Against "Symbolic Killing" in Syria – and Everywhere Else.

In
his must-read column
about libertarian Republicans’ response to
intervention in Syria, Matt Welch notes William Kristol’s blog post
commending Weekly Standard readers to read University of
Virginia professor James Ceaser’s essay “To
Authorize or Not to Authorize
.”

That piece appears in the conservative magazine First
Things
and argues, among other things, that conservatives and
Republicans should approve action in Syria because

there is the important matter of the future – a
future that may one day have a Republican in the presidency. The
precedent of setting too low a threshold for blocking presidential
initiative in foreign affairs is unwise.

Our guy may once again be in the White House and well,
might want to bomb or invade some foreign land without the backing
of the American people or its represenatives, so let it rip now,
boys. Ceaser also channels Pontius Pilate and counsels Republicans
that they “can sign on to the president’s discretion to act without
signing on to his actions.” On such
a grimly partisan calculation
doth a supposedly
humanitarian intervention hang. Being pro-war means never having to
say you’re sorry – or responsible.

As it happens, First Things‘ editor R.R. Reno has
penned a counterpoint to Ceaser’s analysis and it’s one that, in my
opinion, deserves to be read far more widely than Ceaser’s.

Titled “Against
Symbolic Killing
,” Reno argues

Claims that military action is necessary to deter future uses of
chemical weapons are empty. This goal – and indeed any just outcome
in Syria at this juncture – requires decisively defeating the Assad
regime. Yet the Obama administration seems unwilling to say it’s
committed to achieving this goal. In fact, the administration seems
unwilling to commit itself to any substantive,
on-the-ground goal in Syria. Without a substantive goal, killing
people there would be unjust, because purposeless. We would be
killing them so that. . . . Try to complete that sentence. The best
I can come up with is this: So that the world will know that the
United States is serious about the fact that using chemical weapons
is a bad thing.

Put simply: Just war-making requires clearly articulated and
substantive goals. Launching cruise missiles or air strikes simply
to “show resolve” or “send a message” cannot be justified. At the
end of the day, these rationales authorize symbolic killing, which
is fundamentally immoral.


Read the whole thing.

In defense of Obama, one unnamed U.S. official
told the LA Times
that the Nobel Peace Prize winner and his
administration were using all of their smartness and cleverness to
calculate a response that would be “just muscular enough not
to be mocked” and ” just enough to mean something, just enough to
be more than symbolic.”

This is where we’re at, America, after a decade-plus of wars
that were generally ill-conceived and definitely ill-prosecuted.
Indeed, our long stay in Iraq – which would still be going
full-steam if Obama’s former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
had
gotten his wish
– and our ongoing war in Afghanistan, and
whatever the hell is happening in Libya is now being followed up by
whimpers about how the only proper thing to do with a genocidal
madman like Syria’s Assad is to bomb him a little bit, but not too
much. To prove a point that America will not abide the use of
chemical weapons. Unless of course,
you were Saddam Hussein and it was 1988
, and using them helped
what we considered our interests at the time.

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