There was something really weird about the Obama Administration’s message on Syria today: It was singularly focused on making the case that Syria really did use chemical weapons, and that our intelligence is right this time, unlike in Iraq.
I believe the Administration on this intel. But they are failing to explain why it follows that we should launch a military strike on Syria. What do they think our intervention will do to reduce human suffering in Syria or anywhere else?
Is the idea that our “limited and tailored” intervention will directly interfere with Assad’s chemical weapons capability? Do we hope that it will serve like a spanking, dissuading him from using chemical weapons again? Is the hope that a strike will discourage other wayward dictators from abusing their people, lest they get bombed too?
So far, all we’re getting are variants on “something must be done.”
I’m not an expert on foreign policy. My usual M.O. is to say as little about foreign policy as possible. But over the last 20 years, foreign policy experts’ record on “should we attack?” questions has been less than stellar. So, I don’t think it’s out of turn for me to ask for more clarity on our strategic goals.
I’m not automatically opposed to the use of force. In recent years, I can see a handful of limited military actions that seem to have improved situations in the impacted countries, particularly our campaigns in Kosovo and Libya. But in both of those cases, the objective was regime change. The objective in Syria is much less obvious.
The situation in Syria is obviously a humanitarian tragedy. But there are lots of terrible problems the U.S. government can’t fix. It’s not enough for the administration to explain that the Syrians need help; it needs to explain why a military strike would be helpful.
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