Eugene Robinson Live

Apr 30, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column.

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Welcome to our weekly discussion -- as usual, a venue for solving all the problems of the world. President Obama just finishd a wide-ranging news conference in which he touched on just about every subject imaginable. (But I know this group will come up with a few he missed.) Today's column, for reference, was about Syria. Those yelling "do something" ought to specify what the president should do. I can't think of any U.S. military action that makes sense -- or that doesn't threaten to make a bad situation worse. Others may disagree, but please be specific. Meanwhile, of course, there's continuing fallout from the Boston bombings, along with a host of other news. Such as, for example, NBA player Jason Collins' decision yesterday to come out as gay. Let's get started.

100K, 200K? Its this kind of statement that allowed the holocaust to happen. Specifically the US could have bombed the train lines that they knew were taking people to their deaths, but decided it wasn't worth getting involved. We should have evolved as a society where we can turn a blind eye to mass executions, which is what you are doing here. There is a massive middle ground between doing nothing (or writing a sternly worded letter from the UN), and arming Islamist rebels. For example creating a no fly zone to stop the bombing of civilians.

People speak of establishing a no-fly zone as if it's just a matter of issuing a proclamation. To do so, you have to destroy the air defense system of the target country. While you're at it, you might as well destroy as much of the enemy's air force as you can -- because that's what the target country is at that point, the enemy. It's an act of war, and to impose such restrictions on well-armed Syria would be no walk in the park. After you have no-fly zone, what do you do next? Watch the ground war continue? Intervene on the side of the rebels? Which rebels? These are questions you need to answer before you announce a no-fly zone. 

Mr. Robinson, This is one of the few times I agree with you. It is not in our nation's best interest to get involved in Syria; none of the players are friends of the US. The problem I see is we have a President and a Secretary of State that have made statements (Saber Rattling) that commit our country to some response. I believe it's incompetence on their part, if they knew there would not be reciprocal action by the US. Doesn't this inaction open the door for trouble? Who is going to believe that we will react to any challenge?

I agree that it's necessary for the president and the secretary of state to calibrate their statements. I don't fault them for announcing the position that Assad must go. But as for drawing red lines, well, that can be problematic. It's reasonable and proper for the administration to find out exactly what happened -- who used chemical weapons, how were they used, etc. But if, as is likely, it turns out to have been the government gassing innocents, then if that's your red line, you probably have to do something -- a cruise missile strike, whatever. And then what?

Hi Eugene -- As a gay American I watched yesterday's coverage about Jason Collins with a lot of interest. I heard one commentator claim that his coming out is as a big a deal as when Congress did away with with Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- and that any negative impact on pro sports will be the same as what has happened to the military since DADT was repealed...a big fat nothing. One can only hope that future sports figures who did what Collins did will be met with the same yawn. What's your response to this historic moment?

I think it's a big deal, because of the place that sports occupy in our society, but not as big a deal as it would have been five years ago or even one year ago. The huge shift in public opinion on marriage equality means that Collins' revelation seems inevitable, rather than surprising. And I guess that makes it all the more historic.

Why is it that the GOP can't take a breather and let the Administration do its due diligence? The last time this baloney happened was Iraq and look what happened there. And besides where would we get the money to pay for another war?

When you say "the GOP" I asssume you mean the Republican establishment. There are many Republicans, including many officials, who are deeply skeptical of U.S. military involvement in Syria. As for those who are braying for action, again I ask: What action? 

Why are many of the same people who pushed us into Iraq now agitating for more of the same in Syria? How can it not be harder now that American resources, energy, and goodwill are so depleted?

Here's another difference: Syria (unlike Iraq) has big stockpiles of chemical weapons. What happens to this deadly stuff in the event of a U.S. invasion? Do we know where these weapons are? Should that be the U.S. mission, securing the chemical weapons arsenal? If so, you can't do it with a no-fly zone. You really do need boots on the ground. Nothing about Syria is easy.

Do you think the chances are good that the democrats can keep control of the white house in 2016?

It would help to know who the candidates will be, but basically I think the Democrats' chances in 2016 are excellent -- simply because the Republican Party continues to alienate so many voters whose support it would need to win a national election. 

By almost all accounts, Syria is using chemical weapons. Obama drew a very definitive line in previous speeches. If he doesn't follow through with some sort of obvious response to Syria (on top of the fact that innocent civilians dying in the 10's of thousand should be bad enough) then is there any reason Assad or other dictators will take him seriously in the future. A red line is meaningless if you are unwilling to act when it is breached. You are better off saying nothing.

Innocent civilians died in the millions in Congo and there was no U.S. action. I do believe in humanitarian responsibility, but I also believe that you can't peg it to a specific number of casualties. There are situations in which U.S. intervention can make things better without damaging our national interest, and there are situations in which this is not possible. As of now, I don't see a "good" way to intervene in Syria.

Gene, You may not be in favor of our military action, but wiping out Syria's Air Force would be a walk in the park. Israel, with non-stealth Jets has flown in multiple times, bombed it and came out. We have them to thank that Syria only has Chemical weapons, since they flattened Syria's Nuclear Plant years ago. Syria's air force is extremely outdated against modern technologies, and I doubt anyone would seriously contend otherwise. However if you have an article stating that Syria's air force is a real threat to modern military, please share it with the group.

Of course our air force would defeat Syria's, but I've never heard any officer of the U.S. military describe any war as a walk in any park. Bombs, bullets and missiles are always a threat, even if we have superior technology.

Do you now recognize the price of inaction from an earlier stage. Originally there were moderate groups who wanted to take on Assad. Now most of the moderates are dead or hiding. By taking such a pacifist stance we now have two horrible options for who can lead the country. Cohen wrote a amazing article for today's paper. This is what you get when you become an isolationist.

That's a rewriting of history. First there was a decentralized, disorganized rebellion. It became a threat to the regime when it got whipped into shape, and much of the discipline was provided by Islamist forces. What you're really saying is that we should have invaded Syria two years ago, when the rebellion started, and deposed the Assad regime. After Iraq, that simply wasn't going to happen.

You already know this, but what's really behind the criticism of Obama related to Syria is the defense industry's glee over finding another conflict they can profit from. I hate what's happening to the people of Syria, but see no easy way for us to be involved - no matter what approach we take, it will be ugly. I'd hate to be in Obama's shoes right now.

Me too. This is not easy.

Regarding the problem with Syria and US military options, can't we just send one predator drone to take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and call it a day? No more slaughter of civilians and no US lives lost, sounds like a win-win, yes?

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but that would surely be illegal, right? We have a law against assassinating foreign leaders. We also have the law authorizing any and all action against al-Qaeda, but Assad is no ally of al-Qaeda.

So the president says there is a red-line and says it will not tolerated. Now there is proof that Syria is using chemical weapons and has a huge stockpile. Yet the liberal left wants to just write a strongly written letter. How many have to die before you change your stance? I'm also assuming if the president were a republican you'd complain of the inaction.

What action do you recommend? Be specific, be realistic and be ready to own the Syrian civil war and its aftermath.

Like President Clinton said, Presidential libraries are the "grandest example of the eternal struggle of former Presidents to rewrite history." Well, I see the President in the uncomfortable, and maybe untenable, position of both maintaining worn-out positions (see Bush Presidency: The Video Game, Esquire) AND insisting that history will be the judge. How can we abstain from judging? Are we not writing history right now? What could possibly change our minds in the future? Or, in general, what are your thoughts on the new Bush legacy rollout?

There is no question that vieews of a president's legacy change. Fair or not, presidents are judged not just on what they did, but on how things eventually work out. In my column last week, I wrote that Bush's decision to invade Iraq looks worse and worse. I think history will record it as a grave strategic error. At the same time, though, I wrote that his decision to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV sufferers in Africa looks better and better. This may be seen as the turning point of the struggle against one of history's great plagues.

I've heard the Syrian are defense system is top-notch -- it's all from Russia. So our air superiority might be in for a fight...

We would win, of course. But it seems to me that we would need a bombing campaign on the order of "shock and awe" to degrade the air defense system to the point where we thought we had air supremacy and could enforce no-fly, or bomb weapons depots at will, or whatever. 

I don't doubt that some Republicans, such as John McCain, are sincere in their desire for American intervention in Syria. However, I also kind of wonder if some Republicans are pushing for action because they know this will be a quagmire and hope to fracture the Democratic base. Do you think this might be a motivation?

I hope not.

Will the Wizards fans give him a standing O at the next game? How often does he play, do you know? I heard he wasn't a prime player. (You can tell I don't follow basketball.)

Um, I guess you don't. He played six games for the Wizards (after a late-season trade) and now is a free agent. My guess is that somebody will sign him, because there's always some team that needs a reliable 7-foot backup center who plays good defense, sets monster picks and rebounds well.

Fox News commentator Bob Beckel said on air that we should stop accepting Muslim students (I assume just foreign ones) at our universities. Ann Coulter wanted the mother of the Boston terrorists arrested for wearing a Muslim-style scarf. Since Al Qaeda tries to convince the one billion Muslims in the world that the Wet is at war with all of Islam, and not just terrorists, and these commentators seem intent on proving them right, could they be charged with providing aid and comfort to the enemy? Just wondering.

Idiocy is protected by the First Amendment. 


This chat is protected by the First Amendment, too, but it is not immune to all constraints: My time is up. Thanks for participating in a lively hour's discussion, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
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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