Friday, September 6, 2013

Nicholas Kristof: Dumb or Dumber?

In his column today New York Times resident moron Nicholas Kristof "argues" in favor of a military strike by the US on Syria. I use quotation marks around argument because, as we will see, Kristof doesn't really have anything intelligent to say on this topic, and instead must resort to a bunch of False Dilemmas, Straw Men, Inconsistencies, and Non Sequiturs. Let's take a look.

Kristof begins by suggesting that the only alternative to fully supporting the Obama administration plan for military strikes on Syria is to do nothing. He writes:
To me, the central question isn’t, “What are the risks of cruise missile strikes on Syria?” I grant that those risks are considerable, from errant missiles to Hezbollah retaliation. It’s this: “Are the risks greater if we launch missiles, or if we continue to sit on our hands?” [Emphasis added]
This is a clear example of a Straw Man combined with a False Dilemma. The Straw Man occurs when he suggests that people who are opposed to a US strike on Syria are in favor of doing nothing. This is complete nonsense as many people have suggested other options for dealing with the ongoing civil war. Here are two: one from a former diplomat named Robert A. Pastor, and another from columnist David Sirota. One may disagree with the effectiveness of these approaches, but it is a false dilemma of gross proportions to suggest that the only two options are drop bombs or do nothing.

Kristof continues by suggesting that a limited bombing campaign would stem the violence in Syria. Ignoring the almost certain civilians casualties from these strikes, Kristof's claims make absolutely no sense on their face:
In Syria, it seems to me that cruise missile strikes might make a modest difference, by deterring further deployment of chemical weapons. Sarin nerve gas is of such limited usefulness to the Syrian army that it has taken two years to use it in a major way, and it’s plausible that we can deter Syria’s generals from employing it again if the price is high.
By Kristof's own estimates, 165 people are killed daily in Syria, and the death toll from the Syrian conflict has been estimated at around 100,000. By contrast, the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria killed about 1500 people (I say "alleged" because we still don't have strong evidence other than reports from US officials that a chemical attack occurred, much less that the Syrian government was responsible). Following Kristof's logic, even if we could magically eliminate the Syrian government's chemical weapons capacity without harming any innocent civilians, this would have almost no impact on the magnitude of human death and suffering caused by the civil war. As others have noted, the Obama plan would not do anything to resolve the conflict, but would merely be a "face-saving" exercise for the US government.

Kristof does suggest and support the possibility of a more robust attack on the offensive capabilities of the Syrian government writing:
The Syrian government has also lately had the upper hand in fighting, and airstrikes might make it more willing to negotiate toward a peace deal to end the war. I wouldn’t bet on it, but, in Bosnia, airstrikes helped lead to the Dayton peace accord.
Missile strikes on Assad’s military airports might also degrade his ability to slaughter civilians. With fewer fighter aircraft, he may be less able to drop a napalm-like substance on a school, as his forces apparently did in Aleppo last month. [Emphasis added]
In his own comments he admits that he doesn't think a military strike would achieve the goals he wants to achieve in Syria! If so, why is he advocating such an attack? Furthermore, if we were successful in degrading the military capability of the Syrian  government, we would then be actively promoting one of the biggest concerns Kristof has about Syria:
The longer the war drags on in Syria, the more Al Qaeda elements gain strength, the more Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized, and the more people die.
Kristof seems to fail to understand that one of the major forces opposing the Syrian government are folks allied with Al Qaeda. Thus, weakening and degrading the Assad regime would only strengthen Al Qaeda in Syria! Thus, Kristof's own argument in internally inconsistent! As Atrios notes, Kristof's plan seems to boil down to:
  1. Bomb
  2. ????
  3. ????
This means Kristof's logic is sub-underpants gnome.

And for this reason I ask again, "Is Kristof dumb or dumber?"

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