He starts his column The Right Questions on Syria (New York Times 09/04/2013) off with, "Critics of American military action in Syria are right to point out all the risks and uncertainties of missile strikes, and they have American public opinion on their side."
Gosh, Nick, I'm so glad you think so!
Then he continues directly, "But for those of you who oppose cruise missile strikes, what alternative do you favor?"
Well, gee, Nick. Maybe we just shouldn't go to war when we don't really need to. I hear that's been known to work out pretty well.
But our VSPs don't think that way. Since Nick has decided it's time to go to war in Syria, he's ready to go into Spiro Agnew hippie-punching mode: You hippies are against war, well what's your alternative, huh? I guess you support the New Hitler, huh?
Markos Moulitsas in The war supporter's weak case for war Daily Kos 09/05/2013 takes down Nick Agnew's arguments in more detail. He begins it with this relevant series of observations:
It's easy to oppose this Syrian intervention. One simple fact is on our side: No one has made a serious case as to how lobbing a few low-impact cruise missiles will accomplish much—runway craters can be fixed in hours. Anything more valuable has already been dispersed or is inside hardened bunkers. Anti-air systems are deployed in populated areas, inevitably killing the very same people we'd supposed to be "protecting." Regime change has been explicitly ruled out. The use of heavier ordnance would have to be delivered via manned aircraft and that increases dangers dramatically—both of losing a pilot and of collateral damage.If the topic weren't so serious, the push for war in Syria would be like a low-budget remake of the 10-year-old Dick Cheney classic, Crusade to Liberate Iraq: The Rush to War.
War opponents have another simple fact: There is no alternative to Assad. The insurgency is dominated by Islamist radicals. It seems like our best post-Assad scenario looks depressingly similar to post-Soviet Afghanistan.
War opponents have public opinion on our side, which is always a nice place to be.
War opponents don't have to contend with "allies" like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Having them agree with anything you support is always depressing.
We already have the basic script. We have the Middle Eastern New Hitler, the dictator with weapons of mass destruction, who is "gassing his own people" and who pals around with The Terrorists. And one day he might decide to give some of his WMD to some of The Terrorists who then might sometime decide to use them against the US. Somehow.
We're so far missing some of the old favorites, like the hydrogen-gas producing Mobile Labs Of Doom and the Intercontinental Plywood Anthrax Drones. I haven't caught any war fans using the term "cakewalk" yet, but the Administration is promising one for the Syria War.
Every remake needs some plot adaptation, though. One recurring plot feature this time around that I didn't fully appreciate the first time is the grim threat of Bentonite: The Kitty Litter Of Death. (See Jim White, Joby Warrick Is the New Judy Miller Emptywheel 09/05/2013)
I'm thinking that once we hear that the NSA has confirmed that Syria's Bashar "New Hitler" al-Assad secretly got gay-married to Mohammad Atta in Prague when the two of them were there with Saddam Hussein plotting the Nine Eleven attacks, then we're good to go!
But it's not just Kristof. The White House has reportedly been focusing attention on liberal columnists and bloggers. Because apparently war is still unpopular enough among the Democratic base that even Democratic Members of Congress who worship at the altar of Corporate Neoliberalism are feeling like they need a bit more cover to vote for yet another war. Which would be just as much a war of aggression that is illegal in international law as the Iraq War was. I won't speculate about how many people in the US care about that or are even aware of it in this case. But it is important, even if Congress largely ignores that consideration.
Law and pragmatic considerations are not totally disconnected from each other. Lambert Strether put together this helpful chart showing a certain trend in recent wars (Lambert Strether, Wheels Falling Off the Imperial Reality-Creating Machine Naked Capitalism 08/31/2013):
It's good news that our warmaking plans are less ambitious. But it's also a reflection of the declining international support for these adventures. In the case of Iraq and Syria, initiating war on a country that has not attacked the United States, we're talking about wars that in international law are criminal wars of aggression. And the US disregard of international law is one significant reason for the decreasing trend of international support.
Michael Tomasky decided to be a good boy and hope for pats on the head from Obama loyalists on starting a war with Syria. In When Liberals Enable Tyrants Daily Beast 09/06/2013, he joins Kristof in making the sleazy argument that if you aren't already cheering for war and killing in Syria, that means you love Assad the New Hitler: "Taking no action now, after what Assad did, strengthens the hand of murderers, theocrats, and some of the most illiberal people on the planet."
In one sense, it's actually encouraging that Obama loyalists on attacking Syria feel the need to resort to this kind of Spiro Agnew sleaze-slinging. Because it's a telling sign that they have no confidence in the substance of the arguments they have to make on why the US should undertake a war of aggression on a country that has not attacked us.
Markos' comment on Kristof piece also applies to Tomasky's:
Unless Kristoff is advocating boots on the ground and regime change, neither of which are currently on the table, then his argument is nonsense. Again, war supporters can't get over the hump of how lobbing a few missiles and dropping a few bombs will fix the situation. Pounding on the table and screaming, "we must DO SOMETHING!" is not a strategy. Sometimes, there is nothing one can do without risking all. And there's no reason for the United States to risk all on Syria.It's always discouraging to see how Presidents can gin up support for wars. But it's also encouraging to see that the supporters of wars often have to go to such ridiculous lengths and engage in insane threat inflation and the most trashy kind of insults to do it. Ordinary people just don't like war very much. And for good reason.
I have to give Mark Shields credit on this. He normally half-snoozes through his weekly Political Wrap segment on the PBS Newshour with Very Serious Neoconservative David "Bobo" Brooks. But when it comes to war, he is still being alert and sensibly critical of incitement to unnecessary wars. Shields even seems to have the quaint notion that people advocating for war and killing have the burden of making their case to everybody else. These are the most recent two Political Wrap segments. Note that Bobo makes it clear in both segments that he's for war in Syria because he thinks it will make war with Iran more likely.
Shields and Brooks Debate Need for National Consensus Over Syria 08/30/2013:
Shields, Brooks on Syria as 'Test' for Obama's Credibility 09/06/2013:
Tags: preventive war, syria, syrian civil war, war crimes, war of aggression