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Week in Review

The biggest news of the week was the escalation of the conflict between Syria and Turkey. The Syria conflict leaves America with no good options, but supporting the least bad of the rebels with arms and information looks to us like the best of a bad field, especially with al-Qaeda gaining ground in the region:

Aiding the less ugly, less bad guys in the Syrian resistance, and even finding a few actual good guys to support, isn’t about installing a pro-American government in post civil war Syria. It’s about minimizing the prospects for a worst-case scenario—by shortening the era of conflict and so, hopefully, reducing the radicalization of the population and limiting the prospects that Syrian society as a whole will descend into all-out chaotic massacres and civil conflict. And it’s about making sure that other people in Syria, unsavory on other grounds as they may be, who don’t like al-Qaeda type groups and don’t want them to establish a permanent presence in the country, have enough guns and ammunition to get their way.

This is not a plan to edge the United States toward military engagement in Syria; it is aimed at reducing the chance that American forces will need to get involved. And, by accelerating the overthrow of Assad, it’s also a strategy for putting more pressure on Iran, pressure that represents our best hope of avoiding war with the mullahs as well. The whole point here is to keep our troops at home.

Elsewhere in the region, Iran and the U.S. are moving closer to full-blown cyberwar, Washington and Baghdad are moving further apart as Iraq ramps up its oil production, and Israel headed to the polls at a time of chaos.

In Europe, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize without coming any closer to resolving the debt crisis that threatens to tear it apart. The IMF reported that few countries are on track to meet their debt targets for 2013, distressed Spanish banks wiped out the life savings of thousands, and Germany and Greece came no closer to resolving their longstanding disagreement over debts and bailouts. Meanwhile, the UK continued its drift away from its European neighbors when the proposed BAE-EADS defense merger collapsed at the 11th hour.

On the election front, VP candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan followed up last week’s impressive debate with a clunker without a clear winner or loser. Romney, on the other hand, continued his hot streak with an important speech on foreign policy that highlighted the continuing threat of terrorism and violence but neglected to mention Asia even once. On the domestic front, Romney and Obama are offering two competing visions of Bostonian moralism:

Romney and Obama share a propensity to meddle in the lives of the poor in the effort to uplift them. President Obama would take away their bologna, their Twinkies and their gas guzzlers—not to mention their guns and their right to whop their kids as they see fit; Romney would force them to jump through hoops for their welfare checks and their food stamps. Neither man would have left Huck Finn’s father alone; both would try to figure out how the government could improve him. One might want to put him in the hoosegow for public drunkenness and the other for child neglect, but both would think that Mr. Finn needed his conduct more thoroughly supervised by the powers that be. Neither man would want him to have access to cheap tobacco in any form, and both would tax his alcohol in the hope of persuading him to take less of it. The state, led by the wise, must push the unworthy masses up the mountain toward higher ground. . .

Both men think that society should set up a system that will gradually compel Mr. Finn to straighten up and fly right. They differ about the architectural rules by which government should be used in the task of social reform, and President Obama is far more optimistic than Governor Romney about how much can be done, but both are political moralists. Talleyrand would have rolled his eyes at both of them, and unregenerate, anti-Bostonians like Mark Twain and H.L. Menken would have seen both men as pompous, bloviating windbags and delighted in cutting them down to size.

Elsewhere in America, Rahm declared war on public pensions, Kansas threatens to a laboratory for Tea Party politics, and the Supreme Court prepared to upend the status quo on affirmative action.

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