Then, too, it's important to be alert against confirmation bias, rejecting reports that don't match our views and accepting what does regardless of how well or badly supported those reports are. Confirmation bias is one reason millions of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks.
With those caveats in mind, here are excerpts from a few news articles about intervention in Syria and a dozen commentaries on the subject.
• Thom Shanker, C.J. Chivers and Michael R. Gordon at The New York Times report Pentagon Sees Syrian Military, Not Chemical Sites, as Target:
Although no final decisions have been made, it is likely that the attacks would not be focused on chemical weapons storage sites, even though the Obama administration says the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military is the trigger for the planned attack. They said any effort to target chemical sites risks an environmental and humanitarian disaster and could open up the sites to raids by militants.The target list might include fewer than 50 sites, according to an unnamed American official familiar with the planning. One possibility: Airfields where Syria keeps its extremely capable Russian-made helicopters. The Times reports those "voices across the administration urging no action have all but silenced [but] an air campaign designed to decapitate the leadership and allow rebels to topple the regime, also has been rejected."
Instead, the American assault would be aimed at military units thought to have carried out chemical attacks, the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks and the headquarters overseeing the effort, the officials said.
• Alia Malek of Al Jazeera reports Western intervention debate finds Syrians resigned, uneasy:
As the Syrian conflict escalates, with what appear to be chemical weapons killing unsuspecting families in their sleep and talk in Western capitals of armed intervention, M. no longer knows what to stockpile.Additional links to and excerpts from news articles and commentaries can be read below the fold.
Like other Damascenes, M. (who requested anonymity for security reasons) has greeted each new phase of the conflagration with requisite preparation: First, she bought flashlights with rechargeable batteries once the daily electricity cuts began, keeping her home in darkness for hours; then, extra heating fuel and cooking gas which quickly disappeared in shortages as winter drew nearer and colder; rice, lentils, Mazola, and other non-perishable foodstuffs so her family wouldn’t go hungry as grocery shelves emptied; clean water for when there wouldn’t be any; and, as the lira plummeted, dollars from the black market because American currency might be the only way out, should her family need to leave suddenly. [...]
With death now carried by the wind and no one providing or selling any gas masks, M. does not know what precautions to take. She even leaves the windows open.
• Ben Hubbard, Mark Mazzetti and Mark Lander at The New York Times report Blasts in the Night, a Smell, and a Flood of Syrian Victims.
Interviews with more than two dozen activists, rebels and doctors in areas near the attack sites, as well as an examination of more than 100 videos and photos of the aftermath, back up [the assertion that a deadly chemical attack occurred outside Damascus Aug. 21].• Nancy A. Youssef at McClatchy reports Arab leaders blame Syria for using chemical weapons:
Pushed by the Gulf states, the 22-member Arab League, after a two-hour session, issued a strongly worded five-point statement holding Syria “fully responsible for the ugly crime" and demanding "that all the perpetrators of this heinous crime be presented for international trials.”• Michael Doyle at McClatchy reports on Why the US won't declare war on Syria
Without directly blaming the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Arab League Secretary General Nabil el Araby said that what happened was a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
The league also said the United Nations Security Council should put aside its differences and pass the “necessary resolutions against the perpetrators of this crime.”
However, While traveling in Ramallah, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy condemned a possible attack on Syria and said there should be a political solution instead. Fahmy did not outline what such a solution should look like.
But while a U.S.-led attack appears increasingly likely, the legal underpinnings for lethal action remain ambiguous. Congress won’t formally declare war. The last time it did that was 1941, when America entered World War II.• And Michael Schofield at McClatchy reports Europe prepares for military intervention in Syria:
Lawmakers might consider authorizing force after they return from summer recess Sept. 9, but missiles could easily launch before then.
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that his nation urges restraint, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC today that strong non-military efforts have not prevented the escalation of events in Syria. He said that even without UN approval, “the great humanitarian need and humanitarian distress” could justify action.• Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post report Obama administration lays groundwork for probable military strike against Syria:
“We have tried those other methods – the diplomatic methods – and we will continue to try those,” he said. “But they have failed so far.”
Vice President Biden said Tuesday, “There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons: the Syrian regime.” In a speech to the American Legion national convention in Houston, Biden added that he and President Obama “believe that those who use chemical weapons against men, women and children should and must be held accountable.” [...]• Charles Hawley at the English version of the German Der Spiegel reports Syria Intervention May Endanger Merkel's Re-Election
Obama administration officials have begun notifying some members of Congress of a possible military strike, congressional officials said, although the White House says no final decision has been made. The calls are to inform and do not seek permission, one congressional official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the quiet effort to gain congressional backing.
Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be betting that the horrific images that emerged from last week's apparent use of chemical weapons in Syria will be enough to trump the German electorate's traditional pacifism.• Steve Scherer at Reuters reports Italy says Syria has passed 'point of no-return' with chemical weapons
On Monday, she came out strongly in favor of an international response to the massacre last Wednesday. "The alleged widespread use of gas has broken a taboo," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said. "It requires consequences and a very clear response is needed."
Foreign Minster Guido Westerwelle joined her. Saying the use of chemical weapons would be a "crime against civilization," Westerwelle said: "Should the use of such weapons be confirmed, the world community must act. At that time, Germany will belong to those who support consequences."
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said that he agreed with British Prime Minister David Cameron in a phone call on Tuesday that Syria's use of chemical weapons was "unacceptable", according to a statement.• Amos Harel at Haaretz reports: Harbingers of an imminent U.S. strike in Syria are fast accumulating:
"The United Kingdom and Italy agreed on the fact that Syria has gone past the point of no-return with its massive use of chemical weapons," the Italian premier said in a statement.
The attacks are "an unacceptable crime that cannot be tolerated by the international community," the statement read.
Assad, it seems, would be able to withstand such an attack and remain on his feet. It wouldn't stop him from continuing his onslaught on the rebel forces, who are currently preoccupied by infighting. An American strike, aside from countering criticism that Washington is not true to its word, might also serve, to a certain extent, as a deterrent against future chemical weapons use. Intervention might also galvanize the opposition groups. Still, to turn the tide in the civil war, the United States would have to resort to a prolonged air strike, which is the last thing the Americans want, especially since there is no one way to know that Assad's replacement will be any better than the murderous tyrant himself.
• The Washington Post—Eugene Robinson. The U.S. must act against Assad:
History says don’t do it. Most Americans say don’t do it. But President Obama has to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s homicidal regime with a military strike — and hope that history and the people are wrong.• The Editorial Board of The New York Times. Responding to Syrian Atrocities:
If it is true that the regime killed hundreds of civilians with nerve gas in a Damascus suburb last week—and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday that the use of chemical weapons is “undeniable”—then Obama has no choice. Such use cannot be tolerated, and any government or group that employs chemical weapons must be made to suffer real consequences. Obama should uphold this principle by destroying some of Assad’s military assets with cruise missiles.
A political agreement is still the best solution to this deadly conflict, and every effort must be made to find one. President Obama has resisted demands that he intervene militarily and in force. Though Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons surely requires a response of some kind, the arguments against deep American involvement remain as compelling as ever.• The Nation—Phyllis Bennis and David Wildman. Moral Obscenities in Syria:
The threat of a reckless, dangerous, and illegal US or US-led assault on Syria is looking closer than ever.• The Independent—Robert Fisk. Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?:
The US government has been divided over the Syria crisis since it began. Some, especially in the Pentagon and some of the intelligence agencies, said direct military intervention would be dangerous and would accomplish nothing. Others, especially in Congress and some in the State Department, have demanded military attacks, even regime change, against the Syrian leadership, even before anyone made allegations of chemical weapons. The Obama administration has been divided too, with President Obama seemingly opposed to any US escalation. The American people are not divided—60 percent are against intervening in Syria’s civil war even if chemical weapons were involved.
But the situation is changing rapidly, and the Obama administration appears to be moving closer to direct military intervention. That would make the dire situation in Syria inestimably worse.
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. [...]• The New Yorker—Dexter Filkins. The Syrian Question:
The men who destroyed so many thousands on 9/11 will then be fighting alongside the very nation whose innocents they so cruelly murdered almost exactly 12 years ago. Quite an achievement for Obama, Cameron, Hollande and the rest of the miniature warlords.
What can America do? It’s not unreasonable to ask whether even a well-intentioned American effort to save Syrians might fail, or whether such an effort might pull America into a terrible quagmire. In the piece about Obama and Syria I wrote for the magazine in May, I detailed just how daunting those challenges are. But how much longer are we going to allow those questions to prevent us from trying?• Foreign Policy—David Rothkopf: Too Little, Too Late:
The reason it is now commonly assumed that it's only a matter of time before the United States and its allies launch an attack against the Syrian regime is because President Bashar al-Assad has left President Barack Obama with no other choice. He must either attack or lose what little remaining influence he might have both in the Middle East and with potential enemies and friends worldwide.• Slate—Matt Yglesias. Military Strikes Are an Extremely Expensive Way to Help Foreigners:
While the rhetoric around the attack has been—and will continue to be—about the intolerability of chemical weapons, that is hardly the only reason the United States will finally take action. Given that, according to reports like those in today's Washington Post, the U.S. and allied military initiative is almost certainly to be both brief and narrow in scope—and therefore of limited effect as a deterrent against future WMD use—one can only conclude that the effort must also serve another purpose.
The pending action is as much intended to protect the president's credibility as it is the people of Syria.
Now, before the kill-and-maim-for-the-sake-of-humanity crowd shoots a Tomahawk missile at me, it's worth conceding up front that none of this amounts to a logically airtight case against blowing up some Syrian infrastructure and killing various Syrian bad guys. It is very possible for a given undertak[ing] to be worth doing without being the optimal policy. But I do think it's worth interrogating the larger political and ideological construct that says that spending a few billions dollars to help foreigners is a thinkable undertaking if and only if the means of providing assistance is to kill some people and blow some stuff up. The explosives-heavy approach to humanitarianism has a lot of unpredictable side effects, sometimes backfires massively, and offers an extremely poor value proposition. So whatever you think about killing some Syrians this summer, please consider throwing a few dollars in the direction of a cost-effective charity of some kind.• Truthout—William Rivers Pitt. War on Syria: Twenty Pounds of Stupid in a Ten-Pound Bag:
I'm just going to throw this out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up: instead of attacking Syria, how about we don't attack Syria?• Esquire—Charles Pierce. Making War in Syria:
Crazy, I know; this is America, after all, and our presidents like nothing more than to flip a few cruise missiles at other countries, combined with a few bombing sorties for good measure, because it's a hell of a lot easier than actual statecraft. Besides, it looks good on television, and all those meanies in Congress can't accuse the Commander in Chief of not doing anything. Oh, also, cruise missiles and bombs cost a lot, so if we pull the trigger on Syria, someone will get paid handsomely.
It looks as though the skids are properly greased, and the United States will be making some sort of war in Syria pretty soon. I say "making war in Syria" because that's different than going to war in Syria. We aren't sending troops. We're going to be sending cruise missiles and dropping bombs because that is how you make war without going to war and, if you make war without going to war, then it's a lot easier to pretend back home that you're not at war. Again.• National Review Online—Victor Davis Hanson. Syrian Surrealities
The bipartisan consensus to make war in Syria seems to be growing. John Kerry played the role of Colin Powell yesterday, albeit with slightly more actual evidence on his side. But the proposed response doesn't seem to match the gravity of the rhetoric he used.
We are now in a surreal landscape in which the Left urges action on suspicion of WMD use, citing the humanitarian issues involved, the larger concerns of the civilized world, and U.S. strategic interests. U.N. weapon inspectors are not allowed in. There is good evidence that Assad is lying about his use of WMD or at least trying to mislead in some fashion not altogether discernible. Where are Joe Wilson, Hans Blix, and Mohamed ElBaradei when we need them?• The Progressive—Matthew Rothschild. If Obama Bombs Syria, Watch Out!:
Where the Syrian WMD came from or where they are stored is still a mystery, given that we were assured long ago by opponents of the Iraq War that Saddam did not pose a threat and thus his WMD stockpiles, if they ever existed, did not go to Syria on the eve of that war.
The only thing we know for sure is that there are no good guys in this civil war, with the brutal Assad dictatorship on one side and some equally brutal Al Qaeda types on the other.• Moyers & Company—Andrew Bacevich. Questions for President Obama—Before He Pulls the Trigger on Syria:
We have no business in this civil war.
Obama instead should try to bring all sides to the peace table. But he’s resisted that crucial effort at diplomacy, most recently because Assad’s forces had gained too much ground, and the Obama Administration wanted to wait until Assad was weaker and had less leverage. That is a cold and cynical calculus that leads only to more bloodshed.
First, why does this particular heinous act rise to the level of justifying a military response? More specifically, why did a similarly heinous act by the Egyptian army elicit from Washington only the mildest response? Just weeks ago, Egyptian security forces slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians whose “crime” was to protest a military coup that overthrew a legitimately elected president. Why the double standard?
Second, once U.S. military action against Syria begins, when will it end? What is the political objective? Wrapping the Assad regime on the knuckles is unlikely to persuade it to change its ways. That regime is engaged in a fight for survival. So what exactly does the United States intend to achieve and how much is President Obama willing to spend in lives and treasure to get there? War is a risky business. Is the president willing to commit U.S. forces to what could well become another protracted and costly struggle?
Third, what is the legal basis for military action?