Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beyond disputin', an element of truth

The author of the words below might ask Americans, as the malign plutocrat banker Potter asked George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life after sketching out his life and prospects, "Do I paint too grim a picture? Or do I exaggerate?"
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” 

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
That's Vladimir Putin in the New York Times. Yes, he does paint too grim a picture, and exaggerate. The Libya intervention was authorized by the Security Council, e.g., by Russia under Medvedev   And Obama's proposed strike on Syria has little in common with Bush's invasion of Iraq. But the broad question -- have American military interventions post-9/11 done more good than harm? --is hard to answer in the affirmative.

 Again, below, does Putin paint too grim a picture?
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. 

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
That is not the whole truth, and helping Assad to crush the variegated opposition as Putin has done (fueling the conflict far more than those supplying the opposition with "foreign weapons") is not the answer. But it's not an inaccurate portrayal.

Twitter is awash with ridicule. Some of the laughter strikes me as uneasy -- perhaps because "listening to Putin" as a reader underscores that the U.S. seems poised to "listen" to his proposed response to the chemical weapons attack that he denies Assad's regime perpetrated.

Putin's bid  "to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders" is a pitch of cold interest: What do you gain by supporting Syrian rebels? What do you gain by unilateral military strikes?  It's full of lies and hypocrisy (Russia supports peaceful dialogue in Syria, Russia stands firm for rule of law, the rebels executed the chemical weapons attack, the man who leveled Chechnya is concerned about bloodshed). But it poses some uncomfortable questions. And the U.S. seems to be trying to embrace the proposed answer.


  1. The Potter quote is: " I paint a correct picture..." not too grim a picture. Your version wouldn't have made any sense: am I exaggerating, or do I exaggerate?

    1. By gun, you're right! Memory is funny. But my version makes sense to me: simply repetition for emphasis.