Syria: We live in strange times


A Democratic President gets the Republican Party to turn dove-ish on military intervention in the Middle East, but holds back from military action thanks to his ex-KGB Russian counterpart’s diplomatic proposal, which tosses that Democratic President a lifeline in both foreign and domestic affairs. All this, after the two have been at loggerheads for months over issues ranging from trade to an NSA leaker who escaped the US and sought asylum in Moscow. The President’s base reflexively opposes his call for military strikes, the base of the party opposite will flip flop like a dying fish if it means opposing whatever he says is good, but in a single prime-time speech, he managed to (temporarily, at least) convince 61% of listenersof the value of what his stance.

And seriously, what is the deal with Miley Cyrus?

We live in strange times. News cycles move minute-by-minute, and sometimes it seems that everyone on the internet is convinced that if only the people in power would listen to them and their frequent status updates, things would work out. There’s this reflexive urge to assume that the individuals in power have no more information about what’s going on than they are revealing publicly when the truth is likely much closer to the opposite case. And yet we withdraw to our corners, some going so far as to accuse President Obama of continuing virtually every foreign policy pushed by his predecessor, others simply to do what they’ve been doing, call him playground-quality names, and try to reinforce their preconceived, blissfully ignorant, and ultimately incorrect notion of this President as a failure.

As for the proposal which Syria accepted, to put their chemical weapons under international control (after first, of course, admitting that yes, they have chemical weapons. Oops.), it’s definitely a weird case. But when it comes to diplomatic solutions superceding military action, I think the ends really do justify the means. If the end is

  • No cruise missile strikes
  • no boots on the ground
  • no multi-trillion-dollar quagmire
  • no state-building required
  • no 1990s-Afghanistan-part-deux
  • Israel doesn’t get an itchy trigger finger

and the means are

  • The U.S. has to backtrack on an ill-conceived commitment to strike
  • Russia gets to look like the good guy
  • The Syrian civil war continues apace

then, frankly, I think that’s a less awful deal than many of the alternatives. Especially the one President Obama was half-heartedly asking a Congress which can barely rename a post office let alone pass useful legislation, to endorse.

There are some consequences to this path, as with all paths: Russia gets to keep selling conventional military equipment to the Syrian regime. Oil pipeline paths might be moved. And of course, people on all sides of the Syrian civil war are going to keep dying, because war is hell and civil war is an especially hot, painful corner of that hell.

But from here, in front of our keyboards and smartphone screens, we’re not going to solve these issues by reflexively retreating to our corners, allowing ourselves to be angry and ignore the nuance and consequences of each course of action, and make huge assumptions about what and how much we do and don’t know about the situation.

More here.