Thursday, August 09, 2012

In which Kristof plays me like a fiddle

When I saw the headline, Obama AWOL in Syria, I thought, "there goes Kristof again" -- the ultimate advocate for humanitarian intervention often carefully defined not to include military intervention per se). Darfur, South Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and now Syria...

I read his case for the U.S. helping to topple Assad, and I won't presume to judge its merits, but it crossed that two-minute op-ed-reading threshold where you're following an argument and have not tipped into spending most of your mental energy pushing back.

Then, this caveat near the end got my attention, first because it struck me as a tad narcissistic, then because I realized it wasn't, because my own first response to the headline demonstrated how necessary it was:

Look, I’m no hawk. I was strongly against the Iraq war and the Afghan surge, and I’m firmly against today’s drift toward war with Iran. But Syria, like Libya, is a rare case where we can take modest steps that stand a good chance of accelerating the fall of a dictator. And after 17 months, there’s growing agreement that Obama should no longer remain a bystander.
Now, those are bona fides worth citing when you're hoisting the Jolly Roger. As for that "growing agreement," Kristof marshals it, citing cases made for limited intervention from two generations of the foreign policy establishment (mainly the Democratic side): William Perry, Madeline Albright, Anne-Marie Slaughter, R. Nicholas Burns. The reasons are the usual suspects: containment, WMD (chemical), humanitarian imperative, future influence. But that recurrence of itself neither discredits nor validates them.

Again, I'm not judging the case. I have neither expertise nor that always-suspect proxy that comes from closely following an issue in the media and literature. I was just struck by my own reader response to Kristof -- and by the skillful, and I would say exemplary,  way that he played it.

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