Oh, the dragons are going to fly tonight

6 04 2017

And so the president has launched 50 Tomahawk missiles against Syria tonight.

I’ll say the same thing I said when the previous president was considering launching airstrikes against Syria: “I don’t know what the hell to do about Syria.”

And when that previous president chose not to strike?

The situation in Syria seems to me a case of stumble-recovery. I didn’t think the drawing of the “red line” regarding  chemical weapons use was that big of deal, not least because there were multiple responses besides that of a military strike. (And as for the alleged loss of presidential/American credibility, well, christ, if actual air strikes on Qaddafi didn’t deter Assad, why would threats do so?)

Assad is a menace, no doubt. Did he gas (again!) his people? No doubt. Has he ruined his country in order to preserve his own rule? Yeah, he has.

It is not at all clear to me, however, that anything that the US may do, short of invasion, which would change anything. Sending missiles might make anti-Assadists feel better, might cheer the hawks, might bolster those who think the strike shows “resolve”, but beyond that, what?

Was this a one-off? If so, to what end? If not, then escalation?

Assad is supported by Iran and Russia, so unless the Trump administration is willing to take them on—and pray to Athena it is not—it is difficult to see that this will appreciably alter Assad’s behavior. He will continue to bomb his own people, continue to starve them, continue to kill them.

Chemical weapons are a horror, at a level beyond that of barrel bombs and blockades, but they are not the only way to kill.

So, we’ve “punished” Assad for his chemical attack, but it is enough to deter future attacks?

I don’t see it. I didn’t see it when Obama proposed it; I don’t see it now.

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Give a little bit

18 11 2015

There are days I’d like to get paid for writing, and days when I’m glad I don’t.

The past coupla’ days, I’m glad for the not-paid, because as someone who is not-paid for her writing, I’m under no obligation to give a HOTTAKE on the Yale, the University of Missouri, political correctness, illiberal liberals, Paris, Beirut, terrorism, or refugees.

Still, I’m willing to offer up a few warmed-over thoughts on the topics listen above:

*Yale: I could give a shit what’s happening at Yale, or any of the Ivies. It’s not that I think no one should care, but that I don’t.

*Mizzou, political correctness, illiberal liberals: I don’t know what it’s like to be a black student at a predominantly white university, but if I care about that experience—and I do—then I think I should listen to those who do know a li’l something about that topic.

This doesn’t mean I’ll agree a priori with the policy solutions suggested/demanded by those students, but that there’s nothing wrong with them either talking/shouting about those experiences or suggesting/demanding policy changes.

Which is to say, I view this as a political argument, and there’s nothing illegitimate with partisans taking their own side in that argument in such a way that challenges the preexisting norms of political argumentation (which are themselves the product of such argumentation).

Translated, this means that the liberal norms of how political discourse is to proceed are themselves shot through with political values. There’s nothing necessarily wrong or nefarious about value-laden rules, nor is there necessarily anything wrong or nefarious with challenging the values or the rules.

Such challenges can be irksome to those who think the rules sacrosanct or constitutive of the content of political discourse itself, just as it can be irksome to those making a particular argument to be told that their particular mode of argument-making is against the rules.

That’s politics, not the end of the world.

On a more personal note, I think there is some value to liberal norms of discourse, and that such norms can themselves accommodate apparently or even actually illiberal arguments, which is to say, partisans get to take their own sides.

There are all sorts of caveats, nuances, etc., to this interpretation, but my main sense that this is politics, and not a sign of the apocalypse, holds.

*Okay, I care a little about what happens at Yale, but that’s in spite of it happening at Yale.

*I have nothing new to say about the bombings in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, beyond an expression of horror, dismay, and sorrow.

As I’ve previously said, I doubt there’s one cool trick one can try to shed those unwanted terrorists, that terrorist networks might be comparable to organized crime networks, and that, like those organized crime networks, they will be difficult to root out—by whatever means.

*I think the U.S. should not only take the 10,000 Syrian refugees, I’d be fine with New York taking all 10,000.

I mean, the only downside is that we already have a housing crunch, but—and I am being serious here—if there were room in my apartment building, I’d say, Come on in!

Not to move into my apartment, I hasten to add. I do need my space.

But if I wouldn’t be your roomie, I’d gladly be your neighbor.





You know, I’ve got a funny feeling I’ve seen this all before

10 09 2014

President Obama is speaking now about the necessity of going after ISIL, currently the most rabid of death-eaters of the Middle East.

ISIL is terrible, and terrible for the people of Iraq and Syria.

The US, by waging war on and in Iraq, has helped (but did not solely) prepare the ground on which ISIL arose. The Iraqi government, thru spectacular mismanagement and churlish policies toward its Sunni citizens, fertilized that ground, and Syrian President Assad, by emptying his jails of militants, gleefully seeded it.

Whatever the US responsibility for ISIL’s rise, however, it is not at all clear that we have the competence to clean up our own mess.

I wasn’t opposed to the limited bombing in support of the evacuation of the Yazidis, largely because it was limited in time and place and for a specific purpose, and for which the alternatives, including doing nothing, were unlikely to work in preventing a massacre.

But this, this expanded campaign  to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIL?

No.

The president’s speech was short, and of the parts which weren’t filled with the usual boo-yah blather, strove for a combination of modesty and determination: no ground troops, working with allies, humanitarian assistance, strikes in Syria (not modest!), all geared toward long-term peace.

Peace—what a lovely idea.

But if we are determined to eliminate ISIL, modesty likely will not do, and I am concerned that if these modest efforts don’t work or work as well or as quickly as the war-bangers want, then we’ll hear—are already hearing—that determination requires immodesty, and by gum the US is weak, weak, I tell ya!, unless we’re willing to kill and die and kill some more.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not believe that we act ably or well in our military endeavors in the Middle East.

It’s not so much that I fear that we might fail as believe that we have already failed, and with this re-engagement, are about to amplify that failure.





War, what is it good for

11 09 2013

I’d long thought the whole Obama-as-master-of-11th-dimensional-chess gig was overblown.

One, all presidents engage in an insanely complicated matrix of gamesmanship, having to deal with the House, the Senate, governors, his own party, the opposing party, bureaucracies, the courts, monetary institutions, corporate institutions, the economy, interest groups, constituents, the UN, NATO, other regional and international institutions, international allies, international adversaries, nongovernmental organizations, and sundry other non-state actors. For starters.

Two, President Obama isn’t always, or even mostly, a master. He is smart and patient and willing to wait for whichever adversary to stumble, but it’s not as if his patience has always served him well (repeated attempts at compromise with Congressional Republicans), nor that he’s never stumbled (debt ceiling negotiations and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts). That he’s pretty good at recovering from his stumbles (and his opponents so terrible at recovering from theirs) has tended both to diminish the stumbles themselves and magnify his alleged mastery.

The situation in Syria seems to me a case of stumble-recovery. I didn’t think the drawing of the “red line” regarding  chemical weapons use was that big of deal, not least because there were multiple responses besides that of a military strike. (And as for the alleged loss of presidential/American credibility, well, christ, if actual air strikes on Qaddafi didn’t deter Assad, why would threats do so?)

No, the problem was with the immediate jump to the military option; all subsequent “messaging” problems flowed from the ill-conceived decision to bomb Iraq. That was the stumble.

Secretary Kerry also hasn’t been great in all of this, but whether his statement about Syria turning over his cache was off-hand or not, the fact that Syria and, more importantly, Russia, took him up on it, gave Obama the chance to recover.

Which he took.

We’re still in the midst of trouble,  of course, but there’s now the possibility—not the certainty—that those troubles will lessen rather than increase. The dread “optics” on all this have been lousy, but I’ll take shitty optics with a decent outcome over the reverse any day.





No no no no no no

6 09 2013

I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but when has futility ever been a reason not to act?

I finally contacted my congressmember, Yvette Clarke, and senators Gillibrand and Schumer and urged them to vote NO on any military action in Syria.

I was only going to contact Congressmember Clarke, certain that my senators would be in favor of such strikes, but both are undecided (Clarke is apparently leaning no). I kept it short—250 words—ticking off my skepticism about the point/effectiveness of unilateral military action rather than laying out an entire manifesto against the-US-as-world-cop; no reason to inflict a screed on some poor intern.

I am sorry to oppose a president who I generally support, but I am even more sorry that he is pursuing a lousy, even dangerous, course of action. The situation in Syria is terrible, but I don’t see how unilateral military strikes by the US will make anything better.





Did you see the frightened ones?

27 08 2013

I don’t know what the hell to do about Syria—which is fine, given that no one is asking and I’m in no position to do anything anyway.

Still, I do like the sound of my own voice, so I need to say: “I don’t know what the hell to do about Syria.”

George Packer’s ambivalence is, rightly, getting lots of links. Bashar al-Assad is a bloody-minded dictator willing to murder his way across his country in order to keep that country his: If the people don’t want him, they don’t deserve him, and thus will be killed.

He is willing, in other words, to do anything to survive.

Given that, Packer’s question goes right to the point: “I want you to explain what we’re going to achieve by bombing.”

Is the Obama administration or France or NATO willing to go after Assad? If so, what then? Iraq redux?

And if not, why bother?

It’s possible that someone could come up with a decent argument for limited multilateral intervention—that it would, in fact, materially improve the prospects of a decent life for more Syrians than not—but even Fred Kaplan, who offers the most optimistic realistic appraisal of intervention, riddles that appraisal with hedges, questions, and doubts.

I don’t have any difficulty believing that Assad gassed his own people. Some argue that he must have been set up because who would be so stupid to loose sarin on a neighborhood with UN inspectors on the ground, but is it really such a stretch to think a homicidal megalomaniac might have issues with logic and reason? Conversely, that he’s a homicidal megalomaniac doesn’t mean he can’t calculate the odds of any intervention resulting in his ouster sufficiently low to make a terror-inducing gas attack worth his while.

In either case, we’re back to the obvious: he’ll burn his country before he hands it over to the traitors and cowards who would rather live without him.

That’s a horrible, horrible situation for Syrians, and produces the horrible paradox, as well: We want to intervene because it’s horrible, but because it’s so horrible, we can’t intervene.

Not unless we want to burn the country down ourselves.





And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

21 06 2013

Un-able/-willing to think long thoughts, but still wanna say some things; thus:

*Sully’s been running a series on bisexuality (including a rather disingenuous vid of Dan Savage on how he loves the bis), to which I find myself mildly irritated.

Only mildly. I’m a mid-life bi who can’t be arsed to date anyone (or be arsed enough to do whateverthehell I’d have to do to entice someone to date me), male or female, and it’s just so obvious to me that this is a Real Thing that discussions of its existence are, well, irritating.

Most of what’s been said is about men, with the requisite oo-women-are-bendy disclaimers, and gay men who once said they were bi seem to be holding court in these posts, but, I dunno, more bi-straight men and bi-women ruminating on this might be nice.

Don’t know how much control Sullivan has on who writes in, however. (And no, I won’t be writing in, and not just because I don’t want to be another bendy-broad: I just don’t have much to say about my own experiences.)

*Another bit from Sullivan: He posted what what seemed to me two contradictory pieces In the same post) on drone warfare.

The first concerns the tedium of drone surveillance, as well as the clarity of the videos (“A nine-camera sensor nicknamed Gorgon Stare is capable of streaming full video with enough resolution to discern facial expressions.”). Through repeated viewings, drone operators become familiar with their subjects:

“It might be little things like a group of kids throwing rocks at goats, or at each other, or an old man startled by a barking dog,” says Mike. “You get a sense of daily life. I’ve been on the same shift for a month and you learn the patterns. Like, I’ll know at 5 a.m. this guy is gonna go outside and take a shit. I’ve seen a lot of dudes take shits.”

The second bit comes from Sascha-Dominik Bachmann

Keith Shurtleff, the US Army Chaplain and military ethics teacher, aptly summarized this concern “that as war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide.”

So my question is this: if the drone operator can see the people with whom he’s become so familiar, how removed is he, really, from the horrors of war? Is he not more aware of the humanity of possible targets than, say, pilots, for whom targets really are “blips on a screen”?

*No, Jordan Bloom, just because “The libertarian says the draft is slavery” doesn’t make it so.

I hold to my civic republican beliefs and consider shared civic obligation of particular importance to a pluralist (pluralistic?) society.

Yes, national service can be a problem, but, done right, it doesn’t have to be. I would favor a mandatory 2-yr paid stint in either military or civilian service beginning within some months of leaving/graduating from high school for all citizens and those who want to become citizens.

Yes, there’s an argument for/behind this, but did I mention the un-able-willing thing?

*George Packer has put together some great posts at the New Yorker on the financialization and Siliconization of our economy, and what it means for all of those folks who just don’t fit on Wall Street or in the Valley.

I borrowed a number of quotes from his “Change the World” piece on Silicon Valley for my summer pol sci class, highlighting the certainty of the tech-heads of their ability to lead [some of] us out of the swamp of politics and into the clean, well-lit techno-utopia beyond.

Can you guess my response to that certainty?

*This fucking guy:

Never, ever, ever, wait for a SIGN before you escalate! You will miss out on the vast majority of chances if you sit around waiting for SIGNS. Men are notoriously bad at reading women’s minds and body language. Don’t think that you’re any different. From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished. It’s a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps.

. . .

Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.

Should I note for fairness’s sake that if a woman really really really makes super-crystal clear that she’s just not that into you then This Fucking Guy does allow that perhaps you should back off, if only to try again later, er, for safety’s sake?

Didn’t think so.

*Think vaginas are icky?

Fine, whatever. Just don’t be shocked that not everyone shares your belief  that vaginas are “objectively gross.”

(And not that you’ve asked, but I won’t be sleeping with you, either.)

*It’s a bad idea to arm the Syrian rebels. Bad bad bad.

I’m generally opposed to slippery slope analogies, but this is one case where it seems that if the US gives a guy a gun, we see little reason not to give him a cannon, then an RPG, and on and on until we get sucked in or distracted and everything goes to hell.

More to the point, as bad a butcher as Assad is—and he’s bad—the US has shown little-to-no-ability to make these situations better rather than worse.

I was agnostic-on-to-mildly supportive-of the Libyan intervention, but I can’t really tell you why I think this is such a bad idea.

But it is.

*Shall we end on a happy note?

My window-basil is growing like gangbusters. It apparently likes the rain as much as I do.