I’ve spent the better part of the past week being a soft No on intervening in Syria. My instinct was that the action would lack enough of the international imprimatur I think all humanitarian interventions should require (not even NATO will be on-board) and that if the bombings were more than symbolic they would lead to disproportionately bad consequences, and if they were symbolic — well, that’s a terrible reason to ultimately kill people.
My opposition was soft, however, because I find, in the abstract, the goal of maintaing or establishing international norms to be a legitimate one. Hard to believe in human rights and think otherwise, really. And I do think there’s something uniquely horrific about chemical weapons, which tend be designed to kill as many people as possible rather than to kill as many of the enemy’s soldiers as possible. This might strike you as a petty distinction, but to me it’s essential to the attempt to civilize (and ultimately end) the practice of war.
Nevertheless, I was still a no. And after reading this long (long!) post from James Fallows, I’m even more sure that a bombing campaign would, in the best-case scenario, be a mistake.
Do read it all, but here’s a taste:
Many times I’ve mentioned the foreign-policy assessments of William R. Polk, at right, who first wrote for the Atlantic (about Iraq) during Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, back in 1958, and served on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff during the Kennedy years. He now has sent in a detailed analysis about Syria.
Polk wrote this just before President Obama switched from his go-it-alone policy and decided to seek Congressional approval for a Syrian strike. It remains relevant for the choices Congress, the public, and the president have to make. It is very long, but it is systematically laid out as a series of 13 questions, with answers….
12: What Would Be the Probable Consequences of an Attack?
…it is likely that the victims of the attacks or their allies would attempt to strike back. Many observers believe that the Syrian government would be prepared to “absorb” a modest level of attack that stopped after a short period. However, if the attacks were massive and continued, it might be impossible for that government or its close allies, the Iranian and Iraqi governments and the Hizbulllah partisans in Lebanon, to keep quiet. Thus, both American installations, of which there are scores within missile or aircraft range, might be hit. Israel also might be targeted and if it were, it would surely respond. So the consequences of a spreading, destabilizing war throughout the Middle East and perhaps into South Asia (where Pakistan is furious over American drone attacks) would be a clear and present danger.
Even if this scenario were not played out, it would be almost certain that affected groups or their allies would seek to carry the war back to America in the form of terrorist attacks.