THE BLOG

Media Bites: On Syria, We're All Talk and No Consensus

09/09/2013 12:36 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

Dr. Stephen Walt, a Harvard international relations professor of some renown, made a pretty good tweet the other day that basically summarized the essence of our world's current do-or-die Mid-East crisis.

"It is very hard," he twote, "for U.S. foreign policy experts to admit that there are some problems that U.S. has no idea how to solve. Case in point: Syria."

I'll say.

If we subscribe to that old Washington truism that all it takes to be a "foreign policy expert" in America is to "enjoy talking about foreign policy," it's striking how little consensus within that class there seems to be on the matter of reining in the murderous killocracy of President Bashar al-Assad.

Much of the Congressional leadership supports President Obama's plan for limited strikes against Syrian military targets in retaliation for Assad's rampant use of chemical weapons, but the opinions of the Congressional rank-and-file -- of both parties -- are so all over the place every major news outlet (including this one) has been forced to busily assemble pro-or-con nose-counting charts, updated by the hour.

The liberal New York Times is pro-strike, but the conservative National Review is anti. Bill O'Reilly is for, but Rachel Maddow is against. With gleeful indifference, opinions cut across every imaginable variable of ideology and intellect.

Canadians are all over the place too, even though our need to debate the Syrian issue was effectively neutralized by Prime Minister Harper last month with his neither-fish-nor-foul position of supporting the Obama strikes in theory while offering nothing tangible (such as military backup) in practice. But regardless of whether anyone will actually be moved by their opinions, you didn't honestly expect the Canadian "foreign policy expert" crowd to keep their mouths shut over something as glamorous as another war in the Middle East, did you?

Over the last couple of days, Canada's few remaining pundits who have not yet spouted their Official Take on Syria got a chance to. And unsurprisingly, much like their American counterparts, they're not exactly brimming with an abundance of fresh insights.

Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail, for instance, thinks Obama's plan to blast Syria with a "few U.S. missile strikes won't cut it," since what that country really needs is for Assad to leave and some sort of post-war "political solution" to be found. Of course, given the tremendous amount of internal dissent and extremist, fundamentalist ideologies among the anti-Assad rebels, Jeff thinks that's "easier said than done." End of article. Thanks Jeff!

Warren Kinsella in the various Star papers, however, is more upbeat, and thinks the President's is a plan worth defending.

"The consequences of failing to act," he warns, are gigantic, and span the gamut from emboldening "lunatic states like North Korea" to jeopardizing the safety of "western allies in the region" to making the poor man in the White House an "international laughingstock." And that's not even the worst of it: failing to bomb Damascus "will render us less human," given the appalling toll of deaths and refugees that will continue to mound until someone clips Mr. Assad's bloody claws.

Andrew Coyne at the National Post puts it even blunter: "A refusal to intervene at this point" he says, "amounts, objectively, to ratifying the indiscriminate killing of civilians." Coyne's wonderful with words, and his elegant summary of his philosophy on Syria -- "somewhere between a skirmish and a genocide, I'd suggest, the balance tips in intervention's favour. Or if that seems too vague, then yes, chemical weapons will do" -- is probably among the most succinct summaries of the liberal position on the question you're likely to read anywhere.

Some folks are equally strident for the other side, of course, including Michael Coren of Sun News fame, who, last Friday, penned what is probably about the most robustly pro-Assad editorial you're likely to find on this side of the Damascus Daily. Unlike Saddam Hussein, says Michael, "Assad is a pragmatist who, while ruthless and violent, has no intention of invading other countries and has even protected minorities in his own nation." Ipso facto, "a controlled and rebuked Assad is preferable to the hysterically unstable Islamic lunacy that would replace him."

Coren's take is interesting, since it's that of a man you don't hear from much these days: an unapologetic Iraq war booster who sees no contradiction in now being furiously isolationist on Syria -- while simultaneously banging the drum for war with Iran. "For the world to be safe, and for Syria to have a chance to live in peace, Iran's government has to be removed," he concludes. Sounds like a bit of a non-sequitur out of context, I guess, but c'mon, the man wants war with Iran -- you're either down with that agenda or you're not.

Click on Professor Walt's Twitter profile, and you come across another clever quotation, the famous line by George Orwell that "in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

I don't buy into the idea, peddled by anti-American paranoiacs like Putin and Ron Paul, that Obama's bumbling push for war with Assad is occurring in a haze of anything remotely resembling "universal deceit." But at the same time, any pundit willing to tell the fundamental truth about this whole Syrian mess -- namely, that they have almost nothing useful to say about it, and should probably stick to writing about Pauline Marois -- would be fairly revolutionary just the same.

Here's What Politicians Have Said About Syria