Chait’s Careful War Mongering

Jonathan ChaitJonathan Chait wrote an amazing article about Syria yesterday. I do not mean that in a good way.

He tells us that, Syria Isn’t Iraq. Everything Isn’t Iraq. Fair enough. But listening to him over the last oh so many years, it is hard to conclude that Chait doesn’t think that just about any military conflict is a good idea. Sure, he’s not for conflicts like Iran. But anything that he thinks we are likely to succeed at is great.

He attacks Matt Yglesias for having his thinking stuck in the Iraq War mentality. I’m not even sure that that’s true. But one thing is certain: Chait is stuck in the Persian Gulf War mentality. Now there was a “bloody good war”! And he seems to want to keep having them. And I’m still not clear what the point was of that war. About 30,000 Iraqis died—mostly conscripts. But apparently, it was great for Chait because we “won.”

No mention is made of the study that Yglesias quoted that showed that such “humanitarian” interventions usually lead to more civilian casualties. As I wrote last night, protecting the civilian population is not the point of this intervention. How could it be after we’ve stood by and watched over a hundred thousand civilians be killed? Chait is wrong to push this as a humanitarian mission at all.

Chait also makes a very strange argument that anti-war liberals are like conservatives on domestic issues, “The arguments Yglesias poses today against a military strike against Syria eerily echo the arguments conservatives and libertarians make against any kind of domestic government intervention.” I don’t understand this. The conservatives are making ideological arguments, “I don’t care if welfare works; it’s wrong!” The arguments that we are making are practical—just like our domestic policy arguments, “This intervention is likely to make things worse.” Is Chait so blind as to not see this distinction?

By far the worst part of Chait’s article is the last paragraph:

I don’t like killing Syrians. And a lot of Syrians are getting killed. I don’t see any plausible way to stop that from happening. I do think that killing some of the Syrians who are soldiers wantonly killing civilians will probably lead to a net decrease in killing. As I said, it is not an easy call.

This is right out of the politician’s handbook. Of course we don’t want war, but what else can we do? We’re only going to go in to stop the killing. He really ought to watch War Made Easy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Chait’s Careful War Mongering

  1. Ludicrous — and the same crap we hear before every war. Before Gulf War II, anyone who was against the war on the extremely sane grounds that it probably would not benefit the Iraqis in any serious way was decried as defender of dictators, hater of America, etc.

    To say liberals haven’t suggested any alternatives is plain wrong. Dreyfuss in The Nation makes the case for international cooperation here: But that’s maybe not "smart center-left" enough for Chait. He notes that intervention ended the ’90s Balkan wars — but I believe it was UN forces, troops on the ground, that proved more effective than NATO bombing.

    (I’m not sure everything Dreyfuss suggests is true, but I do know that at least making a few phone calls and trying to show a little humility never hurts.)

    I try not to assume what other people’s motives are. But I can’t help that notice how dovish sorts who turn hawkeyed rarely go back after a military action has made things worse and lament their part in supporting it. It’s like a no-risk (for them) game of office pool. Guess right, win big.

    One does start to feel like it’s all a game to these people. If this was happening in Madagascar, nobody in America would care. But, since it’s the mideast, Republicans and Democrats can do their whole dance about "who’s tougher on terrorism," while pundits jump in the ante-less pool. At times like this, living in an empire isn’t just morally offensive — it’s also infuriating to watch the small-mindedness.

  2. @JMF – This is more or less what Chait always says. He’s been having this fight with Yglesias for years. But his article yesterday really sounded [i]exactly[/i] like what presidents always say about these adventures. And as I pointed out two days ago, Kerry claims the evidence is undeniable. This was the exact same word that Powell used to justify Iraq.

    Where Chait is right is in saying that people like me would pretty much always be against an attack. But I don’t think I’m straining to argue for caution here. This just seems like a bad idea. Given how long we’ve already waited, we could wait to get our facts straight.

    I get the impression it [i]is[/i] all a game to these people too. They are just pieces on the board. I was thinking about this last night. As much as I’m against the US bombing Syria, I know that I don’t have to worry about planes flying over me and dropping bombs on me. But I don’t think those making the decisions think much about that distinction.

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