My senator Bill Nelson’s support for bombing Syria (and a response)

Bookworm asked me to post an exchange I had with my Senator, Bill Nelson.

I wrote an e-mail to Senator Nelson to express my opposition to bombing Syria.  Here is his response:

Dear Mr. Underwood:
     Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the situation in Syria.
     I think everyone can agree that the use of chemical weapons there is cause for moral outrage.
     Some argue against a U.S. response. But I agree with President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and many of the GOP leaders, such as Senators McCain and Graham, that it’s in our nation’s best interest to hold accountable a dictator who uses weapons of mass destruction and slaughters innocents.
     We also believe we should limit our nation’s direct military involvement.
     I very much appreciated hearing from you on this important issue. Varied perspectives help me to be a better public servant. Thank you.
                                   Bill Nelson
  And here is my response, which Bookworm asked me to share:

Thank you for your explanation of your position on attacking Syria.  However, I must respectfully disagree.  Yes, everyone can agree that a country’s use of chemical weapons on its own people is a moral outrage.  It does not follow, however, that we should take matters into our own hands and unilaterally commit an act of war against that country.  If moral outrage were the criteria, we would be attacking dozens of countries a year.Consider if Syria, or any other country, decided that capital punishment was a moral outrage and decided to attack our country because we still execute people.  They would have as much right to do so as we do to bomb Syria.  Yet surely you would consider it both wrong and an act of war against the United States if they actually did so.

Also, it is a fantasy to think that we can commit a blatant act of war against another nation in a “limited” way.  Especially in the Middle East, as we have learned the hard way in Afghanistan and Iraq, “limited” actions have a way of producing unlimited consequences.

Please reconsider your position.  America is neither the world’s policeman nor its judge, jury and executioner on issues of moral outrage.  If we act at all to “punish” Syria, it should be under the banner of the United Nations, not the United States.

I should mention that I’m really not a fan of the United Nations.  But if the international community is ever to act to enforce “moral” norms, the United Nations is the only organization that could possibly claim a legitimate right to do so.  Certainly, the United States, acting unilaterally, may not claim such legitimacy.

I hope Bookworm will add her comments here, to get the conversation started.

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  • jj

    Regrettably have to disagree as regards the UN’s moral legitimacy to do much of anything.  Or its moral standing.  Or its morals.  I’ll take America’s standards of the last sixty years any day.

  • Ymarsakar

    If the US leaves the UN, the UN would lose 95% of its legitimacy at that moment.
    Most of the world only cares about the UN because US money funds their peacekeeping rapists and corrupt bureaucrats, allowing them an ear into US foreign policy and things like WMD resolutions.
    The US is the world’s policeman, that’s just a fact. Maybe a fat, greedy, hypocritical one that is unionized and ignores black criminals when they feel like it, but the police is the police cause they have power and guns. Not because of any other reason, really.

  • Don Quixote

    I agree with you both regarding the current corrupt state4 of the UN, but I’ll stand by my statement.  Only an international body can claim legitimately to enforce moral norms.  Certainly, no single nation may claim legitimately to enforce such norms by committing acts of war against another sovereign state, not even America. 

    The fact that the U.S. has the guns does not make acts of war against other nations moral or right (though it appears Presidents find the urge to do so nearly irresistible).  It we do use our guns to become the world’s policeman, it is only because we choose to do so, not because we have the moral legitimacy to do so.  Might merely makes exercise of power possible; it does not make such exercise legitimate or moral.

    At any rate, I don’t think Book asked me to post these e-mails just to get bogged down in UN bashing.  That’s way too easy a target.   That’s why I asked her to add her comments.  I’d like to see where she wants to take this discussion.

  • jj

    Not a question of UN bashing.  “If we do use our guns to become the world’s policeman…”  If we do?  To become?  Since 1941 when have we not been?  I wouldn’t suppose it’s an honor this country went looking for, either, but there it is, but in my lifetime I don’t believe we’ve gone to war on our own behalf even once. 
    Of course, we’ve gone where we have interests, let’s not be naive – but in expansion mode or for our own conquest, (the usual historical reasons to go to war, in other words)?  I don’t think so.  We spent sixty years knocking down threats around the world, and they were mostly not – including WWII – threats against us.  We did it on behalf of other people.  What the hell does a policeman do? 

  • Oldflyer

    With respect to the UN, I agree that it is generally a corrupt and ineffective organization.  On the other hand successive U.S. Administrations have poured billion of dollars into supporting the UN and paying lip service to it as an international forum.  Therefore, it is ludicrous to unilaterally opt to commit acts of war, when our immediate interests are not threatened, without at least approaching the UN.
    That said the poster’s response to Senator Nelson sums up my feelings.  We are committing war. Make no mistake, Obama is advocating an act of war.  The scale, duration, and desired outcomes are secondary issues.   No one has made a logical case that our national interests require this action.  The advocates speak only in generalities and platitudes.  Therefore, we should not do it.
    War does have consequences, despite the assurances of Obama, Kerry, McCain, et al.  I have read some who cite the example of Reagan bringing Qaddafi to heel by bombing his personal compound; and they infer that a similar surgical attack will have the same effect on Assad.  That is ignorance speaking.  Following Reagan’s action, Qaddafi continued in power; but, PanAm 103 was bombed under Libyan sponsorship. When you strike another country, you simply must anticipate that they will strike back in whatever manner they find effective, or that is within their capablilty.  At a time and place of their choosing.
    There is a lot of outrage over Putin’s oped in the NY Times.  I am outraged that the NYT gave him column space; but, I cannot deny that there is some truth in his accusations.  I won’t try to enumerate them, but I suggest that anyone who wants to argue the point, think back to how many times we have unilaterally attacked another country–because we could. I will mention Clinton’s bombing campaign in Iraq, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo.  His missile strikes into Afghanistan and Sudan.  Now Obma and his drones are still doing it almost daily in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.  Many of these attacks can certainly be justified.  But, the fact remains that they are unilateral, extra-legal attacks on sovereign soil.  We choose to view our actions as high-minded and necessary.  We proclaim that we must act because we are de-facto the world’s policeman; or that our interests emcompass the world.  Rest assured that many do not agree.  Putin is playing to that large audience, and his words will resonate whether we like it or not.
    Syria is not Yemen, Somalia or even Pakistan.  Syria has allies, formidable ones.  They will not be impressed by an operation on the scale that Obama and Kerry are advertising.  Not Iran.  Not Russia.  Not Hezbollah.  But, they will be infuriated.
    I agree that the U.S. must be strong.  I agree that the U.S. must periodically act militarily  because action is necessary, and others will not, or can not.  However, before we embark on  unilateral military operations we need to exercise mature and sober judgment about their justification, their goals, and the likely outcome.  We have not come close to that threshold with respect to Syria.
    Obama has put us in a lose-lose situation.  He is abetted by his overly verbose Secretary of State John Kerry, who hated the war he was sent to fight, but seems to  crave another one.  We just have to take our medicine; hope that they learn a lesson, and remember that elections most definitely have consequences.

  • raymondjelli

    An international body is useless for enforcing or creating “moral” norms.  No, the USA is not inherently right for using arms but it is not inherently wrong either.  It could be inherently right even against so-called international opinion.
    The UN is corrupt for the very reason it could never be used for so-called moral norms.  It is not a gathering of people but of government spokesmen.  Look at the Soviet Union.  Did it have moral authority to vote yes or no to any resolution given that we know noqhow unpopular it was with its own people?  Probably not but that wouldn’t and didn’t change anything.  It had a “voice” because and not despite the fact it had belligerent armed forces. It had a “voice” because it was able for a period of time to keep its own population in check.
    If you believe there should be an international body with “moral authority” end the UN. Keep starting fresh until you have the perfect model. Something no one in the world would bash. If you feel that it  is a worthless endeavor to knock down and rebuild international institutions than you really aren’t arguing for moral authority. You are arguing for expediency.

  • vinny

    Mr. Underwood, 
    You do realize that it was a form letter you received? This letter was addressed to everyone critical of Obama’s proposed bombing of Syria. It was drafted by someone at the Democratic Party national headquarters and therefore reiterates all the recent talking points. Please resist your urges to respond to people who write fortune cookies since they do not write specifically to you, and have no desire for 2-way communication. Such is the case with my office although I granted a response to your initial letter. If you persist in further attempts to harass my office, I shall refer you to the IRS and DHS.  You can have a lengthy communication with both of these Democrat party affiliates.
    Bill Nelson.

  • Ymarsakar

    Since morality is a societal issue and the UN is a society made out of dictators and diplomats, not voters, subjects, or serfs, that’s somewhat difficult to process.
    If the philosophy is that might makes right, the good of the many overcome the good of the few, or that 51% is always more right than 49%, or that this country’s veto is always more valid than this UN country’s lack of a veto, there might be something to be said for international morality. However, there’s a distinct lack of evolutionary functionary. 
    The guns and the police were references to the fact that the United States unionized Democrat police forces for San Francisco, New York, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, etc, have about as much legitimacy as the United States does occupying and bombing Afghanistan, occupying Korea and Japan, etc.

  • Ymarsakar

    The United States of America is viewed as a martial, war like country, full of guns and gun crime, like the Wild West or Sengoku Japan. It is also viewed as a cowardly, hypocritical enforcer of world justice, leader of freedom, who will throw you to the wolves in the name of American Justice and Human Liberty. It will call for people to rise up, then abandon them when something more important takes place at home, like an election or a football game. Some new kindle comes out, oooh goes the American public.
    This doesn’t all come from anti Americans or enemies of the US. Most of America’s allies think in the same fashion. They just accept the US for what it is and for how it behaves, and tries to work with us.
    The United Nations has no legitimacy without the US. More than half of the democracies in the UN would drop out immediately once the US pulls out and kicks the UN out of New York.

  • Caped Crusader

    AMEN BROTHER !! Truer words were never spoken! I have yet to get a personal response from any of these worthless ego-maniacal “rulers” even though in some cases I worked for and contributed to their campaigns. They only need and use you until they are elected, and then they become your exalted all knowing unreachable rulers. The only remedy is to replace them as soon as possible or put them through the expense and embarrassment of a well organized recall.

  • Ymarsakar

    <B>Caped Crusader</b>
    Two reforms that would dramatically change the balance of power would be to make tax collection the same as a kickstarter. So that everyone will only fund what they want to fund, and only if proper feedback is received on how the contributions are doing. So that if there’s news of it ending up in the hands of child molestors being installed by Democrats to enforce the doctrine, the money can be pulled or nullified.
    Also, Congress critters should be required to have youtube and social media accounts, and post, personally, every few days. Otherwise they are ejected from office. That means they won’t have as much time traveling in free vacations, jet streams, and meeting with hookers and other Democrats but that’s the price of power.

  • Ymarsakar

    <B>that it’s in our nation’s best interest to hold accountable a dictator who uses weapons of mass destruction and slaughters innocents.</b>
    Does that mean Neil is going to bomb Obama’s post birth abortion profit factories in Chicago?

  • jj

    DQ – that idea hit the wall with a resoun ding splat.
    The UN only exists at all because the US said it should back when it started, and to this day says it does.  As somebody else noted, if the US were to leave 95% of its legitimacy would be gone – I’ll go a bit further and add that if the USA were to leave you could pull down the shutters and close it up within the week.  Trump could turn the building into condos – which would be a higher and better use.  It’s very hard to separate the idea of the UN and the vision of what it should be from the US.
    Form letters – my letters to my congressman generally begin: ‘dear office flack’ or, when I’m genuinely annoyed: ‘hey, Asshole!’  Oddly enough this, being out of the ordinary run of things, occasionally gets some actual attention.  As far as the ‘respectfully’ stuff and its ilk, I am not often respectful.  That’s because (A) I don’t much respect these people; (B) they work for me, I don’t work for them – therefore (C) I tell them, I don’t ask them.  And they pay me occasional attention because (D) they don’t want to read about themselves in a somewhat less than flattering light in our local paper, where I am known to appear when moved to do so.  (I am the permanent ‘guest columnist,’ which means I appear if I feel like writing something about 800 words long, on any topic, and I’m bound to no deadline or schedule.  It’s a good gig, except all I get out of it is an occasional lunch.)  So that’s an advantage I have in getting my little lad’s attention. And because we have the ‘who works for who’ thing straight between us, young Derek knows I’ll save the respect for someone who deserves respect.

  • Charles Martel

    Don Q’s hypothetical moral boundary-setting UN is a MacGuffin, an excuse to debate whatever morality might be involved in our preening president’s desire to show he has balls. But in this universe there is no such thing as a UN or any other “international organization” capable of acting as a moral agent (except maybe the Catholic Church and the Red Cross, neither of which have access to heavy weaponry). Thus we have to pass the buck back where it belongs: to America.
    If we had a moral, thoughtful, mature man in the White House, debating the morality of killing Syrians would be a serious option. However, since we don’t have a president who fits that description, our discussions about the morality of war against Syria are immaterial: Obama and his handlers do not think in moral terms. Morality is a useless bourgeois/dhimmi concept to them. The only factors in his equation are how will a strike against Syria a.) make Obama look and b.) further diminish American power and prestige.

  • MikeL10

    The US is not the World’s Police Force tasked with enforcing International Norms which is a mistaken belief that there are International Norms. I believe a Norm is established by a communities’ consistent actions or behavior that is recognized and valued by the community as a whole. This situation does not fit that concept since the UN community has rejected the action proposed by President Obama. Furthermore, there are very few actions or behaviors  that the various member countries hold as important or valuable. One such situation is when a country attacked by another country. When that happens they call the US to come enforce the UN charter, ie. Korea.
    It is my understanding that the idea behind Police is the origin of C.O.P. or citizen on patrol. Those COPs were initially volunteers and later became paid by the local community to act on the communities’ behalf to enforce local law. The key here is LOCAL.
    It is not likely that a Policemen from Louisiana can come into Texas and enforce a Louisiana Law. Neither can we, the US, act to enforce an International agreement that represents an International Law without the agreement of the larger community.
    What President Obama wants to do is to commit an act of war independent of an international agreement to enforce it own laws. Think California and immigration.

  • Ymarsakar

    What the US enforces in the world is called American Justice. That is what our enemies and our allies call it.
    Only Americans mistake their own national policies as the same thing as international norms.


    Hmmm…I sense a theme here – it’s a war of words, none of which are consistent, none of which will produce an attack or resolution in Syria. I think they have secretly taken Sarah Palin’s advice – “Let allah sort it out.” 
    “The United States military does not do pinprick strikes.”  Obama
    “That is exactly what we are talking about doing; an unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” Kerry
    “…it’s in our nation’s best interest to hold accountable a dictator who uses weapons of mass destruction and slaughters innocents. We also believe we should limit our nation’s direct military involvement.” Nelson
     Danny.. and you expected an actual answer. I suggest you pick up a copy of Pravda for answers. I’ve read that McCain is making a counter-point editorial to the NYT/Putin piece.

  • Caped Crusader

    Everyone’s evaluation of the UN is correct, it is an American bad dream from start to finish. On my first trip to NYC in 1952 as a college freshman we took a Greyline Tour one of the days. The UN was fairly new at that time. I remember the guide’s commented that the UN building cost 59 million dollars. America paid 57 million and the rest of the world paid the other half to make it fair. Nothing has changed, and a more worthless organization could hardly be envisioned.

  • Mike Devx

    I agree with DQ that the UN, if it were good for ANYTHING, should be good at exactly problems such as this Syria problem.
    But I agree with most other commenters that the UN is a corrupt, ineffective, and seriously flawed organization.  I am not calling it corrupt merely because I disagree with many of its decisions.  Disagreement is one thing.  Corruption is another; and I find the UN to be genuinely corrupt.
    So, yes, an organization such as what the UN, in theory, is *supposed* to be should be the driving force behind a solution to the gassing of “civilians” – even when cultures such as those in the Middle East do not view civiiians to be civilians.  But the UN that we have is not the theoretical world body we wish we had, so hoping for an effective UN solution is hoping for pigs to fly, and I’m not exactly holding my breath.