Friday, September 13, 2013

A Political Aside: Letter to Ingrid on Syria

“Hi, Brother of mine, look on-line and read both Cohen and Egan in today's NY Times Opinion section. Both true though different viewpoints.”

Prompted by these two sentences from my sister today, I answered her (see below) and decided to share it on Wassup as a brief, political “aside.”
 The two articles that she refers to are:

Roger Cohen, “An Anchorless World,” New York Times, September 13, 2013;


Timothy Egan, “A Brilliant Mess,” New York Times, September 12, 2013.

Here is my reply:

Dear Ingrid:

Cohen's article is in today's printed version of the Times, and I had read it. I agree with much of it, although it troubles me that he seems only concerned with voicing criticism (chiefly at Obama) and offering nothing in terms of alternatives/ hypotheticals or suggestions of his own. Also, by omission, he gives the rest of the world permission to remain onlookers to the events in Syria. Only his final sentence, where he quotes the German scholar, Tewes Wischmann (who suggests a parallel to Nazi atrocities), does he offer any hint that others may have some role to play; but Cohen simply leaves any implications of a broader responsibility to the words of Wischmann--"we will then...have to remain silent." I would have expected more balance from Roger Cohen.

As to Timothy Egan, whose piece had to be found on-line, he offers a concise and thorough summary of the issue, taking in all its aspects. Not intent on casting blame (as is Cohen), Egan writes what I consider a much more honest piece.

My perception of the Syrian crisis at this moment is that Obama is playing a very tough hand of poker and bluffing to some positive effect, first in calling on Congress to play a role and then in threatening Syria with some form of limited retaliation. The result is that Republicans in Congress (having done nothing positive for the past five years) are temporarily discombobulated and are revealing their lack of clarity on anything as they grope for responses; at the same time, Putin has been lured into showing his hand, which is not as strong as he would like the world to believe.

The (poker) hand goes on. The game is not yet finished. Assad has decided to raise by (1) requiring that the USA stop arming the Syrian rebels and (2) bringing in Israel and insisting that it also ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (that it signed but never ratified).

Good luck on these demands, I say. By raising the stakes, Assad is hoping for more delays while doing nothing else; this gambit will likely get him an uncomfortably close view of the USAF, and some "pinpricks" or worse. As to Putin, it remains to be seen if he holds any real cards at all in his hand.

There are no good solutions to the Syrian crisis, but I suspect that Obama is playing the hand he was dealt as well as anyone possibly could.

With love,


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