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Syria, Chemical Weapons, and Ad Hominems

by Carl Wicklander, published

Interventionist hawks of the partisan variety sure are having a hard time holding a position on the Syrian civil war. Only the bipartisan War Party hawks of the John McCain and Lindsey Graham sort seem to think an attack on Syria is a good idea. But what about the conservatives who paint President Obama as "weak," (despite drones, spying, and Libya) for dragging his feet to an intervention Americans, and sometimes they, don't support? Why, continue the ad hominems, of course!

Over at The American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein uses the occasion to take potshots at Rand Paul after the Kentucky Senator expressed the opinion that it benefits the rebels, not Bashar al-Assad, to use chemical weapons:

"Striking Syria could very well make things worse than they already are. But Rand Paul is equally imprudent for engaging in irresponsible speculation and for presuming any decency on the part of Bashar Assad."

I may have missed it, but I don't remember anyone, Rand Paul or anyone else, implying that since there isn't metaphysical certitude that Assad is responsible for the attack, that he is therefore a moral paragon. Or could we read that statement that since Assad maybe didn't commit a war crime, he must be decent? Does Goldstein apply this logic to the Kennedy assassination? Castro was an evil dictator, so he must have ordered the kill!

Goldstein also refers to some intelligence intercepts from the US, UK, and Israel to support his claim that Assad doubtlessly used chemical weapons. Setting aside the fact that these are among the strongest backers of an intervention, following Goldstein's links and others, the case is still not quite clear-cut.

In the Guardian, it is reported that it is "highly likely," but with the assessment based on "open source" material such as video footage of victims. What he doesn't mention is that the video footage raises questions of its own, such as why were the people attending to the victims of a chemical attack not dropping dead?

Foreign Policy magazine reports an intelligence official believing this confirms the government's role in the attack, but with the story also acknowledging there has been insufficient testing of the soil. This amounts to an official's opinion, not fact.

The AP also reports that intelligence on Syria's chemical weapons is murky and the trail does not go to the top. This doesn't mean the rebels are responsible for the attack in any way, but neither does it confirm the Assad government's complicity.

What's been intercepted is chatter between a defense official and the leader of a chemical weapons unit of the army after last week's attack to discuss how it happened.  What I haven't seen yet is anything from this chatter confirming that the chemical attack originated from the government. Reports on this intelligence are incomplete, so is it possible that the attack was discussed if only to find out whether or not the government side is responsible? The AP story seems to back up this theory as it was a discussion between two low-level officials with no evidence tying it back to a commander with the ability to launch a chemical attack.

The point of all this is just to show that the Syrian situation is complicated. I've been against any Syrian intervention, weapons-or-no-weapons, red-line-or-no-red-line from the beginning. Even if the Syria hawks' claims come true and the Assad government is plainly guilty of a chemical attack, it still doesn't justify Western intervention. There is no American interest in who rules Syria and supplanting the Assad regime is not likely to produce peace or a government the US finds amenable.

I haven't quite figured out whether Aaron Goldstein prefers an attack on Syria or not. A week ago he gave a list of "Four Reasons Why Obama Won't Intervene in Syria," with at least three of them tinged with sarcasm. So, I'm inferring that wants to see another Middle Eastern War. Regardless, his shoddy treatment of Sen. Paul illustrates hawks' conundrum: they are getting a war they probably want, but they struggle critiquing it, so ad hominems must be employed.

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