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September 16, 2013


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If you want to see Lewis Black take a metaphorical sledgehammer to the notion of American exceptionalism, put "Lewis Black on Broadway" in the search box on YouTube. His opening analogy in a five-minute clip is sufficiently simple that it can be grasped by any American, no matter his status or circumstance.

"the chutzpah of writing that, from a KGB thug"

My granddad used to say it takes one to know one. Yes, Putin is a KGB thug. All the more reason to take his rebuke to heart.

Amen, to that, Kevin.


The 'unique experience' of the US is -in prosaic terms- mostly a function of a vast continent with a lot of resources ripe for exploitation, oceans left and right, a lack of powerful competing neighbors (Mexico, Canada?!), and a capacity for hard work and ruthlessness. But empires come and go: no exception!

Greatly done Jon.

Great one Rogue! And for the Franzen link too:

"And the brain has barely an inkling that the day of the great drought has dawned."

When are the Reagonistas gonna own up to their part in the exceptionalism of American debacles and hyprocracies?

For those who have ears to hear: "A man's gotta know his limitations." Dirty Harry

and if the fall dont kill us we will probably drown.
taken from Butch and Sundance

One form of American exceptionalism we could do without is religious nuts getting to insert their views into every level of public life and policy. Can we please be country that enjoys full religious freedom but is governed in a secular, evidence-based manner?

"When are the Reagonistas gonna own up to their part in the exceptionalism of American debacles and hyprocracies?"

Never. Reaganism can never fail. It can only be failed.

Gratehouse: Careful. You're gonna make Jesus mad!

1745 my folks came to America to get away from war (European army deserter) and religion? Bad decision.

When settlers first came to the Phoenix area, the Gila and Salt River Indian Community fed the new community of Phoenix. The Salt River irrigated their fields so they could grow a large array of supplies. When Roosevelt Dam was completed, the Salt River was turned off. The fields died and the tribe was forced into poverty. Over 100 years later, the tribe remembers the 'exceptional' treatment they received from their neighbor.

Very good M
Killing the hidden waters!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Speaking of making Jesus mad, have you noticed how the scolding about American exceptionalism only goes one way? You only get in trouble for criticizing Amurika when it's from the left. Jeremiah Wright did a sermon about God probably didn't look kindly upon US empire and military adventures and cited Scripture to back it up and that was cause for endless bleating from, first, the Clinton campaign and then the Republicans. Yet right wing fire and brimstone preachers regularly declare that this country is on the express train to Perdition because of our sinful culture and exult over terrorist attacks and natural disasters befalling us to punish gays or uppity women or whatever. Double standard much?

I meant "about how God probably didn't look kindly upon..."

cal. 1745?

U R in good shape for a 272 year old.

Great post.

The United States is unique in the genius of the Constitution...

The only "exceptionalism" that I accept - with the caveat that the Constitution is an evolved document (Magna Carta gets props,) and that this founding document is under such assault these days that we are undermining the very basis of this "exceptionalism."*

Yea, I'm being obvious, but times are such...

Precisely to your point (I hope) - "exceptionalism" has nothing to do with power or might, but only the in the documentation of what is right.


*The world is watching. The world was watching. The world has shrugged its shoulders and will move on. Of course something even better than the Constitution will emerge. In some local community.

Very good point, Donna Gratehouse. about the double-standard applied to militant patriots vs. creative dissidents trying to move the progressive democracy agenda forward.

Which is truly "American?"

AZREB, A clue: My distant grandfather was ABRAHAM. The family were rag merchants. And of course you know who Calvin was. John Calvin. Mom got carried away with that Scottish religious stuff. She was the white sheep in the family.

Gratehouse: U can come over on xmas day, I always watch Elmer Gantry to remind me of my youth when the perverts in tents roamed the Midwest ravishing ever thing in their path. Did I hear someone scream, Waco.

I hate to take issue with Cal, but I believe the correct quote from Butch is "The fall will probably kill you." There's another great line from that movie, that I repeat to my teenage sons when they are foolish: "Morons. I've got morons on my team."

Thomas thats why I said "taken" from. Then I added to it. As we know Sundance couldnt swim. Reminds me how the old timers use to toss their kids in the river.

OK, Soleri I know U R out thar. Come back at me here and destroy what I am about to allege: Weed is illegal in DC. Maybe but they are smoking it at the White House. Obama is looking like Jimmy Carters retarded pot smoking kid and Putin is looking like a KGB thug disguised as Teddy Roosevelt. There is no Syria or Middle East solution until something is done with the Saudis.
Main article: Wahhabism
See also: Salafi
The official and dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia is often called Wahhabism among its opponents (a name which its proponents consider derogatory, preferring the term Salafiyya[23]) is often described as 'puritanical', 'intolerant' or 'ultra-conservative'. However, proponents consider that its teachings seek to purify the practise of Islam of any innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his companions[24] Approximately 40% of Saudi nationals consider themselves Salafis.[25]

Maybe I've come to think in sound bites because my snapshot take on a current example of exceptionalism is the delusion that the US has an exceptional medical system. Costs and outcomes do not support this claim, yet the doomsayers have convinced themselves that Obamacare will be our undoing. In this matter, we are being exceptionally stupid.

Its not about Obamacare, Its about a black dude telling U what to do.
These are the same folks whose earlier relatives beloved the only good black man was a slave or one swinging at the end of a rope.

Most of the world considers Americans to be exceptionally naive with their blind nationalism and support of American adventurism. It is an exceptional country for those in the 1% of the income and net worth categories. For desperate refugees it is better than living in a conflict zone or in developing world poverty. But for most, the American experience is substandard to lifestyles in numerous other countries.

Milbank is a DC insider. American Exceptionalism is an illusion which perpetuates the growth of the imperial capital.

This is the universe where retiring at 50 with a $70,000 federal pension and lifetime federal health benefits is considered substandard living.

This is the universe where Congressional personnel proclaim they are there to serve the public, but exit through the revolving lobbying doors to a 1% income lifestyle.

With those incentives, its hard not to accept the illusion of American Exceptionalism.

American Exceptionalism has dwindled to dominance in entertainment, popular culture and excessive greed. Our revolution was revolutionary on a global scale in 1776, but we've degenerated into a plutocracy worthy of King George. Europe is far more exceptional in putting people ahead of big business. American exceptional achievements such as WWII, technology and medical advances are fading rapidly into the past. It's all about the rich getting richer.

Yes indeed Greg Smith.

This is a really good post, thank you. If only this could be published and discussed on a broader, national level. Ah, dreams.

More like execrable.

Well, if the US was really serious about getting rid of AQ we would have invaded Saudi Arabia!

Until the arbitrary lines of the colonial past are erased and new political entities created in their place (to reflect ethnic, religious, and social mores) there is no long-term solution in the Middle East or Africa.

How come the Kurds are not claiming the eastern end of Syria. Seems it would be easy pickings, but instead they have a refugee crisis! Is the USA yanking the chain or is it just another US blunder not to have our proxy grab up their own homeland?

Bravo Putin!!
The KGB was so much more effective in their craft than the bumbling bureaucrats at the CIA. The agency, after decades of incompetence, found something it could excel at: killing assassination targets and many innocent bystanders with drones and with no threat of harm to the CIA bureaucrats at all.
How American!

And intimidating and controlling a President

Sorry Cal I'd need more specifics to that claim.

The CIA as boogeyman has always been too Hollywood for me. Rogue employees or contractors occasionally yes. The bureaucrats at the CIA controlling the President, hard to believe given DC culture.

Do you have a lot of Beltway experience Cal? Mexico and Latin America really don't give one a balanced view of CIA or US governmental foreign operations.

Of course I've only watched TV and read books:)

The truly disaffected on the right and left in the U.S. have more in common than they seem able to see.

There has to be a way to get the 'Teabaggers' to join with the 'Occupiers' in their mutual dissatisfaction with big banks and big business in a common effort to get a handle on controlling these beasts.

The 'baggers are susceptible to repetition.

Just like the right takes extreme positions from the ultra-right and floats them to see if they gain any traction with the base(see some of the work done by David Neiwert, an investigative journalist based in Seattle), so the left should float ideas that would tend to support their goals and see what gains a little traction with the 'baggers. Then it should be repeated in the media as much as possible.

The 'baggers are teachable, as evidenced by the fact that they were very insistent that people stop calling them 'Teabaggers' once they found out what that meant. I found that response to be almost touchingly innocent in its description of the way they think. What it said to me was that these people will believe things very staunchly, unless someone tells them what it is they are actually saying.

We need a Frank Luntz for the left.

Prolo, Naw, I am just trailer trash living in the Sonoran desert drinking coffee at Urban Bean and going to Changing Hands bookstore. But I posted that thinking someone with credentials would pop in and talk about it.

Prolo, U are probably right. CIA is just a bunch of Dangerous and reckless Hollywood wannabe's.
You might want to try this.
However if you read about the Bush Family history, particularly George I and CIA history since 1940, including the assassinations of the Kennedy's and a book called Tripe Cross about how a now missing Egyptian working for Bin Laden infiltrated the CIA, the FBI and Military intelligence (oxymoron) U might have a good start on just how dangerous these folks have become.
I did spend 22 plus years as a cop working Organized Crime and Narcotics twice and the folks I know in Law Enforcement including FEDs, refer to the CIA as "The Big Dogs" meaning no matter what U got going if the CIA doesn't approve, U need to do something else.
Data wise, Petro on this blog can probably help out.
One of my favorite Movies is Three Days of the Condor. It is old but very much the same as today. CIA Games in the Middle East and oil. A somewhat similar more modern version is Syriana. I like the Condor movie best. Great one liners.

PS are U a Prolotherapist? I could use some non surgical pain relief.
Maybe I should consult with AZrebel on that.

Lash -- If police departments believe in 'organized' crime, doesn't that make them conspiracy theorists?

Enough now about CIA Plots, Children dying in Syria and congress back to American Exceptional ism.
ELiam Hemsworth has already moved on from Miley Cyrus. According to E! News, the actor was spotted playing tonsil hockey with singer-actress Eiza Gonzalez at her apartment complex in Beverly Hills on Tuesday

headless, thats a big 10-4
Only J Edgar didnt believe in OC

Of course Organized crime is two or more folks, like J Edgar and Clyde Tolson.

It seems to me that Obama himself opened the can of worms when he adopted the phrase "American exceptionalism" in his speech. He was clearly trying to accomodate critics on the right who have criticized him as a liberal: according to the mythology of the political right, liberals either hate America or insist on a false equivalency with other cultures and political systems.

Putin wrote:

"No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization."

Well, this is quite disingenuous. The United Nations already lacks real leverage, because a single no-vote by any member of the Security Council can veto the decision of the rest of the members; and the General Assembly has (by design) always been a paper tiger lacking powers of enforcement.

The United Nations was created by a charter written by the (then) five permanent members of the Security Council: France (still a colonial power), the Republic of China and the USSR (both in pursuit of empire, especially the latter); the United Kingdom (on which the sun of empire was only just setting; and the United States, which has been in pursuit of empire at least since the days of the Monroe Doctrine.

If the province of international law belongs to deliberative bodies like the United Nations, then I fear it has little to accomplish where Syria is concerned: the use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law only for those countries which are ratifying signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention or the Convention On Certain Chemical Weapons; Syria was not a member country at the time it used chemical weapons. It is true that Syria ratified the Geneva Protocols, but it is commonly argued that these apply to signatory states acting against other signatory states, not to signatory states acting against their own citizens in internal disturbances; many states ratifying the Geneva Protocols included formal reservations to this effect.

So, any action by the United Nations against Syria would be as arbitrary, from a legal standpoint, as unilateral action by the United States. The issue of moral obligation is another question.

Well lets talk about Moral Obligation.
How do you vote
Invade not invade.

12 die by shotgun.

300 die by sarin gas.

500,000 die by machete.

Outrage = # dead * location in relation to oil / skin color.

Math explains everything.

It appears that Syria is well on the way to becoming a failed state and that the stockpiles of gas would then be potentially in the hand of jihadists who would have no compunction about using them in the U.S.

To pinpoint as much of this stockpile as possible and neutralize it is a preemptory military goal that is worth some political risk.

headless: "To pinpoint as much of this stockpile as possible and neutralize it is a preemptory military goal that is worth some political risk."

It isn't a military goal. You can't neutralize chemical weapons with bombs, you can only disseminate them. This is why the Obama administration explicitly said that in its contemplated limited military action it would carefully avoid all places where chemical weapons are stored. Since, however, only Syria knows where they are stored and since there is some evidence of their being distributed to troops and otherwise moved around, it is questionable whether such strikes could be certain of avoiding hitting them. Knowing ahead of time that it was about to be attacked, Syria moved civilians into major military targets to use as human shields. Whether it would risk doing so with chemical weapons is unclear.

Regarding Syria, which has only signed the Geneva Protocol, not the other two major, subsequent chemical weapons agreements, Wiki has this to say:

"Eric Croddy, assessing the Protocol in 2005, took the view that the historic record showed it had been largely ineffectual. Specifically it did not prohibit:

* use within a state’s own borders in a civil conflict

* research and development of such weapons, or stockpiling them"

But it also adds:

"In recent times the protocol has been interpreted to cover internal conflicts as well international ones. In 1995 an appellate chamber in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia stated that "there had undisputedly emerged a general consensus in the international community on the principle that the use of chemical weapons is also prohibited in internal armed conflicts."

Interestingly, it notes that the United States did not ratify the 1925 Geneva Protocol (in force since 1928) until 1975.

Emil: Incineration is one of the two main tools used in neutralizing chemical weapons.


Hitler had a pretty good run (until he didn't) preaching German exceptionalism. I guess that is why "The Homeland" is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

Watching Rise of the Machines documentary spooked me into paranoia. With the US becoming one of the few countries not dependent on the Middle East for oil, if anything does happen there, we could make a bundle on supplying most of the Free World-just sayin'

OK Emil, lots of interesting data. If you were President WHAT WOULD U DO!!!!!!!!!!!

You think "we" could make a bundle supplying the world with oil due to a Middle East collapse.

"We" being who exactly? The oil & gas companies in the US? With oil for example selling at $150 per barrel in the global economy, US oil producers aren't going to continue selling their product in the US below market levels.

The US economy would be subject to a severe recession overall even though US oil & gas producing regions and companies might profit greatly from a Middle East meltdown.

The world economy is hooked on oil and the US consumer remains the biggest junkie.

Also from Fabius Maximus this book review:


Somewhat topical.

Prolo here u go. "CIA Bastards are up to their usual anus-fingering tactics. "
Gary Bass book "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. "

I forgot to mention that the thug and war criminal John Ashcroft threw out the second pitch at the Dbacks game last night. Why?

My wife was annoyed by my voiced disdain, but if the President of South Korea tossed the ball, her reaction would have been much worse.

Here is President McCain's op-ed in Pravda:


headless wrote: "Emil: Incineration is one of the two main tools used in neutralizing chemical weapons."

It is in some cases. However, specialized, controlled incineration is not the same thing as bombardment with cruise missiles, which is why President Obama and the Joint Chiefs are doing their best to avoid targeting chemical weapons stores, lest they cause mass civilian casualties from chemical weapons -- far bigger casualties than anything that the Syrian government is responsible for.

Cal wrote: "OK Emil, lots of interesting data. If you were President WHAT WOULD U DO!!!!!!!!!!!"

Well, first I would criminalize the excessive use of exclamation points.

Seriously though, it amazes me how interested Cal seems to be in discussing what I would do if I were President of the United States, as opposed to discussing the options actually under consideration by President Obama and/or the U.S. Congress; all the more so considering how routinely (almost reflexively) he seems criticize my comments here.

Any decisions the President makes would be based on a great deal of information which I am not privy to. That goes for information about Syrian air-defense capabilities, the disposition of Syrian ground troops, the political make-up and equipment of the various rebel factions, and so forth.

If you're asking for my off the cuff opinion, invasion would seem to be a bad idea for so many reasons (see also Iraq and Afghanistan): but neither the President nor Congress is contemplating invasion, much less occupation.

That leaves some degree of support for the Syrian rebels, or doing nothing at all.

Obviously, there are reasonable elements such as the Free Syrian Army led in part by former Assad regime military defectors, and composed largely of those who reject living under a police state and/or the oppressive rule of a sectarian minority.

There are also Muslim fundamentalist elements of an extreme variety and associated with Al-Qaida. These are among the most experienced and best fighters, especially the foreign jihadists who have fought many irregular actions in a number of theaters and whose training and experience renders them (the survivors and those they teach) good at guerrilla warfare. The recent setbacks suffered by the rebels result, in fact, from the presence of Hezbollah assisting the Syrian government; Hezbollah fighters also have a very advanced background in guerrilla warfare; don't forget that they evicted the Israelis from one battlefield and fought them to a standstill in another. Just as foreign-led jihadist guerrillas are what were responsible for so many of the rebels' gains earlier, their nemesis Hezbollah is responsible for so many of their recent setbacks, both through direct action and via advice and training of other government troops.

My guess is that, while the Al-Qaida types represent the best fighters, tacticians, and trainers that the rebels have (and here I'm making a broad generalization, of course), they represent a minority of the Syrian people and a minority of the Syrian rebels.

Obviously, arming Al-Quaida type jihadists with advanced weaponry is against the foreign interests of the United States. Probably the United States should have made intelligence collection on the rebel movement a priority early on -- ideally they would already have known about the main players before the rebellion even broke out. Maybe they did. If so, they didn't take the next logical step: making sure that the mainstream factions were strengthened and could come out on top if and when the rebels succeeded.

Easier said than done, of course. How can you prevent the sharing of weapons by rebel forces? How can you prevent the Al-Qaida types from sequestering some of these for later use for other purposes? You can't. However, they are almost certain to get hold of such weapons from one source or another eventually: either by capturing weapons from the Assad regime; or by provision from Sunni Arab governments supporting the rebels against Assad's Shia Alawites; or from their own supply sources.

So, again, it seems reasonable to me that the best way was to support the mainstream rebel factions, strongly and decisively from the start, so they they could have emerged victorious fairly quickly, before years of vicious fighting degenerated into sectarianism and gave Al Qaida and the extremists lots of traumatized civilians to radicalize in the name of a fundamentalism that would supposedly save, if not them, then their families or their own people.

This would have involved giving the rebels what they needed to fight tanks, planes and helicopters; or else offering them either strategic or close air support to take out as much of Assad's heavy weapons as possible.

The latter, incidentally, would have allowed the U.S. to tip the scales in favor of the rebels without giving the rebels advanced weaponry (because the U.S. would use its own advanced weaponry directly on their behalf). But this would have resulted in U.S. casualties, if only because taking out Assad's fairly advanced air-defenses (the necessary first step) would have resulted in the loss of some of the attacking airforce. It would be nice if cruise missiles would have been sufficient -- I don't know -- and certainly, their early deployment against such targets, by surprise, would have been far more militarily effective for the rebel cause than recent telegraphed threats occurring after enumerable complications have blurred battle lines and left civilians far more vulnerable.

A few, almost inevitable U.S. casualties would have been a political liability however, particularly for a president voted into office partly for his promise to end two such wars (though see Libya).

Also perhaps complicating this was the possibility that a U.S. attack on the Assad regime would have destabilized the region and perhaps even resulted in a desperate attack against Israel in order to draw pan-Arab support for the Assad regime. But it has come to military action (or its threat) anyway, in the end.

Thanks for that link to McCain's awesome, kick-ass op-ed in Pravda. Despite the truth of what he said about political suppression and oppression in Russia, I have to wonder whether a similar phillipic by Putin would have had a snowball's chance in hell of being published in a major American newspaper. Putin's measured criticism of Obama's remarks about "American exceptionalism" are a tempest in a teapot by comparison.

The U.S. Constitution did have the virtue from the very beginning of a separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches which tended to retard the concentration of power into the hands of a few leaders. Judicial review (see Marbury v. Madison) was another early innovation which allowed a (theoretically) independent judiciary to overrule the laws of the federal government and, eventually, those of states and localities, on behalf of the Constitution.

But a substantial fraction of the "genius of the U.S. Constitution" revealed itself after it had been extensively amended to allow universal sufferage and direct election of the Senate, as well as after U.S. Supreme Court appointments by FDR and his successors: justices who interpreted the Constitution in ways that made theoretical constitutional rights enforceable (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education, etc.).

All of those developments, and many of the defining rulings that have given modern Americans their ideas about the scope and meaning of constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and association, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and from cruel and unusual punishments, came from case law determined by 20th century Supreme Court decisions. Prior to that, the meaning of much of the Bill Of Rights was determined by individual states and localities, not according to uniform federal guidelines: and some of those states and localities were highly oppressive in their administration of schools, private property rights (see segregation), police powers, religion (including in government and schools), and so forth.

Don't forget that during WW II an entire population of Japanese civilians, born in the United States, were arbitrarily detained in concentration camps and deprived of property and liberty (and in a few cases, life), all with the blessing of the then U.S. Supreme Court. Blacks were prevented from voting by poll taxes and other means including violent suppression by state and local authorities. Entire political parties were banned and their leaders imprisoned, on the basis of broad statements of intent (e.g., Communists and the Marxist end-goal of overthrowing the U.S. government). Not only was the Fifth amendment right to keep silent not mentioned during arrests, but beatings and other forms of violence were fairly commonplace during interrogations. The meaning of "due process" was greatly expanded during the latter half of the 20th century, much of it desperately needed, though some of it later went too far and gave the public the impression that criminals were being coddled at the expense of victims, thus leading to a backlash which itself resulted in destructive changes (e.g., laws eliminating judicial powers and discretion in sentencing, etc.).

Obviously, some of these problems remain to some extent today; but as a result of court rulings (both criminal and civil lawsuits) many have been eliminated or ameliorated.

The extent to which constitutional rights are ultimately determined by the U.S. Supreme Court shows just how important it is to vote the right presidents into office (and keep the wrong ones out) and for those presidents, once elected, to make wise decisions and act vigorously in making and shepherding-through judicial appointments, not only at the level of the Supreme Court but at the appelate and district court levels.

Emil Pulsifer you write a mean paragraph about the Middle East. Now if you had some substantial on the ground experience in the Middle East, Arabic language skills and experience with a variety of Muslims throughout the Islamic World you might actually know something. But as an academic exercise you probably do well at ASU.

Napalm McCain, rather than address the Syrian crisis as invited to, carpet bombs the Russian government in Pravda.

It might sound righteous to an endoctrinated know nothing American audience, but most Russians will find his comments ironic given the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian murders committed over the decades by Napalm McCain and his war monger pals running the US military.

The serial murderer Mccain lectures the Russian people on their government.


U are correct-I should have said the oil companies could make a bundle-if they should decide to use their lobbyists to affect US policy in the region.But what's the chance of that?

As for McCain,I'm afraid he is still bitter that GWB screwed it up so badly,a black man could get elected President.

Well done Professor Emil. My !!!!! marks worked, excellent writing.
I was not criticizing you. I just think your writing is much more profound when driven by some emotion and not totally intellectual.
PS I have no input into what Obama is going to do. He is goin do what he is going to do.I dont think he is reading this blog, but maybe. Any way it was fun as usual.

Also, Professor Bill Bryson will be at Changing Hands bookstore on Oct 7.

Chicago, Chicago.
Ismael Zambada, when asked about the arrest of his son, insisted that the drugs will keep flowing no matter what—even if El Chapo himself is brought down. “When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead, or extradited,” he said, “their replacements are ready.”


Is O getting tough.
and I gotta love Liz Warren, what a set she has got.

I just can't quite put my finger on the reason, but in the last, oh, five years, being anti-war has finally become trendy and pc. Why, in the conservative small town where I live, I just saw one of our prominent right-wing ag subsidy harvesters, and he was wearing a tie-dyed gimme cap with a peace sign on it! It's here! The dawning of the age of Aquarius is finally here!

Emil -- "...-- far bigger casualties than anything that the Syrian government is responsible for."

If the Syrian government puts their chemical weapons in populated areas for the express purpose of creating mass civilian casualties if someone tries to destroy these dangerous weapons, how are they (the Syrian government) not responsible for the resulting civilian deaths if they are bombed because the U.S. has determined that the weapons have a good possibility of being used on U.S. citizens?

Your argument is humanitarian and you are correct that the U.S. is trying to avoid destroying the weapons for this reason, but when all of the moral calculus is figured, it is still the Syrian government that has created the situation that will kill their own citizens.

To make a historical analogy, you are McClellan to my Sherman.


Your arguments are completely irrelevant non-sequiturs as usual, "headless". I never said that the Syrian government would put chemical weapons in populated areas for the purpose of causing mass casualties if the U.S. were to attempt to destroy the chemical weapons. I said that the U.S. is not targeting chemical weapons kept at known military storage depots because chemical weapons cannot be destroyed with cruise missiles or bombs; that such strikes would only disseminate them, causing mass casualties as toxic clouds were caught up in the air and spread by the winds.

Don't be fatuous, Emil. You know very well that the arguments that I made are not mere non-sequiturs.

Didn't I bring it to your attention that the poison can be destroyed through incineration?

Put on your thinking cap, Emil, and see if you can come up with a scenario in which this incineration process could be initiated through targeting the storage areas with incendiary devices.

Perhaps this would not be the sort of 'controlled' burn you mentioned before, but it certainly would not be the wholesale release of poison gas that you fear.

If you want to win more arguments and you truly believe that you are correct, you need to be able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and be able to argue their case at least as well as you promote your own.

You are a good researcher. I grant you that. But you seem to think that your conclusions (that are based on presuppositions that I and others can readily see)are sacrosanct because you've put more time into the research.

I may disagree with your conclusions, but I do appreciate the information that you bring to the various discussions on this blog.

"Muhammed" wrote:

"Emil Pulsifer you write a mean paragraph about the Middle East. Now if you had some substantial on the ground experience in the Middle East, Arabic language skills and experience with a variety of Muslims throughout the Islamic World you might actually know something. But as an academic exercise you probably do well at ASU."

Thanks for the compliment. The qualifications you recommend would be prerequisite to a general survey of Muslim cultures in the Middle East; less so for an examination of the situational logic of U.S. intervention in Syria as judged from an American perspective. I do agree that an understanding of Syrian culture -- religious and social attitudes, political economy and history, and demographics -- is essential in determining just how reasonable a rebel-led government would be; and U.S. support for the rebels depends heavily on such a determination.

The concern that an Al Qaida related faction might hijack the machinery of government in Syria after the victory of a rebel coalition is valid, because even if those extremists are a minority they are a ruthless, well-organized, highly motivated minority, and such groups have been known to take power away from weak coalition governments (e.g., in Bolshevik Russia and in post-Shah revolutionary Iran).

However, the situation requires a concrete analysis specific to Syria, not vague argument by analogy. The Bolsheviks were able to keep power in the face of strong White resistance only because they were able to mobilize a peasant army (the majority masses) by supporting the peasants' dream of land seizure.

The Iranian situation is somewhat different in that there were large numbers of pre-existing religious radicals who formed the basis for the seizure of power via the Revolutionary Guard (including the large auxilliary corps known as the Basij), which still forms the basis of government control of the population.

The Shah's police and military could not be counted on for support and had to be purged; the Revolutionary Guard was in essence a radical militia that took over police and paramilitary functions as well as a political/secret police that organized a block-watch system of informants to oversee the general population and permit early intervention against counterrevolutionary or simply politically deviant individuals and groups, so that they could be arrested and broken up before they could effectively organize. (In some cases it may not have been as important to arrest those actively hostile to the regime as it was to deter the general population by means of highly public examples.) This plus control of the mass media and educational system consolidated the radicals' control of society at a national level.

The question then arises, to what extent would the situation in Syria allow a ruthless, well organized and motivated minority to take power away from a victorious rebel coalition government, not only in isolated towns and areas but nationally? Could a fundamentalist government bribe the general population with promises of economic improvements via seizures of land or other property? Does Syria possess a ready-made sizeable population of fundamentalists ripe for recruitment into a paramilitary/police/informant network that would allow the radicals not merely to seize formal political control from a coalition government but to consolidate societal control on a national level?

If "Muhammed" possesses such knowledge he could at least offer one opinion by sharing it; this, I'm sure, would be far more interesting than uninformed speculations about my personal background.

Contrary to Cal Lash's approving declaration, my writing on the Syrian conflict is no more or less emotional than usual. I am trying to clarify reasoning about an important issue that could have lasting consequences for American foreign policy. Once the movers and shakers reach consensus, the media agitprop to build support for their decision will follow in the usual fashion.

Syrian moderates seeking U.S. intervention or support on their behalf should understand that a propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of the American public, its intellectuals, and its national political leaders, is at least as important as the war on the battlefields of Syria. Expatriates in particular could profitably use their spare time and funds by organizing free informational presentations on university campuses; by getting opinion columns published in newspapers aimed at national intelligentsia (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and L.A. Times); and by lobbying efforts aimed at educating key members of Congress (particularly the chairmen of relevant committees) and administration officials.

Headless wrote:

"Don't be fatuous, Emil. You know very well that the arguments that I made are not mere non-sequiturs. Didn't I bring it to your attention that the poison can be destroyed through incineration? Put on your thinking cap, Emil, and see if you can come up with a scenario in which this incineration process could be initiated through targeting the storage areas with incendiary devices."

Well, no. Chemical weapons incinerators are designed to prevent toxic gases from escaping into the atmosphere until chemicals can be broken down into harmless byproducts, and they use very high temperatures to make sure that happens. It's a contained burn.

Here's a thought experiment: instead of a chemical weapons factory or storage depot, imagine a factory that makes fancy dress sequins. After hitting it with a cruise missile (or an incindiary bomb) you'll find sequins and bits of sequins scattered around in all directions up to a quarter mile away.

Unlike sequins, vapor, once blown into the air, tends to float in the air and to be taken up by the wind. A toxic cloud of sarin gas or mustard gas could be carried considerable distances and kill tens of thousands.

That's why the Obama administration has said that any airstrikes would attempt to avoid targeting chemical weapons stores; but that's easier said than done without up to the minute intelligence on the locations of chemical munitions which may recently have been moved or distributed.

The kind of fireball you see in Hollywood movies associated with explosions, may burn a building; but the targets here are individual chemical molecules, not timber or other macroscopic materials, and it takes an intense heat, applied over a long period of time, to break them down completely and thoroughly; and in the meantime the gases must be contained within the incinerator until the toxic molecule chains have been broken down into more fundamental, harmless elements.

Wouldn't allowing the chemical weapons to remain intact in Syria be an even worse scenario than destroying them, in an albeit imperfect way, in Syria, than if the weapons fell into (or are already in) the hands of people who would transport them to major centers of population in Europe and the U.S. to release them there.

Wouldn't that also kill a lot of people?

But, I suppose that we could use your excuse that we didn't have the proper incinerators to destroy them in Syria, so we were forced to leave them intact for the bad guys to use against us.

It's a question, Emil, of who gets killed by the poison, not if.

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