned out on war. And I don’t trust anyone. (I can still see Colin Powell shaking that vile, telling us why we needed to invade Iraq.) I’m sorry, especially to the civilians who are being killed in Syria, but, in my opinion, this isn’t something that our increasingly overtaxed country can take on at the moment… not while we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here, by way of background, is a brief email on Syria sent out a few days ago by Robert Reich.

Cliff notes on a potentially disastrous decision. (1) Were Syrian civilians killed by chemical weapons? Yes. (2) How many? Estimates vary. (3) Was Assad responsible? Probably but not definitely. (4) Should the world respond? Yes. (5) What’s the best response? Economic sanctions and a freeze on Syrian assets. (6) What are the advantages of bombing Syria with missiles? (a) Highly visible response, (b) no American troops on the ground. (7) What are the disadvantages? (a) Syrian civilians will inevitably be killed, (b) it will fuel more anti-American, anti-Western sentiment, thereby increasing the ranks of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, (c) our involvement will escalate if Assad or others use additional chemical weapons or engage in retribution against the us or Israel, (d) we have no exit strategy, (e) most of our allies aren’t with us, and we can’t be the world’s policeman everywhere, (f) it will distract us from critical problems at home, (g) the Syrian rebels are not our friends. (8) So why is Obama pursuing this so vigorously?

And, for what it’s worth, Reich answered his own question a few days later, when he said that he’s of the opinion that John Kerry is the man responsible for pushing the President toward war, and that he’s doing it because he craves the international limelight.

One last thing, I’m not suggesting inaction. I think increased international sanctions are a good place to start. I’d also like to see international inspectors go in and destroy chemical weapon stockpiles. I just know from experience that these things, once they heat up, and the bombs start falling, don’t end. And, not just that, but they rarely accomplish what they set out to. And, for the money that it costs just to keep the USS Nimitz within firing range ($25 million per week), just think of the young Syrian women we could empower through education. Blowing up bad guys is OK, but, if you really want to make substantive change, in my opinion, you need to identify young people like Malala Yousafzai and give them the communications tools they need to be successful as organizers. That’s where the real opportunity is. It doesn’t provide the immediate “shock and awe” of a cruise missile strike, but it probably makes a hell of a lot more sense in the long run. For the price of a war with Syria, just imagine the number of books we could drop. Hell, we could probably afford to give every kid in the country his or her own computer, unrestricted internet access, and the knowledge that secular democracy is worth fighting for. Now, that would be something that I could get behind.

[OK, now that I’ve shared my ill-informed thoughts on the matter, please do the responsible thing and head over to our friend Juan Cole’s site, where you’ll find the real facts.]

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  1. Eel
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    If we’re fighting on the same side as the Saudis, we’re probably wrong. That’s all I need to know.

  2. Posted September 10, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    The Syrian revolution is a revolution that began as a struggle for self-determination. The Syrian people demanded to determine their own destiny. And, for more than two years, against all odds, and in the face of massive repression and destruction from the Assad regime, they persevered.

    In the course of the revolutionary process, many other actors have also appeared on the scene to work against the struggle for self-determination. Iran and its militias, with the backing of Russia, came to the aid of the regime, to ensure the Syrian people would not be given this right. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and others, under the guise of “fighting the Assad regime,” worked against this right as well. And I feel the same way about any Western intervention.

    Some would argue that we have come a long way from that, that it isn’t even about self-determination anymore, but rather, simply stopping the killing. This is a position I cannot support. If it was simply about stopping the killing, then I would’ve supported the jihadis when they came in, because, no one can deny, they were the best armed and the best equipped to challenge the Assad regime. But I didn’t, and many others didn’t, because we knew that despite their ability to challenge the regime, that they did not share the goals of the Syrian people. They wanted to control the Syrian people, and stifle their ability to determine their own destiny. Because of this, they were counter-revolutionaries, even if they were fighting against the regime.

    And now in the face of a possible Western intervention in Syria, I hold the same position. Many would say I’m being ideological, and that I should just focus on stopping the killing; but those people are ignoring that, even on pragmatic terms and within their own line of reasoning, their argument holds no sway, after repeated US insistence that “these will only be punitive strikes” and they “do not intend to topple the regime.” What indication is there that these strikes will do anything to stop the killing, or “solve” the Syrian crisis?

    I don’t care about sovereignty. Syria has become a land for everyone but Syrians nowadays. The myth of Syrian sovereignty is not why I oppose Western intervention. Neither is the prospect of the destruction of Syria, for it has already been destroyed by this criminal regime. I oppose Western intervention because it will work against the struggle for self-determination, that is, against the Syrian revolution.

    Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. I have no doubt about this. And this could have been prevented if the Syrian resistance was actually given weapons that could have tilted the balance against the regime. But foreign powers sat on their hands, not wanting Assad to win, but not wanting the resistance to win either. They couldn’t give weapons to the Syrian people to defend themselves, they said, who knows whose hands they might end up in? They might accidentally end up in, say, the hands of Syrians who wanted to determine their own destiny despite foreign interests!

    So we’ve come full circle. No one armed the Syrian resistance, so they were killed by the regime, or forced to put up with jihadi infiltration. So Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrians, and the West wants to respond to teach Assad a lesson, a response that still guarantees that Syrians have no say in the matter of their future. And the regime will probably live through any “punitive” Western intervention, and the killing will probably not stop.

    But despite all that, the Syrian revolution, and, at its heart, the Syrian people’s struggle for liberation and to determine their own destiny, will live on.

  3. Meta
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    From the Washington Post:

    France will float a resolution in the U.N. Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to make public its chemical weapons program, place it under international control and dismantle it, the French foreign minister said Tuesday.

    The French initiative comes a day after Russia, a fellow permanent member of the council that has been a key ally of Assad’s regime, expressed support for a proposal for Syria’s chemical weapons arsenals to be placed under international control and destroyed.

    Read more:

  4. anonymous
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Your post worked! Obama says he’ll put plans for an attack on hold!

  5. Posted September 10, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Syria is already under sanctions. Like most dictatorial governments, it’s pretty clear that Assad doesn’t care. I would argue that economic sanctions are more damaging to human health than bombing military targets.

    A person like Assad has plenty of resources to live on, and dictatorial governments tend to favor and protect the ruling elite. They aren’t affected by sanctions. The average guy on the street (or child of), is.

    Robert Reich is credible on a lot of topics, but this is not one of them. Here, he seems to be just feeding his audience what they want to hear.

    I don’t have any solutions, either, nor should I be tasked with coming up with any since it’s not my field of expertise, but that’s just my assessment.

  6. upside down
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    You know you’ve gone through the looking glass when Chuck Norris makes more sense than Barack Obama.

    You can check out his “As a six-time world karate champion, I know something about fighting, winning and losing” article here:

  7. Posted September 10, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink


    I very much respect you for including the word “ill informed” in the title.

    It’s refreshing to see someone online recognize the limits of his/her knowledge, particularly in regards to the complex issue of Syria’s use of chemical weapons and other human rights abuses.

    I only wish that others would follow your example.

    Thank you.

  8. anonymous
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your fellow man, is not blog and not comment.

  9. Jim K.
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If we want to bomb something, how about forgoing these proxy wars and going right to the source — Saudi Arabia?

  10. Meta
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    From Reuters:

    The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday.

    “We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Interfax quoted the minister, Walid al-Moualem, as telling the speaker of Russia’s lower house parliament house in Moscow.

    He said Syria had agreed because this would “remove the grounds for American aggression,” the report said.

    Read more:

  11. EOS
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I wonder how America would react if Syria announced that they were giving support and CIA training to rebels who want to overthrow OUR government? Isn’t that still considered an act of war in itself? I wonder if we will accept the blame when our “good rebels” succeed in overthrowing Assad, only to be destroyed in the ensuing anarchy by the overwhelming numbers of “bad rebels”? I wonder how we are going to destroy the chemical weapons without any “boots on the ground”? I wonder how you can possibly determine if all chemical weapons are destroyed when you can store a toxin producing bacteria in a volume smaller than a drop of water and then grow lethal doses of toxin in a very short period of time? But I am glad we are not bombing the Syrians today, and hopefully, not tomorrow either.

  12. Robert
    Posted September 12, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Seeing the roles reversed from the Bush years is interesting. I guess we should now thank the Bush Administration for completely destroying what was left of US credibility with regard to these matters. Had they not destroyed it, the majority of Americans and many of our allies would now be jumping on the ‘Bomb Syria’ bandwagon. Of course, now we have Putin playing the role of good guy, which is pretty scary.

  13. alan2102
    Posted September 13, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink



    at a time when the US was in almost an identical predicament and GDP catch up would have been impossible by any other means, what happened? World War. Luckily, for the US it generated unprecedented growth and cemented its status as the world’s super power, and the USD as the reserve currency. Others were not so lucky.

    Are we the only ones who suggest that the only outcome is a military one? No. Recall from Kyle Bass:

    Trillions of dollars of debts will be restructured and millions of financially prudent savers will lose large percentages of their real purchasing power at exactly the wrong time in their lives. Again, the world will not end, but the social fabric of the profligate nations will be stretched and in some cases torn. Sadly, looking back through economic history, all too often war is the manifestation of simple economic entropy played to its logical conclusion. We believe that war is an inevitable consequence of the current global economic situation.


    Which also means preconceived from the start. So despite a recent sense of detente in Syria, pay close attention: never since the cold war has the world been so close to the edge of a full-blown global military conflict. Whether or not the Syria “trigger” has been produced as the catalyst that will spark growth, or is merely a precursor to such an event is still unclear. However with every passing day, the US economy lags ever more behind its “trendline” and the common man gets left ever further behind the superclass of financial asset oligarchs, a state which the president opined recently was unacceptable. The question is whether millions of war casualties for the sake of yet another economic “golden age” aren’t.

  14. レディース
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    There have to be other planets in the universe that those of us who aren’t crazy can move to.

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