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Eugene Robinson on Syria, Obama and American Exceptionalism

Eugene Robinson on Syria, Obama and American Exceptionalism

By Dennis Loo (9/13/13)

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson reacted yesterday to Russia's Vladimir Putin's NYT OpEd in which Putin pillories the U.S. government for planning a war of aggression. In his September 12, 2013 column entitled "Yes, Vladimir, America is Exceptional," Robinson angrily asserted that Putin is not worthy of taking the moral high ground against Obama and the U.S. government given his record on civil liberties.

Here is what Putin says that so upset Robinson:

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.

Robinson is not alone. “I almost wanted to vomit,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told CNN after reading the piece. Robert Parry at Consortium News points out the universal condemnation coming from American political officials and mass media to Putin's comments.

It just so happens in this case, Mr. Robinson, that even though Putin is a strange person to be saying these things, what he says in the OpEd is true.

Someone might point out to Robinson that what he is engaging in here is an example of an ad hominem argument - attempting to refute what someone is saying on the grounds of who is saying it, not whether what they are saying is true or not.

Robinson, now that he has disposed of that pesky Russian (who he imagines is wearing a pink negligee while typing his OpEd) goes on in his essay to defend Obama against his critics from Republican right-wingers who think that Obama does not think the U.S. is "exceptional" enough:

If anyone doubts his willingness to throw American weight around, with or without support from other nations, go ask for opinions in the places where missile-firing U.S. drones circle ominously overhead.

To me, the concept of exceptionalism underpins Obama’s strongest argument for taking military action in Syria. When we see more than 1,400 men, women and children killed with poison gas, it is not our nature to look away. We ask ourselves whether there is anything we should do. We weigh the costs and benefits, the risks and rewards, and we do what we can. The moral case for a strike against the Assad regime is predicated on the fact that if the United States doesn’t do something, nobody will.

Now, dear friends, I ask you seriously: how does any self-respecting columnist go from writing a sentence lauding his president for killing people with drones (including, it should be added, hundreds of children), with or without support from other nations (and, it should be added, without Congressional support since Obama has refused to appear or send any White House representatives to Congressional hearings on his use of drones, regarding Congress as having no say so over his use of drones to assassinate people) and then in the very next sentence, talk about American "exceptionalism" justifying Obama's bombing Syria because allegedly the Syrian government has used nerve gas to kill civilians, including children?

How does this constitute a "moral case" that Obama, and only Obama since "nobody [else] will," should bomb and kill Syrians?

Robinson is proud of his president for being willing to "throw American weight around" killing people with drones in other countries (that haven't attacked and don't threaten the U.S.) and he's so proud of that, it provides the "moral" justification that Obama is qualified to kill Syrians in Syria.

What's that again?

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