Your Syria Scorecard!

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National Journal
Matthew Cooper
Sept. 12, 2013, 2 a.m.

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.”

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