Democratic values? A nice idea ….

by Chris Bertram on August 28, 2013

In an op-ed with the Orwellian title “This is a moment for democratic nations to live up to their values”, British Foreign Secretary William Hague makes the case for intervention in Syria. I just want to focus on one sentence of his article:

According to the UN, the Syrian conflict is already the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide, creating nearly two million refugees and killing more than 100,000 people so far.

Last year, Hague’s colleague, Home Secretary Theresa May put in place measures to make it as hard as possible for Syrian refugees to reach sanctuary in the UK. Subsequently, Syrians who have travelled to the UK and sought asylum have been prosecuted for travelling on false papers and imprisoned, despite the Court of Appeal having ruled that this should not happen. Meanwhile, much poorer countries, such as Jordan, have been coping with a volume of refugees much greater that wealthy countries like the UK have ever had to. The complaints of western politicians that they are motivated by humanitarian concern as they ratchet up the rhetoric for bombing should be listened to in the light of their shameful efforts to evade their humanitarian obligations in the conflict so far.

{ 74 comments }

1

John Quiggin 08.28.13 at 10:57 am

Iraq was arguably even worse: people who had to flee because they had worked for the Occupation forces were then refused entry (at least to the US, less sure about UK). Ted Kennedy tried to fix this, but failed in the end.

http://www.theforeignreport.com/2013/06/06/iraq-americas-forgotten-allies/

2

bjk 08.28.13 at 11:04 am

Just one more reason to not get involved. What percentage of those asylum seekers are the next Mohammed Atta? The number isn’t zero.

3

ajay 08.28.13 at 11:05 am

their shameful efforts to evade their humanitarian obligations in the conflict so far.

UNHCR Syria Regional Response Plan
2013 income as of 22 August 2013

United States of America- $228,460,000
European Union – $46,093,096 (excluding individual member states contributing directly)
Japan – $32,950,495
Russia – $10,000,000
China – $1,000,000
Brazil – $150,000
India – $0
Iran – $0
Indonesia – $0
Saudi Arabia – $0

4

Phil 08.28.13 at 11:26 am

Asylum seekers should never be prosecuted for not having the legal right to enter the country where they’re seeking asylum. If you can enter the country legally you don’t need to seek asylum.

5

Ronan(rf) 08.28.13 at 11:39 am

I really dont want to get ‘into anything’, but the OP is clearly highlighting the extent to which neighbouring countries bear the burden of mass migrations not arguing that rich countries dont commit funds to relief programs. It is well documented from Iraq (among many examples) that regional countries did take in the vast majority of those fleeing the conflict (with Sweden being one of a few wetern countries that made an effort)
Yes rich countries, like rich people, can throw money at a problem. Not sure what that says about the main point of the OP (from my reading)

6

Matt 08.28.13 at 11:41 am

If you can enter the country legally you don’t need to seek asylum.

That’s not actually true. Entering on a tourist visa, or a student visa, or a work visa, and then seeking asylum is completely normal and often completely legal. This doesn’t change the point that those seeking asylum shouldn’t be prosecuted for not having the right entry papers (they shouldn’t, at least in the vast majority of cases) but it’s important to see that the last part just isn’t right.

7

ajay 08.28.13 at 12:22 pm

It is well documented from Iraq (among many examples) that regional countries did take in the vast majority of those fleeing the conflict

But that’s a good thing, though, isn’t it? Should we be actively trying to settle refugees as far away from their homes as possible, in countries where the language, culture and even climate are completely different to what they’re used to?

8

P O'Neill 08.28.13 at 12:24 pm

The home countries bear a lot of the burden of migration too through internal displacement and they don’t register on any international lists.

9

Chris Bertram 08.28.13 at 12:53 pm

Ajay asks

“Should we be actively trying to settle refugees as far away from their homes as possible?”

Hague, May and co are *not* trying to settle refugees in the best place for them, they are actively trying *to prevent* Syrian refugees from reaching the UK. They are *not* doing this out of concern for their welfare.

10

pedant 08.28.13 at 1:11 pm

I’m sure that Hague, May, and co. are motivated only by the deepest concern for the refugees’ welfare.

The climate in the UK is abysmal, and the food nearly constitutes a human rights violation all on its own.

That’s your point, isn’t it Ajay?

11

ajay 08.28.13 at 1:28 pm

No, my point is that a situation where distant rich countries are paying for refugees to be housed in close-by (and in this case poorer) countries isn’t really a sign that anyone is skipping their humanitarian obligations, and is also one that’s likely to have superior outcomes for the refugees in question. I *know* that May isn’t *acting* out *of* concern *for* their *welfare*.

12

rea 08.28.13 at 1:33 pm

It does not in any sense justify the UK’s (or the US’s) policies on refugees to point out that <of course Jordan is going to have a lot more Syrian refugees than the UK, because they can walk to Jordan, while getting to the UK or the US is more complicated.

13

stephanie 08.28.13 at 1:36 pm

Not to mention UKBA are keeping Syrians with complete visa applications meeting the ridiculous requirements from coming to the UK: http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/christine-given-emergency-in-syria-and.html

14

engels 08.28.13 at 2:06 pm

of course Jordan is going to have a lot more Syrian refugees than the UK, because they can walk to Jordan

It doesn’t always work like that…

15

Chris Bertram 08.28.13 at 2:13 pm

ajay: (1) she is acting to make it the case that Syrians cannot claim asylum in the UK by refusing them even transit visas. (Additionally, I would add, Syrian with family in the UK are being refused family visas.) (b) the sums of money you list are paltry from the countries concerned. I grant you that there’s a possible world where the UK is so active in helping refugees in countries adjacent to the problem and is so generous that it would make no sense for me to complain in the way that I have. That world is not this one.

16

Rob in CT 08.28.13 at 2:22 pm

We’ll democratically bomb Syria (or not, considering that ~10% of the US population is in favor) and democratically arm rebels, but democratically avoid actually making sure they win. Because think of the children and shut up, that’s why.

17

Barry 08.28.13 at 2:46 pm

JQ: “Iraq was arguably even worse: people who had to flee because they had worked for the Occupation forces were then refused entry (at least to the US, less sure about UK). Ted Kennedy tried to fix this, but failed in the end.”

Last I heard the figures were an estimated 2 million external refugees, 1.5 million internal refugess, and ~650K killed.

18

Barry 08.28.13 at 2:50 pm

Chris: “b) the sums of money you list are paltry from the countries concerned.”

The amount from the USA is probably less than will be spent by dawn on day 1 of actual shooting; in fact I’ll bet it’s less than will be spent moving forces into place for the shooting.

19

calling all toasters 08.28.13 at 4:05 pm

Since the UK was part of the invasion of Iraq, none of the Iraqis were refugees– they were new home seekers, or possibly nomadic entrepreneurs.

20

roger gathman 08.28.13 at 4:39 pm

I guess those who committed the atrocity of occupying Iraq can’t point to the fact that the actual major refugee crisis came out of that crisis.
But in terms of pointing to the hypocrisy of the mock democratic countries, one simply has to contrast the response to the massacres in Egypt committed by the military regime – massacres of prisoners, massacres of protesters, often caught on film – and the response to the massacres of Assad. On the one hand, you have such grave action as, uh, cancelling a joint military exercise, and on the other hand, bomb bomb bomb.
However, I think we can all grant that the president’s credibility (echo effects please) depends on us bombing the crap out of Syria. How can the leader of the free world feel all powerful if he doesn’t follow his red line rhetoric? I mean, this trumps all other considerations.

21

Barry 08.28.13 at 5:44 pm

Roger: “On the one hand, you have such grave action as, uh, cancelling a joint military exercise, and on the other hand, bomb bomb bomb.”

Don’t snark – the next step will be to write nasty notes on the large number of $100 bills which we send to the Egyptian Army every year.

BTW, has *any* of the R2P liars even suggested that perhaps actually giving the Egyptian Army money is something which we shouldn’t be doing?

22

CSD 08.28.13 at 8:22 pm

To be fair,

There is a difference between sticking up for someone in a fight vs. asking them to move in with you…

23

Adrian 08.28.13 at 9:15 pm

@John Quiggin

I wanted to quibble slightly with your point since I work for one of the largest refugee relief and resettlement agencies. Since 2006-2007, the US has admitted 87,857 Iraqi refugees and 8,626 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders for permanent resettlement. SIVs are given to interpreters, government officials, etc who worked for the US occupation and then found their lives and those of their families under threat as a result. This is only a tiny minority of the overall numbers of refugee and internally displaced Iraqis, of course, and very little restitution for the destruction and suffering caused by the occupation and its aftermath. But the program does exist and for those who have made it to the US, in many cases it’s been a life saving intervention.

This information is publicly available from the Refugee Processing Center, http://www.wrapsnet.org/.

24

LFC 08.28.13 at 9:48 pm

Slightly off-topic, but it may worth noting that a previous post by Chris Bertram, “Fingerprinting Migrants in France: The Back Story,” suggests that the UK Chief Inspector of Borders is not aware of the applicable legal regime for asylum. The inspector, John Vine, was quoted in a linked piece as saying something about migrants from France claiming or trying to claim asylum in the UK, when the Dublin Regulation, mentioned by Chris in the same post, requires those seeking asylum to claim it in the first EU country they enter, if I understand it correctly. So if someone seeking asylum first arrives in Greece, or France, or etc., they are barred from filing for asylum in the UK under the Dublin Regulation — unless I have misunderstood, which is quite possible.

25

LFC 08.28.13 at 9:51 pm

in the above, “migrants from France” = migrants from outside Europe who are in France

26

Ronan(rf) 08.28.13 at 10:55 pm

” and is also one that’s likely to have superior outcomes for the refugees in question. “

How?

27

Chaz 08.28.13 at 11:09 pm

Ajay,

If Syrian refugees thought they’d be better off in Jordan than Britain they would all go to Jordan on their own and there would be no one for Britain to exclude. Clearly they think otherwise.

28

Ronan(rf) 08.28.13 at 11:11 pm

Ajay says

“No, my point is that a situation where distant rich countries are paying for refugees to be housed in close-by (and in this case poorer) countries isn’t really a sign that anyone is skipping their humanitarian obligations, and is also one that’s likely to have superior outcomes for the refugees in question.”

And

“I *know* that May isn’t *acting* out *of* concern *for* their *welfare*.”

The dictionary says:

hu·man·i·tar·i·an
/(h)yo͞oˌmaniˈte(ə)rēən/
Adjective
Concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare

Maybe I’m missing something?

29

Ronan(rf) 08.28.13 at 11:17 pm

Chaz
I wouldn’t pay too much mind to an argument that discounts *all* recent history and constructs some nonsense Utopia as our starting point. Personally

30

Mao Cheng Ji 08.29.13 at 12:48 am

In defense of ajay here: refugees are people being rescued from a mortal danger in their country. Temporarily, until things get better there and they will be able to return. That’s the humanitarian part. Whether they wait in Jordan or the UK is irrelevant; where they want to be is irrelevant.

31

Martin Connelly 08.29.13 at 12:59 am

Such a well argued and pointed essay. Well done.

32

LFC 08.29.13 at 1:54 am

Adrian @23
That was my impression (and I was going to reply to JQuiggin) but I didn’t have the figures, so I’m glad you commented.

33

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 2:33 am

IIRC a lot of the Iraqi refugees (mostly Sunnis, fleeing the Shi’ites) are in Syria, in camps along the border.

34

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 3:42 am

Aside from the horror of the whole situation, and the inability to chose a side to support in it: I am intrigued by the fact that the U.S. and Europe are willing to take some sort of action specifically on the use of chemical weapons. Is it possible that the this is what the future holds, i.e. not taking sides in any conflict that doesn’t have direct security implications, except to penalize any side that uses chemical weapons?

35

Adrian 08.29.13 at 3:50 am

@ Lee A. Arnold

The vast majority of Iraqis who are still at risk and have fled their homes are internally displaced, over 1.3 million according to UNHCR. There are about 80,000 in Syria and another 50,00o or so in Jordan. Some of the Iraqis in Syria have gone back to Iraq or to Lebanon.

If Syrians are ever designated for admission as refugees to the US, I would SHOCKED. The perceived security risks are too great, the US is/will throw money at Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and depending on how things turn out, Syria itself to provide services for refugees and internally displaced people in the region but do some clean up for the mess we’ve made but also to try to make sure those unfortunate folks stay where they are.

36

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 4:04 am

Is the West going to end up like referees at the match of the Islamic Reformation? Stay out of it, except to go in and slap someone who uses chemical weapons? Look at the pattern: Bush “brings democracy” to Iraq, they elect to be BFF with Iran, give oil rights to China, and now the country is slowly exploding in sectarian violence. Obama sides with democracy in Egypt, elections bring in the Muslim Brotherhood, they get thrown out, and now there’s another fight to the death, because the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t coming back without possessing a lot of guns. Consider this letter to a London newspaper:

“Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad. Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro-Sisi. Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood. Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US. Gulf states are pro-US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad, yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states. Welcome to the Middle East…”

Aside from the fact that I think Obama is not pro-Muslim Brotherhood, but rather pro-”the results of any election” (as Bush had to claim to be, in Iraq, even after al-Sistani outmaneuvered him on the neocon intention of installing a US strongman, such as Chalabi), I think the writer of this letter points at the real problem.

The Protestant Reformation lasted about 130 years.

37

Layman 08.29.13 at 4:06 am

@34

I’m not even sure I understand the posturing any more. If it’s OK to kill every member of a wedding party because one of them is a terrorist, then what’s the objection to chemical weapons?

38

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 4:23 am

@ Layman #37 — Good question. To hang on to a vestige of humanity? To draw some kind of line in the sand?

39

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 4:24 am

I have a request for unimpeachable historical sources. I once read somewhere, and I wish I could find the source citation, that when the CIA started mucking around in the Middle East in the 50′s, they helped Nasser eliminate the lefty-liberal Egyptian intellectuals, among whom were some formidable brains. And since that time, there have been few or no books in the Western liberal tradition (Locke, Smith, Rousseau, etc.) available in Arabic editions. Is this true? I have a request in to a leading IR scholar on Egypt, but I expect that he is in busy in demand.

40

ajay 08.29.13 at 9:51 am

I once read somewhere, and I wish I could find the source citation, that when the CIA started mucking around in the Middle East in the 50′s, they helped Nasser eliminate the lefty-liberal Egyptian intellectuals, among whom were some formidable brains. And since that time, there have been few or no books in the Western liberal tradition (Locke, Smith, Rousseau, etc.) available in Arabic editions.

That sounds like a pretty weak argument, to be honest. What, it’s been sixty years since Nasser and still no replacements have arisen? Is being an intellectual genetically determined in Egypt, like being a telepath?

And it’s not just the liberal intellectual tradition: there are very few translated books of any kind available in Arabic translation. IIRC the total number of books translated into Arabic from any language in the entire Arabic-speaking world over the last millennium is less than the total translated from English to Spanish in Spain in a single year. Whatever the reason for that, it’s probably got more of a cause than Nasser and the CIA…

41

Fu Ko 08.29.13 at 10:58 am

It just hit me today that the USA is going to war, again. That it’s really going to happen. And it does not look like it’s going to be a short affair. The al-Nusra Front seems to have pre-emptively declared war on the Syrian National Coalition, should it take power. So it won’t end with Assad’s defeat. For the last 6 hours I try, but I cannot think of anything else. Here comes war.

42

hix 08.29.13 at 12:02 pm

People who had to flee from Afgahnistan due to working for the German army did not get asylum either. Some pro war voices seem to think like this: Letting refugees into our country is horrible, so we need to make sure Syrians dont have to run anymore, otherwise we might end up with that terrible refugee burden.

43

Peter T 08.29.13 at 12:24 pm

ajay

That remark on translation is contested – see arabist.net/blog/2010/11/…/new-numbers-on-translations-into-arabic.htm. Others have made the additional point that large sections of the Arab populations are multilingual – speaking French in North Africa, English and French in Egypt and the Lebanon.

44

Andrew F. 08.29.13 at 12:40 pm

I wouldn’t scoff at the amount of aid being spent by the US and others, but granting everything in the post – that the pro military action politicians are being inconsistent with their stance on refugee policy – that doesn’t mean that the arguments those politicians are making are incorrect.

afaik, the idea is to raise the cost of deploying chemical weapons so that Assad does not resort to using them again. The US, UK, France, and other nations own the escalation ladder – Assad is unlikely to retaliate against military strikes.

If that idea is correct – a big if – then a limited and well calibrated military strike will pay off by deterring additional use of chemical weapons, which arguably will save lives. It’s a fair humanitarian argument, regardless of who is making it.

45

Walt 08.29.13 at 12:58 pm

Now that Andrew F’s paymasters are calling for it, I can only assume that the Syria strike is definitely going to happen. We can take solace from the fact that

46

Walt 08.29.13 at 12:58 pm

(I don’t know what happened there.)

We can take solace from the fact that it will be a limited one.

47

Barry 08.29.13 at 1:14 pm

Ajay: “That sounds like a pretty weak argument, to be honest. What, it’s been sixty years since Nasser and still no replacements have arisen? Is being an intellectual genetically determined in Egypt, like being a telepath?”

Once you shoot the first crop, their successors might take the hint.

48

ajay 08.29.13 at 1:18 pm

43: those numbers are slightly better but still pretty poor for a language spoken by so many people. 1500-2500 a year is still a tiny fraction of the figure for other languages. Point remains: there’s a general dearth of translated books in Arabic and it’s dubious why this should be ascribed entirely to Nasser and the CIA bumping off a few Egyptian intellectuals in the 50s.

The point about multilingual populations is an interesting one though, more for Morocco and North Africa than elsewhere I suspect – 35% of Egyptians have what the BC calls “intermediate” English, though I have no idea whether that means “happy to read books in English” and I rather suspect it doesn’t.

49

ajay 08.29.13 at 1:19 pm

Once you shoot the first crop, their successors might take the hint.

Ah, of course. That explains why there are no intellectuals in Russia.

50

LFC 08.29.13 at 1:31 pm

Fu Ko @41 seems to think that every time the U.S. fires a cruise missile it “goes to war.” It’s one way to look at things but not too helpful b.c it lumps a lot of v. different things together.

I’d remind Fu Ko of this (quote from the Wiki article on Aug. 1998 missile strikes):

The August 1998 bombings of Afghanistan and Sudan (codenamed Operation Infinite Reach by the United States) were American cruise missile strikes on terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan on August 20, 1998. The attack was in retaliation for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people… and injured 5,000 others.

Fu Ko may think that Operation Infinite Reach was a case of the U.S. ‘going to war’, but I don’t find that a v. helpful description.

If I were a betting person, I would bet a large sum that the Obama admin will keep the U.S. direct mil. involvement in Syria very limited. There is no indication that a major mil. intervention is in the offing, as opposed to a limited, presumably one-off strike (on the merits of which I’m not expressing an opinion here).

It’s unclear at this point how the Syrian civil war will end. Best case scenario is some kind of political settlement, which seems right now to be remote. More likely is that the fighting will continue for some time. Assad’s fate at the moment is difficult to predict. Thus I’m not sure why Fu Ko refers to “Assad’s defeat” as if it is a foregone conclusion. It may end up that way, but at this point it’s not clear. I wish I had a crystal ball like Fu Ko’s.

51

LFC 08.29.13 at 1:35 pm

P.s. Possibly I misread and Fu Ko is saying that *if* Assad is defeated, the victors will turn to fighting among themselves. That seems a more reasonable prediction.

52

Ronan(rf) 08.29.13 at 1:56 pm

Lee Arnold @39

Is the question why is there no real Arab left? Afaik there is, and has been historically, although it has been weakened in the past number of decades (by, for example, the failures of Pan Arabism and lose of institutional support, the defeat in 67, larger regional trends in increasing religiosity, the rise of the oil states and greater institutional support for religious intellectuals etc. You also have some hostility in post colonial countries (initially anyway) to western intellectual traditions which were often used as cover for imperialism)
But its complicated, I think (and thats only my non expert, simplified first take on an answer) If you get a response from the Egyptian IR scholar will you post it here?

ps I remember B Lewis running with that ‘how many books were translated into Arabic’ talking point a few years ago and it doesnt strike me as saying anything particularly useful, more a political soundbite

53

Layman 08.29.13 at 2:07 pm

LFC @ 50

‘Fu Ko @41 seems to think that every time the U.S. fires a cruise missile it “goes to war.”’

He’s right, isn’t he? Isn’t lobbing high explosives onto another country an act of war? Isn’t it the very definition of war, under International law?

54

P O'Neill 08.29.13 at 2:25 pm

I don’t think Nasser needed CIA help squelching independent thought in Egypt. The generals came up with that by themselves. Squelched the Muslim Brotherhood too. More generally, the Arab left got co-opted. Authoritarian states made the right noises about public control of the economy and ramped up delivery of basic social services through increased public sector jobs, while the Cold War stances kept the Arab left in a pro-USSR position (in addition, Arabs were getting graduate education in eastern Europe in the 60s and 70s and coming back with that era’s version of Marxist economics). By the 1990s, all the pillars of that world view were gone, but the posturing continued, and Islamism, not socialism, was rising to fill the void.

55

Katherine 08.29.13 at 3:10 pm

I’m not being a concern troll, really I’m not, but I’m struggling to see whether anyone has come up with any reasonable course of action, or justification for inaction. Could someone help me out?

I’m entirely on board with the idea that historic Western interference is a large contributing factor to the current right old mess, and I’m far from a cheerleader for war/military intervention. But I’m having serious trouble with the idea that sitting back in a position of righteous laissez faire is the best response. What are the alternatives?

56

pedant 08.29.13 at 3:17 pm

Katherine, isn’t the lack of any reasonable course of action in and of itself a good justification for inaction?

(Where I take it that by “action” you mean some level of Western military intervention, and by “inaction” you mean “no Western military intervention.”)

Where you can foresee no likelihood of making things better by getting involved, you should not get involved.

To call this “righteous laissez faire” is simply to muddy the water with name-calling. The reasons for staying out are no better, and no worse, if those not involved feel righteous or distraught or agonized or anything else. As Westerners, our feelings are really not the point. The point is that we cannot make things better by military intervention, no matter how we feel about it.

57

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 3:31 pm

@ Ajay #48 — I did not ascribe it to “Nasser and the CIA bumping off a few Egyptian intellectuals in the 50s”. I am asking two different questions.

58

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 3:39 pm

Katherine and pedant, If someone uses chemical (or nuclear) weapons, I think a lot of other people are going to come to the conclusion that a line has been crossed, and that it won’t stop there, or even be kept inside Syria. Remember that 90% of people in the US want no action on Syria — but that was last week’s poll.

That was my other question above — is breaking the war conventions the new excuse for intervention?

59

Ronan(rf) 08.29.13 at 3:40 pm

Katherine, some of those questions were thrased out here recently*

http://themonkeycage.org/2013/08/28/how-much-does-history-help-us-predict-the-success-of-a-syrian-intervention/

(a lot of the links in the OP are worth following for the pol sci of when, and when not, interventions have worked)

*although I personally dont have an answer, and am divided on it as well

60

pedant 08.29.13 at 4:03 pm

“A line has been crossed”–when did this phrase become an automatic off-switch for thinking?

Since a line has been crossed, we should no longer reason about our national self-interests in the traditional ways? We should no longer respect international norms? We should no longer consider how other nations will respond to our intervention?

Since a line has been crossed, we should now do things that have no realistic chance of making the present or the future any better?

Assad ought not to have used chemical weapons. That is not in dispute. But as he says today, in an exclusive op-ed he penned for the Onion, “Trust me, I am incapable of being taught a lesson at this point.”

This has always been the reality of chemical weapons conventions. So long as the violations do not affect the vital national interests of major powers, they will go unpunished. This is not something new. Obama did not create this. Even Bush and Rumsfeld, when they green-lighted Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, did not create this. It has always been true.

A line has been crossed. And nothing has changed about the wisdom of military intervention.

61

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 4:24 pm

Pedant #60 “‘A line has been crossed’–when did this phrase become an automatic off-switch for thinking?”

About two million years ago. It has ALWAYS been an automatic off-switch for thinking. As soon as a leader says it, about 60-70% of the population always stops thinking (presuming they were thinking, to begin with).

62

LFC 08.29.13 at 4:55 pm

1) layman @53: “there is no agreement among international lawyers on the definition of war”– Bledsoe & Boczek, The Intl Law Dictionary (ABC-Clio, 1987), p.343. The quoted statement is roughly 25 yrs old but I believe it remains true today.

2) Katherine: see e.g. posts/links at Duck of Minerva; Monkey Cage, already linked by ronan, above; and recent (8/28) disc. on PBSNewsHour w Daalder (for a strike), Melem, and Mearsheimer (against a strike).

63

LFC 08.29.13 at 5:10 pm

P.s. @layman There may be a difference, perhaps more than purely semantic, betw “an act of war” and “going to war.”

The point is when one says, as Fu Ko did, the U.S. “is going to war again” it lumps a whole bunch of things together and implies that Vietnam/Dom. Republic/Grenada/Panama/Desert Storm/Kosovo/(2nd) Gulf War/Afghanistan/Libya/Syria is all one big undifferentiated thing. It’s all US aggression, all the same, all bad. (If that’s yr view, that’s yr view. But I think distinctions are prob. called for. As Jon Western put it on Duck of Minerva, not all interventions are the same. He’s right. Which is not to say I have made up my mind in this case. I haven’t.)

Btw, why didn’t Fu Ko say “France is going to war again” or “Britain is going to war again”? It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that US will act here until Hollande and Cameron are on board (in just about every sense).

64

Layman 08.29.13 at 5:12 pm

LFC @ 62

I think you’re straining language and reason to no real purpose. According to the Geneva Conventions of 1947, the law of war is triggered by the existence of ‘armed conflict’ between states. So, legally, firing cruise missiles into Syria creates what international law considers a state of war.

The idea that one can bomb one’s neighbors without ‘going to war’ is in my view pernicious. If Syria were to launch cruise missiles at the Pentagon, which would you opine: That Syria had committed an act of war against the United States; or that they hadn’t, because, after all, Bledsoe & Boczek tell us ‘there is no agreement among international lawyers on the definition of war’?

65

Hidari 08.29.13 at 5:15 pm

“35% of Egyptians have what the BC calls “intermediate” English, though I have no idea whether that means “happy to read books in English” and I rather suspect it doesn’t.”

Of course, one can barely move in the UK and the US for the rapt citizenry reading the classics of Arabic philosophy, art, and science, in the original.

It should be noted that since English is compulsory in Egypt, for all students, in all schools, from the age of 4, until higher education, that your ‘suspicions’ about whether or not they are ‘happy’ to read books in English are probably unwarranted. I might also add that the lack of translations into Arabic in other Arabic countries might be something to do with the fact that there is no need for them: for example, almost all Moroccans are completely bilingual in French as well as Arabic (and of course many of them speak English, and other languages, as well).

But then your profound intuitions about the nature of the Arab mind based on a quick skim on Google usually turn out to be wildly inaccurate, don’t they, Ajay?

And how’s your Arabic getting on? Progressing?

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Layman 08.29.13 at 5:19 pm

LFC @ 63

I still don’t understand your objection to using ‘going to war again’ as a description of deciding to bomb Syria. I think it’s because you want to make distinctions between this example and other examples of ‘going to war’. OK, but you need to make those distinctions. How’s this different?

‘Btw, why didn’t Fu Ko say “France is going to war again” or “Britain is going to war again”? ‘

I don’t know. Maybe he lives in the US, and is therefore concerned about what the US does in a way he isn’t about Britain or France? Maybe he thinks Britain and France would do nothing without the ‘leadership’ of the US in this matter?

In any event, it’s an odd objection. If I say ‘Germany went to war again in 1939′, is that statement false because I failed to mention that Italy also went to war again in 1939?

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LFC 08.29.13 at 5:36 pm

Layman @64

If Syria were to launch cruise missiles at the Pentagon, which would you opine: That Syria had committed an act of war against the United States; or that they hadn’t

Yes, I wd prob. opine that they had.

You are missing my main point. Probably my fault b.c I have not been clear and have muddied the waters.

My objection to Fu Ko’s statement the “US is going to war again” focuses on the word “again.” The word “again,” read in the context of the whole comment, implies that this is just one more instance of the same thing, as in “here we go again.” In a sense, this is correct: it is, or will be, one more instance of military intervention, one more use of force, one more ‘act of war’.

But while all acts of war do have *something* in common, not all uses of force are the same, not all mil. interventions are the same. That is my pt. Does this pt get us anywhere in terms of deciding what to do in this case? Well, no, probably not. But it also does not foreclose the question before it’s even asked.

Some use of heuristics, models, analogies (historical and other), whatever is inevitable, b.c that’s how humans think. We all have ideologies, biases, worldviews, preconceptions, viewpoints, no one comes to anything as a blank slate. But it doesn’t mean you have to lump everything together into one big mass.

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Layman 08.29.13 at 6:07 pm

LFC @ 67

If I were to say ‘the US is going to war again’, what I would mean is that the US seems incapable of learning any lesson about the limits of military power and intervention. In the long list of wars you mentioned earlier, it’s hard to pick many that ultimately served even US national interests, much less humanitarian ones.

All indications are that we’ll bomb Syria enough so that no one can say we did nothing, but that we’ll be sure to limit the bombing so as not to unduly irritate Russia, Iran, etc. Framed that way, the action can’t possibly prevent the Assad regime from visiting misery on the people of Syria again and at length. We’ll kill people, probably some innocent people, for no reason except to avoid embarassment.

It’s foolishness. Plus, by even entertaining the notion, we get the added spectacle of Donald Rumsfeld (!) complaining about our lack of justification for acting in Syria.

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Katherine 08.29.13 at 8:09 pm

Where I take it that by “action” you mean some level of Western military intervention, and by “inaction” you mean “no Western military intervention.”)

No, I didn’t mean that action has necessarily to mean military intervention. And the fact that I, or you, can’t think of a useful action doesn’t mean one does not exist, hence my question.

Thanks others fornl

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Katherine 08.29.13 at 8:09 pm

*for links*

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ajay 08.30.13 at 9:46 am

Of course, one can barely move in the UK and the US for the rapt citizenry reading the classics of Arabic philosophy, art, and science, in the original.

Certainly there’s quite a few who are reading the Koran in the original. (Yes, some British people are Arabic-speaking Muslims. Contain your amazement.)

It should be noted that since English is compulsory in Egypt, for all students, in all schools, from the age of 4, until higher education, that your ‘suspicions’ about whether or not they are ‘happy’ to read books in English are probably unwarranted.

Well, maybe, but I have to say that compulsory French from the age of 7 to the age of 17 has not left me able comfortably to read books in French for fun. I can, if I exert myself and occasionally use a dictionary, but I would much rather not. And compulsory English for all Egyptians still only leaves 35% of them able to speak English at even an intermediate level.

And how’s your Arabic getting on? Progressing?

Actually I decided to give it up. Some stroppy little runt on the Internet told me that everyone in the Middle East speaks perfect English, so I thought: why bother?

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Pete 08.30.13 at 10:26 am

Potential options? There’s all sorts of things that could be done, from humanitarian aid to better-armed observers to the distribution of gas masks. There’s a bit of a lack of imagination.

Meanwhile, Fu Ko is right; deliberately bombing another country is an act of war, regardless of who the participants are. It may be a war justified by UN resolution, but you can’t say it’s not a war. (If it’s covert and denied by the aggressor, it’s terrorism instead)

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Chris Williams 08.30.13 at 11:59 am

What must we do? How about a UNSC resolution which:
condemns this particular use of poison gas against civilians,
appoints and resources a special prosecutor to investigate whether a war crime has been committed, and
agrees that if that prosecutor issues an indictment involving the case, all UN member states will respect that indictment to the extent of delivering all those named in it to The Hague, ASAP?

It’s what post-Beccarian law enforcement does. If you want to enact long-term behaviour change you don’t merely lob bombs in the general direction of lawbreakers*, you increase the chances that they won’t get away with it. Consistent application of this principle has the effect of changing behaviour over time.

What can we do in the meantime? How about follow the suggestion from _New Scientist_ and drop / deliver some shed loads of anti Sarin kits, largely consisting of atropine and advice, to areas at risk of repeat attacks.

*Philidelphia PD excepted.

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Chris Williams 08.30.13 at 12:02 pm

(Off topic) Are there any cognitive scientists out there, to answer the question – why is it that when I post in anger I always produce more typos than otherwise? On the whole, I’d rather be writing ‘Philadelphia’.

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