Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syrial Killing

The poster above was hung in a local store window, along with a lot of other public announcements, most of them promoting music and other entertainment events rather than politics.  Young Americans For Liberty is a relatively new right-wing youth organization, founded in 2008 at the end of Ron Paul's presidential campaign.  They seem to be a bit better at imagery than most right-wing groups, but they're still unimpressive, and they're evidently unaware of people who opposed Bush's and Obama's wars without being Paulite Libertarians.  If I meet any of these people, I should ask them what they think about Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald.  Or Michael Moore, ambivalent about Obama as he is.  ("Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief!" could be Moore's slogan.)  And I admit I'm out of touch with The Kids these days, but I can't help suspecting that people who look like the people in that poster are more likely to oppose Obama's war plans than to support them.

The controversy over whether the US should lob some missiles into Syria goes on.  So far my Right-Wing Acquaintance opposes it, but only because Obama's a Democrat.  RWA1 has also been indignant about NSA data collection, which I don't believe he ever criticized as long as a Republican was in the White House.  (RWA1 called the agency "the No Such Agency", hur hur hur.)  He linked to a rather vacuous post at The Skeptical Libertarian Blog and commented "Imperial assertions should be treated skeptically."  I take that with a grain of salt, because I've heard RWA1 declare his distaste for the word "imperialism" when it was directed at the foreign-policy endeavors of Republican administrations; like "civility" and other desiderata, everything is a matter of party loyalty.  I wouldn't be surprised if RWA1 might have expressed some misgivings about Bush's surveillance programs and even Bush's wars in private -- but party discipline kept it private.  It's the same with Democrats criticizing Obama: oh, you know, he's not perfect, in fact I might go so far as to say that he's a bit of a disappointment, but he's not Bush and it's very important that we support him or the Republicans will take over.  This kind of talk is also a way of assuring oneself that one hasn't completely abandoned principle for the Party.

The other day someone commented on a post by Ta-Nehisi Coates about the "idiot public discourse" on Syria.  Well, of course, there are a lot of people out there discoursing, and the media are vast, so it's not surprising that there is some idiotic discourse going on about Syria, as there is on any topic.  But what strikes me is how much thoughtful, sensible discourse is available, in relatively mainstream media as well as in the more rarefied blogosphere.  (One excellent place to start after Coates and his colleague James Fallows would be Daniel Larison's series of short blog posts on Syria at The American Conservative.)  The truly idiotic discourse is coming, not from the caricatured Cheetos-gobbling, Jolt-guzzling chairborne brigades embunkered in their parents' basements, but from the Obama administration and its corporate media shills -- that is, the supposedly sober, credentialed, responsible voices of our society.  Obama and his new Secretary of State have made utter fools of themselves with transparent lies, which only seem to deceive their peers and whatever remains of the die-hard Obama loyalists.  (The NSA revelations probably paved the way for this newfound skepticism among Obama's fans.)

I've noticed, though, that some of the die-hard fans are clinging to the faith by trying to convince themselves that Obama doesn't really want to attack Syria, and that he decided to let Congress deliberate on the attack in order to give him a face-saving way to back down.  Considering that Obama's aides, including Kerry, made it clear that the President doesn't consider himself bound by Congressional opinion, this is obvious and rather sad wishful thinking, on a par with the oft-expressed conviction that Obama didn't want the Sequester or to cut Social Security, it was all the Rethugs' fault.  Maybe when they aren't struck by lightning for opposing Obama, they'll gather more courage as they go along.

It's frustrating, I admit, to see so many on the Right gleefully recycling their standard anti-Obama propaganda for use against Obama's warmongering; but Obama brought it on himself.  So, for example, one friend of mine passed along a meme with a familiar slogan of late: that Obama is pushing the world into World War III: I pointed out that World War III really began with the Bush junta's response to the September 11 attacks, and that Obama is just continuing that.  This friend is old enough to remember the Bush years, but I think she was too stoned to pay much attention then -- as well as too stoned now.  Obama is responsible for his continuation of Bush policies, but I have no illusions that a Republican president would be any better.

Which reminds me -- also under a Ta-Nehisi Coates post, some commenters discussed impeachment, specifically whether Obama could be impeached if he didn't consult Congress on his war plans.  I have mixed feelings about impeachment: I have no doubt that Obama, like Bush, has committed impeachable offenses.  I have no illusion that if Obama were impeached, it would be for irrelevant offenses (as Bill Clinton was); and the Republicans who'd lead the process would see the removal of Obama from office as a partisan victory, just as the Democrats would see it as a partisan defeat.  One commenter concluded, "The only solution to that sort of crisis is voting in new leadership. And we can't recall the President."  Ah, the old "vote the rascals out" canard!  The question, it seems to me, is whether Presidents can be held accountable for their crimes; one reason why the ones we have are so reliably lawless, regardless of party, is that the worst consequence they face is being voted out of office -- and a second-term president like Obama doesn't even have to worry about that.  That's why the Constitution provides for impeachment.  But would the impeachment of Obama, anymore than the impeachment of Bush before him, really have been a deterrent to Presidential criminality?  I doubt it: Richard Nixon would have been impeached and removed if he hadn't resigned, and his chosen successor Gerald Ford pardoned him so he faced no consequences for his crimes.  He managed to rebrand himself as a senior statesman -- again, because of the amoral complicity of the corporate media and the political establishment -- and his successors of both parties went on merrily trampling on the Constitution right down to the present.

The discussion of what to do about about a boy like Assad tends to get bogged down in side issues, though.  For example, there's debate about whether Assad's regime really is responsible for the gas attack that Obama is using as his excuse to kill Syrians.  There is, evidently, room for doubt on that point, but it's not really important, since even if Assad personally deployed the sarin, the US does not have any authority to punish him for it.  Nor does Obama's "red line" ultimatum give him sanction for an attack: saving the American President's face is not a legal ground for military action, under international law or under the Constitution.  As a correspondent of James Fallows wrote to him, "This is a self-created crisis of Obama's presidency that he has turned into a general foreign policy crisis, not the other way around."  These matters deserve some discussion, I suppose, since Obama and the US government have made claims, and it's valid to question whether our leaders are telling the truth.  (Given their record, there's a strong presumption that they aren't.)  But these are still side issues.  I've been impressed by those writers who've stuck to the core questions.

James Fallows is one of them: he has been much more critical of Obama's plans than I expected from a senior establishment journalist of his stature.  He doesn't enable comments on his blog posts, but he does print select e-mail from his readers, and he asked them to suggest what Obama should do about Syria.  He printed several suggestions, none of which I found very inspiring.  This set was interesting, though, in a disturbing way.
1) Attack Syrian air defenses. Accomplishing this should not create the risk of collateral damage, as they are not hidden in schools and hospitals.  If the Syrian government does not stop their war on their citizens, then:
2) Attack the Syrian air force.  Destroy every piece of aircraft they own.  Get the Russians to not complain too much by telling them they will be able to sell them new equipment.  With no aircraft (especially no attack helicopters), their ability to kill their own civilians is hampered.  The possibility of this happening should be obvious to them once their air defenses are taken out.  If they can't see that, then they deserve to lose their jets and helicopters.  Again, there should be little risk of collateral damage, but I am guessing the civilians would be more worried about being killed by their own government than by Syrian jets falling out of the sky.
3) If they still insist on using chemical weapons or slaughtering their own citizens, flatten their government buildings. Make them run their government from caves or underground bunkers or wherever they flee.  So maybe the country will be plunged into chaos, how is that worse than what they have now?
We should not only intervene in mass slaughter when oil is involved.
I take that last sentence as a reference to Libya.  But these suggestions are as untenable as anything Obama wants to do.  I don't know who wrote this stuff, but many of Fallows's contacts are government and even military people.  I really doubt that attacking Syria's air defenses would be as easy as he thinks, or that "collateral damage" would be as minimal as he thinks.  The worst is the idea of bombing government buildings, which is considered terrorism when anyone but the US does it, a fun opportunity when we do.  These are probably the worst suggestions Fallows chose to print, but I didn't see anything I thought was actually positive and realistic among the rest.  There may be nothing the US can actively do about the Assad regime and its crimes, but we can at least refrain from committing more mass slaughter ourselves.