Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 28, 2013

Please note that Eugene will resume his regular Tuesday chat schedule next week. Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Greetings to all. As I write, I'm at the head of the Reflecting Pool looking toward the Washington Monument. The crowd is filling in, with President Obama's speech still a few hours away. I may have to break off a few minuts early, so let's get started. What a moment. What a dream.

Im somewhat puzzled by your argument that the President has to act against Assad for humanitarian reasons. What is the difference between Assad and Hussein's brutality? I assume you opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion. I know Iraq and Syria are not totally comparable, but they are not apples and oranges either.

This refers to yesterday's column calling for a punitive strike against Assad for using chemical weapons. I have argued all along that we need to stay out of Syria. I reluctantly conclude, however, that the principle that chemical weapons cannot bused is so important that some action must be taken. And realistically, that action has to be taken by us.

If we take out Syrias gas supply, and this is a BIG if, what do we do if Russia, China, or Iran sells Assad more? Where does this end?

It should end after we have delivered a punitive strike against some of Assad's military assets. I do not believe we should go farther.

I cannot think of a reason why any dictator should take Obama seriously. This is in all likelihood not the first time Assad used WMD. The red line Obama drew was crossed a while ago, just it didn't kill as many. As a independent that voted for Obama, its starting to look like the traditional conservative statement that liberals are afraid to use the military for anything and are too naive is looking true. Hopefully he will prove me wrong and finally try to reduce the slaughter.

Oh come on. If there's anything we know for sure about President Obama it is that he is no pacifist. He authored a surge in Afghanistan and ramped up the drone program into what is frankly a killing machine. He is sensibly reluctant to wade into Syria, where there are no good answers. The kind of strike I am talking about will not end the suffering but might deter future use of chemical weapons.

Where were you 50 years ago today? What has happened since then that you thought could only be a dream? What hasn't happened that you thought would?

How much time you got? I was a 9-year-old in Orangeburg, SC. Th schools were segregated. Public facilities, including playgrounds, were segregated. Gas stations had three rest rooms -- one marked "colored." Black people were systematically denied the vote. There were communities where no black person would be caught after dark because of the Klan. What has changed? Everything. The dream is not entirely fulfilled, to be sure, but it is a different world.

I respected Rand Paul attempting to reach out to African American students, even if his message did not go over well. Do you see anything the GOP can do? It seems to me most blacks see government as a force of good, and unless republicans become democrats 2.0, advocating government activism, it's a lost cause for the GOP.

The first thing the GOP has to do is stop being actively hostile to the interests of minorities. Next it has to come up with solutions to real-world problems that go beyond "tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts." If the GOP has a private sector solution to the problem of 50 million people without health care, for example, now would be a good time to hear about it.

Lets say the US cruise missile program destabilizes his regime and it falls to the rebels. Next a true civil war breaks out (what is happening now is not really a civil war, but is more aptly described as a proxy war between Sunni arab nations and axis of Shia Arabs and Russia). Al-Qaeda is a major player in the rebels and they cannot be allowed to take control of the country. What can be done to ensure this does not occur?

Very little. Which is why I believe the administration will try to calibrate this strike so that it punishes without fatally destabilizing the regime. The scenario you describe is not impossible and would be a disaster.

Care to comment on Chris Lane or Delbert Belton? I'd love to hear your take on black-on-white violence in America.

It is of course deplorable. It is also much less common, and much less deadly, than black-on-black violence.

Do you think that will happen, though? It's exactly like Bobby Jindal saying the GOP has to stop being "the party of stupid," but then stipulating that the GOP will not actually stop doing stupid things.

I have to be hopeful, because it is bad for the country to have one of our two major political parties mired in stupidity.

I don't believe we should go that far. This is for the UN, or the Arab League, to handle.

Be ause of Russia's alliance with Syria, the UN is going to do nothing. The Arab League is toothless. The question is this: How important is the principle that chemical weapons must never be used? I think it's so important that someone, meaning the United States, must act. I really do. But you might disagree. 

I was enlightened to read Robert Kaiser's retrospective on the Post's coverage of the event 50 years ago, that King's speech was little noted, much like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I wasn't alive yet. Do you have memory that King's speech was underplayed initially? When did it become a classic example of oratory?

People who attended the march, I'm told, understood immediately that the Dream speech was the days indelible highlight. (Newspaper lede-all writers were clueless.) It was only with the passage of time that King's words became not just the highlight of a march but the defining narrative of an era.

I'm afraid the only reason I disagree is that any U.S. involvement in Syria is inevitably spelled "quagmire."

I can't argue. I've said the same thing myself. I have to hope that we were wrong.

Gene, Sad to see you swallow the hook, line and sinker of "whatever the government says must be true" mindset. There are news reports circulating that the chemical attack is what is known as a "false flag" operation, designed to create the moral high ground for our attack. I'm not saying that this is true, but earlier this week the CIA admitted that they had, after 60 years of denials, been behind the 1953 coup in Iran that removed a democratically elected president and replaced him with a dictator. Did you miss that little bit of news about our official, 60 year-old lethal lie? Keep your mind and your eyes open is all that I am asking. Many thanks.

Always good to be suspicious of authority. But I can't think of any reason why the US would want to get dragged into Syria. If there were a lot of oil, maybe...

Does Putin really think he can control Syria after Al-Qaeda takes over? Or is his merely a short-range vision?

Good question. Maybe he thinks Assad can do it. 

The only weapon that could scare Assad into stepping down would be a Cruz missile. Sending it to Syria would help the political stalemate here at home too.

A novel idea. But maybe a violation of some international convention against torture? Assad might have a case.

I am watching coverage of the 50th Anniversary march right now. I want to hear what the speakers are saying. I want to hear what the crowd is cheering about. These speakers are not famous as the upcoming one. But that does not discount what they are saying. But the broadcast journalists on any cable channel that is covering it, are speculating on what the upcoming famous speakers will say. Come on. We'll find that out when the time comes. Are the broadcast journalists so self-centered that they have to hear their own voices instead of giving voice to those that really matter?

I am shocked that you would think such a thing!

In your own opinion, how much progress since 1963 has been made? From my vantage point as a white male in the suburbs, there is a growing african american middle class, but the poor are getting poorer. It's a microcosm of the country as a whole.

Exactly. Very perceptive. That's what my last book, "Disintegration," was about.

Gene, The idea that Syria has legitimate air defenses vs the US is not that credible a statement. Israel has already flown multiple sorties against the country with 0 repercussions and has been doing so for years. Especially if cruise missles are used first, its hard to imagine that the world most sophisticated stealth air force with the world most sophisticated smart weapons would encounter anything but token resistance. Yes accidents & lucky shots can happen, but a No fly zone is a must accomplish. Obama has already ruined many of his good options by failing to do enough early on. Its time to reduce the horrors in Syria as much as we can without putting boots on the ground.

Sorry, but a no fly zone is really a big deal. Sure we could do it, but anyone who thinks it would be a snap is wrong. And then what? We had a no fly zone in Iraq for many years, remember. Is that the way we want to go?

Folks, terribly sorry but I've got to run. See you next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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