TDS founding editor William Galston writes in the Wall St Journal in support of a “measured” military response to the Assad Regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians:
Only now is America reckoning the full cost of the disaster in Iraq–friends in the Middle East doubting our competence, our closest ally unwilling to stand with us in Syria, our people weary and fearful of entanglements that could prove open-ended. Little more than a decade after the Vietnam syndrome was laid to rest, an Iraq syndrome has replaced it.The question is whether this new sentiment will dominate policy–whether acting for the wrong reasons in Iraq will prevent us from acting for the right reasons in Syria.
On Friday, in what was surely Secretary of State John Kerry’s finest hour, he stated the challenge clearly to the nation: “Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”
“Our responsibility.” What is it? What does it require of us?…Whatever the truth of the interminable debate over the limits of executive power, Mr. Obama was right to ask the members of Congress, as representatives of the American people, to join him in a firm but measured response to Bashar Assad’s crime against his own people.
But why is it this country’s responsibility? The stark fact is that the U.S. is the only country in the world with the capacity to respond to Assad’s outrageous use of chemical weapons in a way that might deter him from repeating it.
It would be good to have friends and allies standing with the U.S. But from a military standpoint, it is not strictly necessary. If America acts, others may follow–or at least offer support. If we don’t, no one else will.
At HuffPo, George Lakoff’s “Obama Reframes Syria: Metaphor and War Revisited” analyses President Obama’s strategy from a wonky, but interesting linguistic perspective, noting:
President Obama has reframed his position on Syria, adjusting the Red Line metaphor: It wasn’t his Red Line, not his responsibility for drawing it. It was the Red Line drawn by the world, by the international community — both legally by international treaty, and morally by universal revulsion against the use of poison gas by Assad. It was also America’s Red Line, imposed by America’s commitment to live up to such treaties.
The reframing fit his previous rationale for the Red Line: to uphold international treaties on weapons of mass destruction, both gas and nuclear weapons. By this logic, the Red Line therefore applies not just to Assad’s use of sarin, but potentially to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
The new version of the metaphorical policy has broad consequences, what I have called systemic causation (that goes beyond the immediate local situation) as opposed to direct causation (in this case applying just to the immediate case of Assad’s use of sarin).
Some will call the reframing cynical, a way to avoid responsibility for his first use of the Red Line metaphor. But President Obama’s reframing makes excellent sense from the perspective of his consistent policy of treaties and international norms, which he has said was the basis for the Red Line metaphor in the first place.
Lakoff has much more of interest to say about the uses of metaphor in selling both military action and opposing it, and his post is highly recommended for those who want to better understand this particular battle for hearts and minds.
In terms of seeking alternatives to military action, political commentator Fareed Zakaria has opined that it is still possible for the U.S. and Russia to negotiate a deal to de-escalate the crisis, and CNN reports that “U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, held “constructive” talks Friday on Syria on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Russia.”
Rep. Alan Grayson has called for more multilateral diplomacy, focusing on helping Syrian refugees and taking a complaint about the use of chemical weapons to the International Court of the Hague.
For those who don’t want to rush into military action, but also don’t want to take it off the table just yet, a proposal being floated by Sens. Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, the U.S. offers Assad’s government 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban “or face the wrath of American military might,” reports Jonathan Allen at Politico. If Assad refuses, however, it could lock the U.S. into military intervention.
At present no one is reporting anything close to majority support in congress for military action against Assad. But President Obama will soon take his case to the American people on Tuesday. It’s conceivable the Administration could pick up some support for military intervention if Assad refuses to sign on, but it’s unclear how much.