Tag: Bashar al-Assad

Sean Spicer forgets the Holocaust

It’s possible that at the beginning, Sean Spicer remembered a widely-circulated anecdote about how Hitler didn’t use nerve gas at Normandy.

Because this surprised Allied commanders, who knew he had nerve agents stockpiled nearby, all kinds of armchair psychologists have pontificated that Hitler’s restraint showed a distaste for gas attacks in a military setting.

This pontificating, for whatever reason, has held in the popular imagination, even though the Nazi army used chemical weapons plenty of other times, mostly on the Eastern front, and although Göring testified that they only held off at Normandy because the Nazi army was using horses to move equipment around and hadn’t figured out how to make a gas mask for a horse.

(Next time you write something with Nazis in it, I would appreciate it if you made “gas mask for a horse” their “build a better mousetrap.”)

This anecdote, I think, is what Spicer was drawing on.

Then, when somebody said “wait, the Holocaust,” he got super flustered and reflexively went into a defensive “it’s different.” The distinction that first leapt to mind is that concentration camps weren’t bombed – they had gas chambers. (See, it’s different! It’s an execution, not part of combat!)

However, he couldn’t remember the term “concentration camp” or for that matter “gas chamber,” although he remembered he was looking for a two-word phrase. He hit upon Holocaust center as a two-word phrase he has seen before that describes a place where Jews sometimes go and cry.

I don’t think he was trying to deny the existence of the Holocaust; I think the Holocaust and WWII are seperate simultaneous events in his mind and he wanted to talk about one and not the other, and got tangled up.

However, I also think this is something you can only do if you don’t empathize viscerally with the victims of the Holocaust, chiefly because if you identify viscerally with the victims of the Holocaust and somebody says “what about the Holocaust” you clutch your stomach or burst into tears and say “of course you’re right. How unspeakably terrible that was. Never again.”

Sonya says: I was just talking about this over the weekend (although not because of Sean Spicer, because I am not that precognitive) and elsewhere on the internet: I do think a lot of people in this country forget that chemical weapons were used in World War II, because they associate weapons with battlefields and the Nazis never used poison gas against the Western Allies and they don’t think of the Holocaust as a theater of war; they may know perfectly well about gas chambers, but they don’t classify them the same way as the gas-clouds choking the trenches of World War I. So I agree with you that I don’t think Spicer was demonstrating Holocaust denial. Some casual low-grade anti-Semitism, sure; I wouldn’t need much convincing of that. It’s been going around this administration from the start. But what he was demonstrating still blows my mind.

(He didn’t even have to go for the Hitler comparison. It’s not like Godwin’s Law hasn’t been getting a workout for months now. And people aren’t desensitized—if anything, all the recent dogwhistling has caused people to examine Nazi-referencing rhetoric even more closely than before. But he went for it because this administration speaks hyperbole as a first language and what did he think people were going to do, not remember?)

The gas-mask-for-a-horse problem is one of the things that reminds you just what an incredible collision of technologies WWII was.

Romie: Your comment about hyperbole is dead on: biggest inagural attendance instead of a normal one; biggest victory in the electoral college instead of a fairly slim one; jobs numbers like we’ve never seen before that of course we have. Now they’re engaging him, Assad has to be the worst villain to have ever lived. “Nobody’s ever done this” might be the slogan of the administration, but in a different way than I would mean it.

Kate L says: What’s so frustrating about the whole thing is Assad really is a horrifying piece of shit who should have been taken out years ago, and we should all be talking about him, but instead, we’re talking about how unspeakably stupid Sean Spicer is, and wondering if we can have any faith in any actions taken by an administration filled with people this unspeakably stupid.

Joseph says: Two other terms that may have been rattling around his frantic mind: population centers, what Assad targeted in battle, and the Anne Frank Center, which has been a very vocal opponent of the Trump Administration and a group Spicer could have expected a reply from even while he was searching for the right shovel to dig his way out of his worsening answer.


Syria Is Not a False Flag. But It’s Complicated.

From the department of the for-some-reason not obvious: Syria exists. It is full of people.

I know it is hard not to view everything through the lens of US politics if you are in the US, but Syria was not invented by the US and if I hear one more “false flag” claim I’m going to go apeshit.

There is a civil war. It is real. Most observers, including from countries that aren’t the US, don’t think it will end until/unless Assad steps down. He has committed numerous war crimes, which, again, are well-documented, because it’s impossible to do something on this scale and not document it.

There have been other atrocities during the war by other factions, but those other factions are not currently the head of state. Presumably the conflict would also continue if one of them tried to name himself dictator.

Also, the forces of truth and justice, such as they are, are not the ones who have major weapons and an air force, so “let them fight it out” basically means Assad wins. Which is why it’s been going that way with non-intervention.

Maybe you want us to stay out of it. There are any number of good reasons to want that. Maybe you don’t trust the current administration to carry it out. (I mean, look who we’re dealing with here.) Maybe you straight up don’t want us to spend the money for a large-scale intervention. (It’s a lot.) Maybe you look at the situation and think that if we went all in, it would prompt a nuclear strike by Iran or Russia that would kill even more civilians, in even more places. Maybe you have a spiritual committment to nonviolence that makes you disbelieve any violent response, even to extreme violence, is ever warranted.

I could keep going. There are thousands of good reasons not to want war. It’s not like this isn’t thorny. The international response to the Syrian conflict has been confused and strange partly because the situation is a fairly direct challenge to ideas around sovereignty and nationhood; it’s not clear what, in Syria, counts as self-rule. We like the idea that we could just accept the inflow of refugees and write Syria off as a loss, but we want those refugees to assimilate and stop being Syrian. We don’t have the comfort of saying “well, Syria’s always been a mess” because it wasn’t. It was pretty economically stable, with a broad and educated middle class. There’s not a clear outside agitator, but also not a clear “brought it on themselves.”

I get why you have complicated feelings about it. I have complicated feelings. I don’t know an obvious right answer.

What I do know, to circle back, is that the Syrian conflict is not fake, and the arguments around it are not ingenuine. I would appreciate it if everyone could stay in the land of real arguments, instead of the comforting fantasy that this has all been made up – that the only real bad guys are some English-speaking politicians and journalists who you can fight with snarky e-mails and threatening to take your votes elsewhere.

Please see that what you are doing is trying to distance yourself from grief and a sense of guilt that these terrible things are happening and you don’t want to intervene. (Maybe it’s not the time. Maybe it would make things worse.) There’s a reason that “we just didn’t know, couldn’t trust what we were hearing” is a classic from a lot of genocides. It’s emotionally easier to pretend the deaths are lies and fantasies, and you can fight them by hating the politicians you already hate, supporting the social programs you already support, because you are a good person.

Maybe those truly are the best things we can do right now. I don’t have that answer. But I promise you the “false” and “sucker” narrative is the one that makes you feel better, makes you feel like you’ve solved it. If you feel anything other than awful, your understanding of the situation is probably wrong.

Where Authorization for Military Action in Syria Comes From

Reminder: the President does not and cannot declare war. Congress does. All of Trump’s (and Obama’s) actions in Syria have been under the thin cover of a 2001 authorization to fight terrorism (yes, the “war on terror” after 9/11), which does not really fit the situation in Syria.

If you wonder why the U.S. military hasn’t gone after Assad directly, it’s because he’s not a terrorist. He’s the government of Syria. We are not at war with Syria. If you wonder why we keep doing little air strikes instead of deploying ground forces to protect civilian populations, same.

If you are a hawk, you need to bug Congress. And if you are a dove, you need to bug Congress. They’re the ones who decide whether this escalates to full engagement. Not Trump. Not Obama.

And they’re about to go on a two week break, so nothing is likely to happen quickly.

Is Assad Another Pol Pot?

If Hitler was a uniquely evil, inhman figure, what are we to make of Assad? Is he merely a Stalin? Was Stalin merely a Stalin because we were exhausted by war and didn’t have the resources to fight him, and it would be too much to say we let a Hitler get away with it? Are Assad and Stalin and their accomplices less shocking because they aren’t Western Europeans, and so weren’t really human to begin with?

‘The hospitals were slaughterhouses’: A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards” by Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria, The Washington Post