Friday, September 13, 2013

The Stupidity of a Syria Strike

The Obama Administration really wants to bomb Syria, ostensibly for its use of chemical weapons against its own people.  And of course a good number of Congress people want to bomb Syria as well for reasons ranging from loyalty to Obama on the left to good old fashioned imperialism on the right.

And then there are the citizens that see this issue as a proxy for conservatives versus liberals, rather than a policy decision that should be weight by the costs and benefits.
“I thought he didn’t like Democrats. Why is he all of a sudden backing the president?” she said.
Of course, such partisanship is endemic to Obama era conservatives.  Obamacare being a carbon copy of Romney care doesn't make a bit of difference to them, only their ability to identify with the politician personally.

But this is getting away from the purpose of this post.  So despite the public being overwhelmingly against bombing Syria, Congress may still vote in favor of it.  And even if it doesn't pass Congress, Obama may still go forward with it.

And the Congressional Budget Office isn't even capable of forecasting what a strike would cost with so few details as to the scope of the attack even though Secretary of State Kerry has said it would be "unbelievably small and limited".  Thanks for the details.  Though according to defense and national security sources for the DailyMail, a 90-day engagement could cost between $5-21 billion.

So let's stop there. $5-21 billion dollars.  For what?  That's the cost. Now tell me the benefit.  From reading the transcript of Obama's address on Sept. 10th there were two mentions of the specific outcomes from a strike (I noticed that he was rather short on the negative outcomes that would result):

  • "The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use."
  • "This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities."

Both essentially the same.  So my questions are:

So what exactly would the US be striking?  His chemical weapons facilities?  That would seem to be the obvious target.  But has any evidence been presented that we know where these facilities are?  We were told that we knew that Iraq had WMDs and where they were.  Turns out they didn't exist, or, at least, were never found.

Why should we believe any evidence that is presented?  As Ed Brayton points out:
Almost to the day that the allegations were made that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons outside Damascus, Foreign Policy magazine published a report that included declassified CIA documents that showed that our government had helped Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in 1988 and had then launched a propaganda campaign to blame it on Iran (a mostly successful campaign, by the way). The Vietnam War was justified by LBJ by the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was completely fabricated. So our government has a history of lying to justify going to war and a history of lying specifically about who is responsible for using chemical weapons. So even if it’s true that Assad used the chemical weapons, and even if the evidence actually did support that, we have absolutely no reason to believe them when they say they have that evidence.
And what is the risk of a) civilian casualties (best, worst, and probable scenarios of death tolls would be useful, but acknowledging any potential death toll would damage the case for it should!), and b) that the target isn't sufficiently disabled, and c) that there are more unknown facilities that wouldn't be affected?

And what happens after the strike?
"And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism."
And if your political solutions don't work?  Will you be politically liable to perform an even stronger strike?  How many casualties are you willing to inflict on Syria before you can declare victory?

How will you define success?  When Assad is 'deterred' from using chemical weapons?  How will you actually measure that deterrence?  What if he just moves on to other methods of killing?

The only way I can see any success being claimed is if Assad and his opponents peacefully resolve their differences.  Otherwise the conflict will continue with no end in sight.  So how military action achieve that goal?

Obama makes an appeal to the rule of law (oh, how laughable from you Mr. Obama) and the use of chemical weapons to kill people.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but why are chemical weapons explicitly prohibited?  Because they are not an humane enough method to kill?  Please tell me the most humane way to inflict mass casualties.  If Assad had been killing people using other means, such as - I don't know...drones, I wonder if Obama would be so smugly indignant.

Obama asserts:
Because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security. 
Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilian
If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran -- which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon, or to take a more peaceful path. 
This is pure conjecture of a doomsday fantasy.  And again, why the focus on chemical weapons?  Even with Obama's 'precision' drone strikes it is estimated that we, the USA, defenders of democracy and all that is good, have killed more than 400 civilians.  So we're really not that far behind Syria's chemical weapon use that is estimated, by the Administration, to have killed 1,400 people.

Obama does acknowledge this skeptics, in part saying, "And I know Americans want all of us in Washington -- especially me -- to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class."

Yep, that sounds like good advice.  I wonder what the return on investment is for $5-$21 billion invested in eduction, science and medicine?  And further, what is the ROI on dropping $5-21 billion worth of bombs on another country?

This graphic can't be posted enough.  Never forget:

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