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Politics

Your Syria Scorecard!

Follow your favorite columnists as America debates war.

Who said what?(Rick Harris/Flickr)

photo of Matthew Cooper
September 12, 2013

With the Syrian mess changing daily if not hourly, it's hard to keep track of where important figures stand on this grave matter. The president and many members of Congress seem to have embraced the idea of giving Damascus a chance to turn over its chemical members. With some time to go before Congress has to take a vote on the matter, consider where the equally divided punditocracy stands on a military strike. It's not a simple left-right split of course. It's not even a bomb or don't-bomb split. That's why you need a scorecard. Herewith, where some of the more prominent columnists stand.

He's too incompetent to attack. Provocateur Ann Coulter emphasizes the incompetence factor. "Why is Congress even having a vote? This is nothing but a fig leaf to cover Obama's own idiotic "red line" ultimatum to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on chemical weapons….No Republican who thinks seriously about America's national security interests — by which I mean to exclude John McCain and Lindsey Graham — can support Obama's "plan" to shoot blindly into this hornet's nest." For his part, Charles Krauthammer penned a column with a somewhat more elegant premise titled "Unless he's serious, vote no" urging more and not less force. In other words, if Obama seems better prepared to execute an attack, Krauthammer might back him.

Yes, let's do this. George F. Will has tapped out a column called "Obama is right on Syria." On Fox News Channel, Bill O'Reilly has spared no criticism of the president's handling of the Syrian situation but has repeatedly made the case that strong action is required. "We can not let evil go unchallenged," O'Reilly said. While making clear he wasn't comparing Assad to Hitler, O'Reilly nevertheless dedicated a segment on Tuesday night comparing 1930s isolationism to the current situation.

 

Liberal hawks: It Sucks But We Have to Bomb. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, has declared how awful it'd be to attack but the consequences are worse. "I believe we are obliged to hit Assad," he writes. "Are the relatively few deaths caused by nerve gas really so different from the many more deaths caused by bullets, rockets and bombs? Yes, I believe they are." Nick Kristof at the New York Times echoes the sentiment. He writes that he's convinced a military strike can do some good "[W]hile neither intervention nor paralysis is appealing, that's pretty much the menu," Kristof writes. "That's why I favor a limited cruise missile strike against Syrian military targets (as well as the arming of moderate rebels)." For his part, Robinson balks at arming the rebels.

Um, no. Peggy Noonan, who penned some of Ronald Reagan's mome memorably hawkish speeches, has come out against going into Syria. "The only strong response is not a military response," she writes. Noonan cites Pope Francis's call to address the humanitarian situation in Syria without turning to violence.

Um, yes. Still a neocon. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the more prominent Iraq hawks, sticks to his guns (figuratively) by signing a letter from other neoconservatives and hawkish liberals asking President Obama to take military action against Damascus. Frequent Wall Street Journal contributor Fouad Ajami signed the letter, too, as did The New Republic's Leon Weiseltier.

We could do better. Mideast expert and Bloomberg View columnist (as well as a contributor to our sister publication, The Atlantic) Jeffrey Goldberg leans against a limited Syria attack. In a column titled, "Why a Missile Strike on Syria Could Make Things Worse," he says such an attack may not be the best idea. "What's a better idea? A better idea would be to commit the U.S. fully to the removal of the Assad regime," he writes. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and former Mideast correspondent, lays out a somewhat similar position in his columns. He's all for keeping the pressure on Syrian strongman Assad: "In that context, I think it is worth Obama and Congress threatening to schedule a vote to endorse Obama's threat of force — if the Syrians and Russians don't act in good faith — but not schedule a vote right now….That's why I think the best response to the use of poison gas by President Bashar al-Assad is not a cruise missile attack on Assad's forces, but an increase in the training and arming of the Free Syrian Army."

This is a bad idea. MSNBC's Chris Hayes has been a critic of the idea of a military strike saying he'd vote no if he were in Congress. The Atlantic's James Fallows has also dubbed it a bad idea. "On why I would now vote No: From what I can tell, approximately 100% of the pro-strike arguments have been devoted to proving what no one contests. Namely, that hideous events are underway in Syria, that someone (and most likely Assad) has criminally and horrifically gassed civilians, and that something should be done to reduce the ongoing carnage and punish the war crimes. And approximately 0% of the argument has addressed the main anti-strike concern: whether U.S. military action -- minus broad support, any formal international approval, or any clear definition of goal, strategy, or success -- is an effective response."

Play of the Day: The President is Just as Confused as We Are

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