Intervention under the current circumstances would be a catastrophic mistake, and I say this as someone who would very much like to help the Syrian rebels militarily. The conditions for the American military prevailing are almost nil, and no military action makes sense without there being some expectations of prevailing, or at least holding a line against aggression.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is now surrounded by enemies both at home and abroad – enemies maladroit policies have created more than anything else. This all could have been different, and you’ve heard me complain loudly about how it all could have been different. The main way the Obama Administration created those enemies was by massively mishandling the Manning and Snowden fiascos, granting in the process unreasonable dignity to the ravings of conspiracy theorists. Few will now be found who will trust that the government could be intervening in Syria merely because it is concerned about the fate of Syrians, and that’s due to a series of rotten decisions on Obama’s part.
But now is too late to worry about that. If the US military goes in, it will go in to fail. Not only will that be bad from the perspective of the country defending its national interests, it will also serve to delegitimise humanitarian intervention for the foreseeable future – which is, of course, exactly what domestic neoisolationists and ideological superpacifists want, and what Arab-Muslim autocrats and mass murderers are counting upon.
To be honest, in the potential lead-up to war in Syria, I am more concerned with saying “not in my name” than I am in taking a position for or against the decision to go to war.
I think it would be a dreadful decision, and thus you would have to count me as being on the “antiwar” side, but you will not hear me denouncing American troops for defending the Syrian people – you will not hear me denounce anyone for defending Syrian victims of Assad – ever, ever, ever. I am horrified that people could do that.
One of my regrets about the Iraq War period was that I did not say this as clearly about Iraq. I should have said “not in my name” (because Bush’s massive mishandling of – well, everything – should have led me to a similar decision to oppose the war) while retaining my position that Hussein was a genocidaire and no one who acted to free people from being his victims will be condemned by me – ever, ever, ever.
Both Bush and Obama had responsibilities to make a just case for war, not only in terms of whether those we fight are worth fighting (in both cases, yes), but in terms of whether actions taken are consistent with defeating the enemy (in Iraq, there were some victories, in that Hussein was removed, but also many unnecessary defeats; in Syria, it seems more likely the future will bring nothing but defeat).
It is important to me to maintain my distance from a “peace movement” that continues to display both naïveté and an unjustified respect for totalitarians and religious extremists. But it is also important for me to have learned from Iraq – and the most critical lesson is that those who have no real plan for victory should not fight.
The Syrians play their games with chemical weapons not because they fear American involvement but because they are trying to create conditions for American involvement. Nothing would make Assad happier than the US being drawn into the “policeman of the world” role again. Assad hardly cares that it will create more dead soldiers on his side. It will also provide a critical propaganda victory for his regime.
What happens in Syria matters, but unless Westerners have a way that armed intervention will fix what is wrong, they should stay out.