Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
As hours pass and rhetoric by Obama administration officials, named and unnamed, grows more bellicose against Assad and Syria, liberal hawks in the media, and newspaper editorial pages, have largely fallen in line, calling for a swift US missile attack or more. This was the same pattern we saw in regard to Iraq in 2003, when a Republican was in the White House.
Of course, the two situations are different, and The New York Times has a lengthy and chilling new report tonight trying to recreate the night of the attack. But there is this much that’s the same: liberals are calling for fast action even though proof of a chemical attack, and who did it, remains less than definitive—and with United Nations inspectors on the scene but their work discounted by America. Yet the rush to judgment—and bomb—escalates.
Some liberals in the media have resisted, however. Then there's the issue of the country that still defends killing 100,000 women and children with a new radiation bomb in 1945 lecturing others on what's a "moral obscenity." And two days ago Foreign Policy revealed new evidence of Reagan-era America's "complicity" in Saddam's massive chemical attacks in the war with Iran.
I’ll begin collecting a range of commentary, updates added on Tuesday. Plus consider the irony of this tweet by Laura Rozen on Tuesday: "Strikes won't start til Thursday, am guessing. Among other reasons, because Obama speaking on 50th anniv. of MLK's I have a dream Wed."
• Eugene Robinson joins liberal hawks tonight in calling for strike on Assad at The Washington Post. Admits history argues against it but we have to do it. “Must be punished.” George Packer at The New Yorker at least argues with himself.
• Dexter Filkins joins liberal hawks in calling for attack in new piece at The New Yorker. After recounting a moving talk with journalist/witness to last week’s bombing, he admits our attack now could make things worse (and no rebel leader to trust)—but have got to try something. David Frum at Twitter, on the other hand, outlined several good reasons to resist this impulse.
• The New York Times, in an editorial posted late Monday, asked for a measured response after declaring: “This time the use of chemicals was more brazen and the casualties were much greater, suggesting that Mr. Assad did not take Mr. Obama seriously. Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through. Many countries (including Iran, which Mr. Obama has often said won’t be permitted to have a nuclear weapon) will be watching.”
• The Times also collected the mixed views of several experts in a Room for Debate online, including this warning from Stephen Walt: “Even if proven, the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government does not tip the balance in favor of U.S. military intervention. To think otherwise places undue weight on the weapons Assad’s forces may have used and ignores the many reasons that US intervention is still unwise.”
• The great Andrew Bacevich raises three reasons to pause. For one: we now aim to hit Syria—but we did little after the Egyptians, who we fund, killed perhaps as many civilians two weeks ago in non-chemical attacks. Juan Cole warns of civilian casualties in a U.S. attack based on where Syrian weaponry located. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic makes the case against intervention: "Intervention in Syria could have catastrophic consequences for America and for the region. Non-intervention would pose no threat to us, and wouldn't preclude us from alleviating suffering elsewhere on a huge scale (and with no risk of accidentally killing innocent civilians in the process). Hawks are most interested in humanitarian causes that can be carried out by force. There is no reason the rest of us should share their world view, given how many times it has resulted in needless slaughter on a massive scale."
• The Post editorial: “Mr. Obama should deliver on his vow not to tolerate such crimes—by ordering direct U.S. retaliation against the Syrian military forces responsible and by adopting a plan to protect civilians in southern Syria with a no-fly zone.” Chicago Tribune: “If the Syrian government launched this chemical attack, will it be held accountable, not just by the U.S. but by countries in the Arab world and elsewhere? Will France, Turkey and other countries outraged by the attack impose a no-fly zone in Syria, along the lines of the NATO coalition that helped topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011? Or will world leaders shrug, await Assad’s next outrage, and debate the meaning of ‘red line’?”
* Will be hard to top Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal: "Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar's brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family's power, including all of their official or unofficial residences."
Bob Dreyfuss on Russia's stake in the Syrian war.