The Brussels Forum, quoting from their website, “is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic.” It’s going on right now. Today there was a panel called “The Fate of Syria Three Years On,” which included as a panelist Anne-Marie Slaughter, head of the New America Foundation. She was formerly the State Department Director of Planning for Secretary Clinton. She would like to see us intervene in Syria at least to accomplish one objective:
— Bente Scheller (@BenteScheller) March 22, 2014
Barrel bombs are ugly weapons. They’re crude (though their manufacture has gotten more professional as the war has gone on), easy to make (so Assad’s forces could make as many as they need even if Iran and Russia were to stop supplying him with weapons for whatever reason), and although they’re too primitive to be very effective individually, when they’re dropped in bunches on crowds of civilians in, say, an Aleppo marketplace, the effect is gruesome. They’re the kind of weapon that is only effective against massed crowds people, so Assad’s heavy use of them is indicative of the fact that he’s trying to win the war by slaughtering as many Syrians as he can.
But there are two problems here: first, Russia and Iran haven’t stopped supplying Assad with weapons, and aren’t likely to stop any time soon. Plus, Assad has other homemade weapons at his disposal, like improvised rocket-assisted mortars, and the UMLACA devices that were used in August’s chemical weapons attack. So preventing “mass killing via barrel bombs” is a pretty narrow objective in that it would literally stop mass killing only via that one particular method. Assad would continue to have plenty of ways to kill masses of people. So this is kind of the essence of doing something just to Do Something.
And, you know, it wouldn’t even actually Do that. The second, far more serious/astounding, problem with Dr. Slaughter’s plan is that barrel bombs are dropped from helicopters, not planes. The nice, but in this case obviously inconvenient, thing about helicopters is that they don’t need to take off and land at an airport. You could obliterate every airport in the country and not actually prevent a single barrel bomb incident. Dr. Slaughter had this pointed out to her on Twitter, and responded:
— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) March 23, 2014
Now, there’s no reason to expect that most people would know how a barrel bomb is delivered to the target. But I don’t think it’s asking too much for a prominent academic who runs a think tank and is actually proposing military action to maybe get a tighter grasp on the issues before he or she advocates for this kind of thing, is it?
In a related Twitter exchange I saw this inspiring call to arms, from a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins (so I’m not just nutpicking here):
— Erik Brattberg (@ErikBrattberg) March 22, 2014
Well that’s certainly…something! Although I would imagine that it would be a little worse for the additional people who would be killed as a result of our use of force, maybe? But it seems to me that going to war because, you know, we might as well, can’t fuck things up anymore than they’re already fucked, probably, isn’t likely to rally a reluctant American public to the cause. Nor is it a defensible justification for war.
Bomb the airports to stop one particular weapon that doesn’t need an airport to be used? Use force because “eh, how could things get any worse?” There are serious arguments in favor of military intervention in Syria, but these aren’t even trying.