Syria – Bad Idea, New York Times – 16 June 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/opinion/sunday/bad-idea-mr-president.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

I feel like banging my head against a wall sometimes.

Now the New York Times is saying, point blank, that the Assad regime is not committing genocide. “The Syrian revolution isn’t democratic or secular; the more than 90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide,” sanctimoniously preaches the Times editorial, “and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.”

The “atrocities on all sides” defence against doing anything is so common in cases of genocide that Samantha Power actually headed one of the sections of her book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” with that phrase. We have been here before, folks, and it looks like we’re all here again.

This is not the first time people have declared genocide not to be taking place when it was, and I’m sure it won’t be the last – but that the New York Times is so proud of its denialism is positively disgusting.

We can pretend that this is about “sectarianism” if we want, but everyone knows (or should know) that all this started when Syrians tried to have peaceful protests in the streets of their country against the policies of the Assad regime. The regime responded by gunning down its citizens.

The Times also knows that its “Bad Idea, Mr. President” argument is the same stale argument generally trotted out against any kind of change in the Middle East. Indeed, it is the argument that was called upon to explain why the Arab Spring itself was a “bad idea”.

Here’s how the Times puts the core of their case: “Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the revolution in Syria involves upending a sectarian political order, and therefore it disrupts the fragile sectarian balance within the region.”

The Arab Spring _should_ have made us understand that it is that kind of “order” which had always been previously defended, and that this kind of “order” is, in large measure, the actual problem. Those countries which have thus fare resisted that “order” have also now largely moved in positive directions, rather than spiraling out of control as predicted.

Tunisia and Egypt didn’t descend into madness – on the contrary, they have mostly stabilised as democratic countries – and ones which have also actually managed to convert at least some Islamists into semi-responsible democratic leaders.

Libya was supposed to evaporate into warring tribes by now. Oddly enough, though, as Times reporters themselves confirm, most attempts to split the country along tribal lines meet with hostility amongst the majority of ordinary Libyans, who are generally supportive of the new government. (Check outhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/world/africa/libyan-violence-threatens-to-undercut-power-of-militias.html for documentation of how unimpressed most Libyans are by local militias trying to assert their power against the central Libyan government.)

I can accept it if most Americans don’t think intervention will help in Syria. I think it probably could, but by now the President, by failing to respond effectively to the “liberal-tarian” coalition that threatens his own government, has almost certainly ensured that Americans will not get behind any effort to help the rebels.

America _is not_ a secret cabal, and it is not an Empire. But Obama will not do what is necessary to lay those specious claims to rest, and so that virus persists to afflict the body politic. The probable result is that helping the rebels will destroy the Obama government’s ability to govern.

President Obama could be making the case for his own government here, but he fears treading on the toes of his fellow liberals – people who increasingly show that they would sell him out in a heartbeat. Every day he doesn’t declassify documents showing exactly why his intelligence operatives have been doing what they have been doing is a day more Americans will be convinced helping the Syrian people is just another plot the “secret government” is carrying out.

A successful intervention requires that Americans get onside – whatever Bill Clinton seems to think to the contrary. And, oh, yeah, let’s talk about Bill Clinton and his idea that President Obama should just plow in full-steam-ahead in Syria, no matter what the polls say.

Mr. Clinton’s newfound brashness in the face of polls is certainly breathtaking. Another heading in Samantha Power’s book – in fact, this one was a chapter title – was “Getting Creamed”. This title is derived from Bill Clinton’s observations that he was “getting creamed” in the polls because Bosnian genocide was proving to be unpopular with voters. (Here’s the full extract from Power’s book: “He recognized that he was finally in danger of paying a political price for nonintervention. In a forty-five-minute rant strewn with profanities, Clinton said ‘This can’t continue….We have to seize control of this….I’m getting creamed!'”)

In other words, Clinton only managed to eventually do the right thing to protect Bosnians, and later Kosovars, because national polls were kicking his ass on the subjects. So I am pretty much tuning out what he’s saying about Syria, which may be less about his wanting to help and more about either his having “overlearned” a few foreign policy lessons himself…or worse, about knowing Obama might indeed get “creamed” over Syria, so the Clinton crowd can take over the Democrats again.

The political price that will in all likelihood be paid for intervention, as things stand right now, is the self-sacrifice of Barack Obama to his adversaries on left and right. The “secret government” canard has legs with voters, and it can block everything he is trying to do. Obama should under normal circumstances be loathe to sacrifice it all over one issue – but doubly so in this case, if he can’t ensure intervention will defeat Assad without presenting tremendous costs to the West.

Acknowledging this, however, does not mean shamefully pretending that the people Assad murdered probably had it coming. They did not. Assad massacred peaceful protesters, of just the kind we saw all across the Middle East after 2011. It is shameful, and profanes their memory, to pretend otherwise.

Bad idea, New York Times.

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