New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof.
In urging the bombing of Syria, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof is the latest liberal opinion leader to join the ranks of warmongers, what his former boss, Bill Keller, dubbed "the I-Can't-Believe-I"m-a-Hawk Club" in 2003 when this aristocracy of liberal writers was lining up behind President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Kristof, who did not join the club at that time, has sent in his membership card now in support of the Obama administration's evidence-challenged indictment of the Syrian government for an apparent chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 outside Damascus.
On Sunday, Kristof wrote...
"Skeptics are right about the drawbacks of getting involved, including the risk of retaliation. Yet let's acknowledge that the alternative is, in effect, to acquiesce as the slaughter in Syria reaches perhaps the hundreds of thousands or more. But what about the United Nations? How about a multilateral solution involving the Arab League? How about peace talks? What about an International Criminal Court prosecution?
"All this sounds fine in theory, but Russia blocks progress in the United Nations. We've tried multilateral approaches, and Syrian leaders won't negotiate a peace deal as long as they feel they're winning on the ground. One risk of bringing in the International Criminal Court is that President Bashar al-Assad would be more wary of stepping down."
From reading that passage, you are led to believe that Assad has refused to participate in negotiations aimed at a ceasefire and a new political structure for Syria, one that would include more equitable power-sharing among the various sectarian groups, especially giving the majority Sunnis more of a say.
But Assad has agreed to send negotiators to U.S.-Russian-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. It is the fractious rebels who have consistently found excuses not to attend. It is the rebels who want to prevail on the battlefield or who -- more likely -- have been angling to get the U.S. military involved on their side to oust Assad.
The Actual Facts
Kristof, of course, doesn't have to believe me. But you would think he would be aware of what has been reported in the New York Times. From May to July, the U.S. news media, including the Times, reported that Assad had agreed to participate in the Geneva peace talks but that the opposition was refusing to attend.
On July 31, for example, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times reported that "the new conditions, made by the president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba ... reflected a significant hardening of his position. He said that the opposition would not negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad or 'his clique' and that talks could begin only when the military situation in Syria was positive for rebel forces."
The opposition has spelled out other preconditions, including the need for the United States to supply the rebels with more sophisticated weapons and a demand that Assad's Lebanese Hezbollah allies withdraw from Syria. The most recent excuse for the rebels not going to Geneva is the dispute over Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.
In other words, Kristof is supporting a U.S. bombing campaign in violation of international law that will target the side that has agreed to attend peace talks with the implicit goal of strengthening the side that has refused to talk peace. To put it mildly, this is the reverse of normal logic.
If the hope is to start peace talks -- which President Barack Obama agrees is the only solution to the bloody civil war -- then the usual strategy would be to bomb the side that is balking at peace talks as an incentive to change that thinking, not the side that is already willing to go. I can't think of another example in history when someone thought they were advancing peace talks by bombing the people ready to talk as a reward to the people unwilling to talk.
It would make more sense -- if you follow the logic of military force -- to bomb Saudi Arabia, which has been arming the most radical Sunni jihadists who are the most resistant to a political solution, favoring instead the slaughter of Assad's chief supporters, the Alawites (a branch of Shia Islam) and Syria's Christians.
By bombing the Saudis -- or otherwise convincing the Saudis to cut off military supplies to these al-Qaeda wannabees -- the prospects for peace might actually be brightened, rather than the Obama-Kristof plan for emboldening the jihadists by punishing the Assad regime which has already agreed to talk peace.
The Obama administration insists that the anti-Assad bombing campaign will be calibrated to punish the government for the apparent chemical attack and only "degrade" Assad's forces (not so much as to cause "regime change"), but there is an undeniable risk that the U.S. intervention could collapse the Assad government and lead to a victory by jihadists allied with al-Qaeda.
Given the craziness of this approach, you can understand why Kristof and other Syria war hawks have had to fabricate a new narrative which pretends that Assad needs to be bombed to the bargaining table.
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