The Potential Outcomes
The worst outcome possible for the US is that Syria devolves into another Islamist-dominated failed state. Unfortunately, this is the most likely outcome if the US intervenes in Syria in a meaningful way. Stabilizing Syria in a manner that would stop the slaughter would require the commitment of tens of thousands of Western—which means US—troops and billions if not trillions of dollars. The US isn’t ready to commit to that. Nor should it, given that vital national interests are not at stake.
Taking half-measures such as missile strikes is worse than doing nothing, because it weakens us tangibly by draining our resources, while at the same time demonstrating more weakness than if we never got involved in the first place. Military action in Syria also runs the risk of drawing the US into a broader conflict in a time and place and against an enemy not of our choosing.
Shortly before I pressed “send” to submit this article, our President authorized the use of force against Syria… but suspended the execution of the order until after he can “consult with Congress,” which is helpfully on recess until the 9th of September. This was a brilliant political move on the President’s part because it shores up his support from the masses who are clamoring for him to “DO SOMETHING!!” while delaying action for more than a week, and giving him the ability to pin the blame on Congress for ultimately not authorizing action, which is what the President has to know is going to happen. Since domestic politics is the true driver of international politics, I’m hopeful that the President’s action is a sign that we are not going to make the huge mistake of making a major military commitment in Syria.
But if we’re going to let Congress do the President’s decision-making for him, here’s an idea: since we’re about to commit our country to WAR, how about we recall Congress right.freakin’.now., and put an authorization vote up on Monday. Yes, I know Monday is a holiday, sorry that this war thing is going to get in the way of everyone’s Labor Day barbecue and another couple of holes at the links. But commitment to war is one of the most solemn responsibilities of our elected officials, so might they all want to start taking it a bit more seriously?
We need policy that reflects clear-eyed, open-minded examination of America’s interests in the Syria issue, not more oversubscription to the same failed Democratic Peace Theory that proved so wrong in Iraq or the wrongheaded presumption that it’s up to America to fix all of the world’s ills. We as Americans have to understand that sometimes people don’t want democracy. Some people aren’t ready for it when we try to impose it upon them. And sometimes, we have to understand that as terrible as some of the world’s problems are, it’s not always America’s responsibility to fix them all.
So we know that the situation in Syrai is bad, but what do we do about it? In the title of this piece I paraphrased Secretary of State Kerry’s comments after the President’s most recent Syria declaration. Secretary Kerry insists that it’s not “what we know, it’s what we do” in Syria. I respectfully disagree. It’s precisely what we don’t know (who actually used the WMD, what national interests are at stake in Syria, who if anyone would take over Syria after Assad, what the other unintended consequences might be) that should drive what we do in that country at this point. And that “what,” looks an awful lot like “nothing.”