Thursday, September 12, 2013

My comments on Putin's Letter to Americans on Syria

The original letter is here.                                    Read my essay on What Should America do in Syria?

MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
hmm. why do we have insufficient communication? don't our presidents have computers with internet Why not talk to each other a lot?

Oh and why spend millions of dollars per trip to Russia every time Obama wants to talk to Putin when they could just exchange a few emails? Think of the cost difference. Millions of dollars on one side, zero dollars on the other. The zero one is better. Stop wasting tax payer's wealth on traditions that have no use anymore.

Well that's a wild guess. Does anybody know a reason why exchanging emails doesn't completely trump the idea of in-person meetings costing taxpayers millions of dollars per meeting?

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
That's not good though. Acting only when consensus is reached is too slow sometimes. Its no different than the argument for the idea that a person should wait to act until everybody in the family agrees with his idea — it doesn't work. Individuals need there own space. And within that space is an individual's private property, and the importance of this is that one's private space is free from the whims of other people.

But don't mistake this for an argument for a military strike against Syria. I'm only saying that the consensus is wrong sometimes, and so acting against them is right in those specific times. But, if you act against the consensus, and you haven't yet addressed all the arguments against your side, then that is acting in bad faith — its immoral/evil. The point is that sometimes the right thing to do is to act against the consensus, or even before a consensus is reached, but only if one has already refuted all the arguments against his side. And in this specific case of this civil war, Obama has not done that. He has so far ignored the arguments against his idea of a military strike. He also has so far ignored Putin's argument that even the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive.

Actually wait a minute. Putin actually did not argue his case. He only asserted it. So then lets ask him:

President Putin, please answer this question: What is your argument for your assertion that the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive in this specific situation in Syria? [Or does your argument have more reach than that? Do you think the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive universally? Or is the scope of your argument less than universal but more than just this specific situation in Syria?]

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
Well, if the UN read a letter by Obama that refuted all the arguments against his case, then the UN is wrong, not Obama. So then lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: Why don't you write a letter to the UN refuting all the arguments against your case? And, do you realize that if you don't do this then you are wrong and they are right — that you are acting in bad faith?

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. 
Its not just potential. Its pretty much guaranteed.

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Yes, yes, and yes.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country.
And that "opposition" is actually hundreds of separate opposition(s). They are not working together. They don't have shared goals besides the short-sighted goal of toppling Assad.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
Yes. Its the same as what happened after the first Afghan war.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.
You are protecting the Syrian people by suggesting that they keep their dictatorship government and to demand piecemeal reform, instead of their current idea which is overthrow their current dictator and then.. well.. this is where the hundreds of opposition groups disagree about what to do next. Some want democracy. Some want an Islamic-state, which means a religious dictator — this one is the worst possible scenario because it means no liberalism/freedom.

We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
Following the law whether we like it or not? So do you think that if the law was to ban the Quran or the Bible, should those people living in those countries throw away their holy books? I think you wouldn't agree to that, so why the contradiction?  I struck this out because its a dumb point. I think it was pedantic. I found a more important one.

You said that "Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council."  This is important. I think that Obama should address this point. Why is he considering acting against this international law without having an explanation as to why he should do that — why its right in this specific case, or why its right in general? So lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: What is your argument against this current international law as President Putin explained?

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
Right. But even if the chemical attacks were committed by the Syrian Army, that doesn't change the fact that military strikes on Syria will cause more loss of lives, property, and infrastructure instead of preventing it. So Obama's "solution" doesn't even work to solve the problem that it's claimed to solve.

So let me break this down even more. Please tell me what, if anything, is wrong with my reasoning.

First, let's agree that there is a problem, and that we should work on solving it. Second, lets agree on what the problem is, explaining it in detail, which means including a detailed explanation of what a solution would look like. In this step, one of the details should consider the amount of human suffering in the form of loss of lives, property, and infrastructure, as a measure of the success of a solution — so preventing loss of lives, property, and infrastructure is a primary goal.

So, if one's proposal would result in more human suffering instead of less, then the proposal fails to solve the problem its claimed to solve because it fails at its primary goal. So then the proposal is actually part of the problem, instead of being part of the solution. So lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: Do you agree that the primary goal of any foreign intervention should be preventing loss of lives, property, and infrastructure in that country? If yes, then please explain how a military strike would prevent or otherwise save Syrian lives, property, and infrastructure? If you don't agree, then tell me what you think the goal should be. Also, what is your answer to the Syrians that don't want foreign military intervention?

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Well, most individual Americans are not exceptional. Some are. I agree that lumping a whole nation of individuals together as all exceptional is wrong. But are you sure that Obama wasn't saying that America itself as a nation is exceptional? Because it is. Its the best place to live.

As to your point about "We are all different", I think you're saying that to convey the idea that every situation requires a special solution, and that what works for one guy doesn't necessarily work for another. I agree. But so what? Just because I consider myself exceptional doesn't mean that I think that everybody should do what I do. What is best for me isn't necessarily best for anybody else.


Read my essay on What Should America do in Syria.


  1. There was an organism part of which was a cell. One day the cell decided that it is exceptional and better than the organism. The cell stopped working for the organism and started taking all the nutrients for itself. It was pretty happy and grew larger and larger. And one day the surgeon came...

    1. "There was an organism part of which was a cell. One day the cell decided that it is exceptional and better than the organism. The cell stopped working for the organism and started taking all the nutrients for itself. It was pretty happy and grew larger and larger. And one day the surgeon came..."

      Your metaphor is not analogous to the real world. You're describing a situation where resources are limited, but in the real world resources are not limited.

      The attitude you're talking about is the win/lose attitude. It sees the world as a competition between resources, which is a mistake because resources are not limited.

      All of our resources increase with our technology and with will. As our technology improves, our land produces more food for humans and cattle (i.e. more efficiency), our labor produces more (i.e. more efficiency), we find more new raw materials that we can convert to energy, our energy consumption becomes more efficient, etc. As demand of any resource increases, companies are able to increase the supply to meet that demand without limit.

      The win/lose attitude thinks that if one person is rich, then that means he must have oppressed a bunch of other people making them poor. But this is a false dichotomy. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. There is another way to get rich -- voluntary trade. And when somebody gets rich by voluntary trade, he did not oppress anyone. He did not make anyone poor. In fact, what he did was improve the wealth of the poor.

      To clarify that last point, consider what happened when Ford produced the first commercial car. One thing is he got rich. Another thing is that so many people that weren't rich all of a sudden were able to have cars instead of horses and wagons. Their living situation improved dramatically just by being able to buy Ford's car, which wouldn't have been possible unless Ford produced it.

      So the rich make it better for the poor. They improve the poor's living situation by introducing life improving technologies at low prices that the poor can afford.