Honesty may be too much to ask for... but "punishing Syria"? Really?

So there's the thing: There is no reason to "punish" Syria for its actions before the report from the inspectors, is there? 

And by the way who gave us the authority to punish a nation or its leaders anyway? So if we want to make the Syrian government understand that using chemical weapons is absolutely wrong, there are a number of ways to do that. Bombing the shit out of something (and the occasional someone) is not the only option.

There is considerable protest that the action contemplated is not about getting rid of the Governing leaders in Syria, but about "punishment." 

But let's be honest. The only reason to act swiftly is to bring down the government of Syria in steps - first the punishment, then the punishment for reacting with hostility, then the punishment for not giving up, and so on.

This is not like whack on the back of the head. What is being talked about is an action that will give rise to a reaction, and from there where will it go?  In all likelihood to some action by Syria that will lead to escalated counter action by US, England and France, and so on.

If we are at all interested in addressing the law regarding use of chemical weapons, fine. Then lets build the case,  charge the leaders of Syria,  bring the leaders to world court, convict them and have done with it. And perhaps if we had a warrant we could make a case for "extracting" the president of Syria to face charges of crimes against humanity.

I think what is being contemplated is a development of crisis that will mean war with the government of Syria with the explicit hope to overthrow that Government, not by civil war, but through war by others, namely us. And it will not be on behalf of the citizens of Syria, but on behalf of European and American powers who want a government that is both secular, Syrian and at least a tad more democratic than the current government, but mostly one that will not align with radical forces in the Middle East, etc. We really do want the Government of Syria overthrown, but the way we want it.

But honesty in that respect is not going to be easy to come by. 

Instead we are likely to get rapid action, provoke response, deal with that, and slowly push ourselves forward into the old old path of trying to make and break governments in other people's lands. All with the protest that we are not entering into the conflict in Syria at all.

When it is over we will be roundly hated by everyone concerned, and we will still not be able to be the police of the world, or the school principal either.

We can do better.  And I hope the President remembers that we can.


  1. Father Harris, we once again find ourselves in total agreement, even though we may disagree on other things. I thought of composing a post about what we will be getting ourselves into if Obama bombs Syria, and then decided to wait. But I am afraid I have little confidence in a leader who calibrates his "retaliation" to poison gas attacks against civilians on whether or not the chosen measures will be "just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic."

    The goal should not be to aim for something that is "more than symbolic", especially if a miscalculation would land us in the midst of World War III. The goal should not be, as you say, "the old old path of trying to make and break governments in other people's lands. All with the protest that we are not entering into the conflict in Syria at all."

    Pray that our lawless leader will this time see the truth that it does not all depend on him "to do something" -- that there are other institutions, from Congress to NATO to the UN, which could have a meaningful role to play in any final decision, if only he will not take it all upon himself.

  2. I found it heartening, on the other hand, listening to the news this morning that the democratic process does seem to be cooling the jets of our otherwise hawkish leaders. Cameron has had to retreat, at least temporarily, in the face of a recalcitrant parliament, and Angela Merkel is reluctant to upset a largely pacific voting public. A glimmer of hope?
    Rosalind Hughes

  3. Mark-

    As usual, I appreciate the clarity of your words. The problem here is yet to be defined, and perhaps the report from the inspectors will answer our questions, but maybe not. Delay until the report? Sure, why not.

    But what if the government of Syria is actually proved to have used chemical weapons within its own borders? What should we do then? No one wants more bloodshed, but not dealing with it in some meaningful way simply makes the next time a chief of state chooses to gas his people, or use some other indiscriminate weapon against civilians, that easier a leap.

    There is no good answer for this. Try Assad at the Hague? Well, it took seven years from his indictment for Milosevic to to die waiting for his trial to finish. And Karadzik's trial is likely to stretch to 2014 for accused crimes he committed in 1995.

    In human behavior, there are ways to categorize the anticipated consequences of our actions. The nature of those consequences drive our behaviors.

    The most effective consequences in governing behavior are those that are positive-immediate-certain, and negative-immediate-certain. The least effective are positive/negative-future-uncertain.

    For example, lots of us eat greasy food and smoke cigarettes because the negative effects are in the future and uncertain, but the flavor and satisfaction is immediate and certain.

    On the other hand, few of us pick up the handle of a cast iron pot off a hot stove without some kind of insulation. The effect is negative-immediate-certain, even if the stew might get burned while we look for the pot-holder.

    To keep people from doing the types of crimes described in Syria, there needs to be immediate, certain and negative consequences, regardless who the perpetrator is. Otherwise, we risk seeing the same thing over and over again.

    I, too, hope our President gets this right. But, in this case, I think what's right will have a bit of wrong in it.

    Come, Lord Jesus!


  4. Last night's vote in the UK Parliament is surprisingly similar to some US polls on today's evening news. About 60-40 against action in Syria, albeit some of those stats were captured before the latest from Secretary Kerry, who is held in high regard by many in British politics.

    The trouble with situations like this is that you can't see the end game. In an earlier generation, the world stood by gnashing their teeth about wrongs until it started to directly threaten them. After all, it was just Czechoslovakia, right?

    In alarm systems (like a fire warning detection system on an airplane engine), you want a high probability of detection, meaning, if there is a fire, you want the system to alarm as close to 100 percent of the time. But to have that high POT, you have to live with some degree of false alarm rate, that is, the system alarms sometimes when there is no fire. Think about a smoke detector in your house.

    The designers of such systems try to get the POT as high as they can without an unacceptable FAR. But always, their's the real risk of a nuisance alarm.

    So it is here. It's remarkable that intelligent men and women of such diverse political persuasions as the Bush 43 and Obama administrations find themselves applying what looks to be the same alarm filters. The risk missing of an undetected disaster that requires action drives a high FAR because we don't want to ever explain why we didn't stop evil before it got out of hand. No one wants to be the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century (Neville Brother, yes, Chamberlain, no).

    Finally, I also find it charming that our Vice President, as a Senator, used to be such an avid proponent of Congressional authority in matters of war making, even to the point of threatening impeachment if a certain previous President should go to war with Iran without Congressional approval. I'm glad we didn't get to test his resolve in that matter, and I hope his standards haven't changed.

    Like Obama, I'm against " dumb wars," but it looks like we may be grading on the curve now.



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