Syria is not Iraq

If we can agree on one thing, it’s that the Arab awakening has shown that the path to democracy is messy and uneven, pitted with potholes. The Syrian civil war has been no less messy. As much as we might wish it were so, the battle lines don’t break down clearly between good and evil. But let us agree on one more thing: Bashar al Assad is evil. He’s killed 100,000 people over the past two years, and he added at least 1,400 more to that tally with a series of chemical weapon attacks last week. 426 of these were children. Syria is not Iraq, where we tried to topple a stable regime. Syria is Bosnia.

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

President Obama and the Congress must act swiftly to do whatever is possible to prevent this tally from growing. We have already waited too long; had we acted a year ago to prevent this slaughter, those chemical weapons might never have been released. Just as in Bosnia our presence was able to end the wholesale slaughter of one ethnic group by another, we have a chance here to prevent the continued deployment of nerve gas against civilian populations by the Asad regime. Instead, I fear that we have learned the wrong lessons from the Iraq debacle. Continue reading

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Red Lines, Red Blood

People on Syrian streets are dying horrible deaths, asphyxiated as the air around them gives way to clouds of toxic gas released upon them by their government. Last week, blood samples of the victims confirmed that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has used weapons of mass destruction in the form of Sarin nerve gas on at least three occasions, including once on the streets of the rebel stronghold of Homs. Today, horrifying images have flooded the internet of bodies lying inert, otherwise undamaged on the streets of Damascus. Assad has shown a willingness to use any and all means to crush dissent in Syria. These attacks are just the tip of the spear, a small taste of the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the Middle East.  Unless he is stopped, there is no reason to assume that these will not continue.

Soure: The Atlantic Wire

We’ve sat back as Assad has slaughtered his opponents with machine guns and helicopter gunships. We’ve stalled with sanctions and arms embargoes and provided non-lethal aid to the rebels. These were less than half-measures. Had we intervened before, we could have prevented the deaths of 70,000 Syrians at the hands of their ruler and his security forces. We could have prevented Syria from being overrun with foreign jihadi fighters and its middle class from fleeing in one of the region’s worst refugee crises. These things have all happened, but we no longer have a choice.

The United States and United Nations cannot remain on the sidelines of this conflict any longer. President Obama long ago said that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime represented a red line that the international community would not tolerate. The time has come to stand by these words. Continue reading

We’ve Always Been at War with East Asia

After World War II, do you think that Americans could point to the day when the Soviet Union switched from ally of convenience to sworn adversary?  A decade from now, will we be able to point to the day when our Cold War with China began? Americans need a scapegoat for everything, and China is the perfect enemy for the anemic economic recovery of today. As America stagnates at the top of the world stage, China rises. As American incomes stay flat, those in China skyrocket. Their students are excelling—although they only report scores from Hong Kong and Shanghai—as ours fail to meet basic national standards. And, of course, they’re stealing our jobs!

Listening to our nation’s leaders makes it seem as though we’ve already begun a Cold War with China. The New York Times front page last Sunday morning portrayed Chinese investment in struggling economies throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as something vaguely sinister. The Economist ran an issue last week with a cover decorated by an ominous-looking Chinese submarine and a headline about “China’s Military Rise.” Never mind that they spend a quarter of what we do on their military. Never mind that their submarines are apparently so far behind ours that we can track them from outer space. Never mind our numerous and ongoing military interventions in the Middle East; in a speech last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta focused primarily on China. America must always be a Pacific power, he said, and clearly he wasn’t talking about New Zealand.

Continue reading

We Killed Yamamato

Last Friday, a pair of MQ-1 Predator drones under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency fired a volley of Hellfire missiles at a convoy in Yemen carrying American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killing him and several of his associates in what the unhealthy number of spy movies I have watched suggest must have been an epic fireball.  There was no arrest warrant, nor any reading of his Miranda rights.  Good riddance; al-Awlaki had his chance to remain silent, but instead he took to YouTube and other websites to promote terrorist attacks against the United States.

A number of politicians and pundits on the right and left have decried the assassination as unconstitutional or the start of another perilous journey for the Obama Administration down the most slippery of slopes.  How does this set a bad precedent?  Al-Awlaki had moved to a foreign country, where he began encouraging and planning acts of violence against his home country.  He celebrated when Major Nidal Malik Hassan gunned down 13 of his fellow soldiers in cold blood at Fort Hood and cursed when the underwear bomber failed to explode a plane full of innocent Americans on Christmas day, 2009.  If the attempted bombing in Times Square killed you or I, or your mother or father or little sister, I doubt al-Awlaki would have shed a tear.

Al-Awlaki was no common criminal.  He was a soldier, waging a war of words and plots against the country that brought him into this world, educated him, and allowed him a pulpit from which to spew his vile propaganda.  If the slippery slope that we have started down means that we kill those who plan and celebrate the deaths of Americans, then so be it.

In the imperfect world in which we live, the assassination of al-Awlaki was the only real option.  What kind of precedent would it send to allow him to plan attacks on the United States without fear of reprisal, just because of the passport in his pocket?  It is not as though the FBI could have gone into the desert of Yemen and served al-Awlaki with an arrest warrant.  Had they attempted such a move, it would have ended with the same result – a dead terrorist – and likely some FBI casualties, hardly a preferable outcome.  A policeman can shoot someone who aims a gun at him; by encouraging and planning violence against the United States, al-Awlaki was pointing more than a simple firearm.

If we must fight wars – and we will, as long as people see force as an effective solution to their problems – who should be the casualties?  Is it more “just” to kill the young men and women who join the armed forces of their country in order to receive an education, a steady paycheck, or a sense of discipline?  Is it more “fair” to kill the civilians who happen to live in the nation that harbors our enemies?  Or should we kill the potters; the planners; the true believers who tell young men and women of paradise and patriotism, and then send them to their deaths?

As the most powerful military in the history of humankind, we measure the results of our operations by two markers: whether we meet our objectives, and how few civilians we injure.  Terrorists like al-Awlaki measure their success by the number of body parts strewn across the sidewalk.  The world is objectively a better place without him in it.  It would have been satisfying to see him hauled in front of an American jury, but when he declared war against his homeland, he waived his right to a defense attorney.  In the 21st century, warfare has evolved.  No longer do soldiers in sharp uniforms face each other in formation, trading volleys and bugle calls.  No longer do leaders deliver formal declarations of war, listing their grievances with their foe.  The founders of America declared war with a singed document; al Qaeda declared war with a hijacked plane crashing into a skyscraper.  As the strategies used in war change, so must the rules.  Are we fighting against the poor and impressionable or against the scheming despots with their hands on the levers of power?  I would feel better about the deaths of a hundred bin-Ladens or al-Awlakis than one poor foot soldier drafted into service, looking only to feed his family.  All Americans should congratulate, rather than criticize, President Obama for taking the tough steps needed to protect innocent civilians from terrorism at home and from the lure of extremists abroad.