Intervening now is a good start, but our moral and strategic imperatives demand more.
As it becomes increasingly obvious that President Obama has decided to attack Syria with cruise missiles and perhaps a bit more, those of us who have been urging a stronger stand on Syria for two years should be very pleased. This is what we’ve asked for, isn’t it?
It isn’t, and I can’t muster more than one or one and a half cheers. Why not?
Two things have been notable about the Syrian civil war. First, real American security interests are at stake in Syria and have been from the start. Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, which together have an enormous amount of American blood on their hands, have sent troops to Syria to win a war there. Russia has provided a constant flow of arms to the regime. They all consider their control of Syria important, and they are right: If they lose the control they have through Bashar Assad, their position in the entire Middle East is badly weakened — and ours is strengthened. This is a proxy war, with them on one side, and American allies — Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — on the other. It is in the interest of the United States to win this fight, and we should want Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to lose.
Second, there is a growing humanitarian disaster: 100,000 dead at a minimum, plus millions of refugees and displaced persons. The suffering has already spilled over into Jordan and Lebanon, with more to come.
The problem with the Obama administration’s probable reaction over the next few days is that it appears likely to address neither of these issues, and instead focus narrowly on another: Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The international taboo on such weapons should be upheld, and it is reasonable to punish Assad for his action — thereby deterring him and others in the future from using poison gas. Such an action also avoids any further humiliation of the United States with regard to the red line the president drew (and then ignored, of course, until the latest, largest, and most blatant episode).
But there are 100,000 or more dead, and that is ignored if our strikes focus narrowly on the chemical-weapons infrastructure. Most were killed by bullets or artillery; are we content to watch another 100,000 killed the same way? One need not be a supporter of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to wonder if mass killing in this strategically important region should elicit zero response from the United States while a use of chemical weapons that kills 1,000 people elicits a military intervention.
But what about our strategic interests? If our strikes are limited to Assad’s chemical-weapons assets, we leave his war machine intact — including the air power that is one of his main advantages. We make it no less likely that our enemies — Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — will win this …read more