Should We Attack Syria?
With an American submarine reported to be among the assets on standby for a possible attack on Syria, and the President announcing that he'll ask Congress for authorization for such an attack, I figure we should discuss how Congress should vote.
Normally, I would be in favor of any excuse to reduce the military capabilities of a Ba'athist dictatorship, but I've got some serious concerns about this one. For one thing, we'd be intervening in a civil war in which the side we'd be aiding in our attacks aren't necessarily people we want to be helping. Also part of the discussion is whether the U.S. even wants to be the "world's policeman" any more, like we were in the '90s. I'm leaning towards "no" on that last question.
There's no doubt that using chemical weapons against civilians is a dick move, and while I wouldn't put it past the al Qaeda-linked portion of the Syrian insurgency to use chemical weapons against civilians in areas under their control in an attempt to get a Western military response against the regime, I think there's a pretty good chance the Syrian government launched this most recent attack. So, while it's definitely not nice to gas people, is it that much of a worse action than blowing them up with high explosives that it defines a "red line" requiring American intervention? For this mindset, I blame the previous Administration.
In coming up with a justification for attacking Iraq, the Bush Administration settled on the possession of "weapons of mass destruction" as a causus belli. I always thought they should go with either 1) the Iraqis are continually shooting at our planes enforcing the UN-authorized "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq, or 2) we got attacked on 9/11, and therefore we, as a sovereign country and the baddest-ass dude on the planet, claim the right to overthrow the governments of 1-3 countries we don't like whenever we get attacked, and if the rest of the world doesn't like it, they can suck it. [Note: (1) would probably be the easiest to justify.] I'm guessing they focus-grouped the potential reasons and came up with WMDs as the one that polled best, and, let's face it, it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had chemical weapons. (The last line was clearly writ ironical, as subsequent history has shown, but at the time everyone "knew" the Iraqis still had chemicals and nerve agents -- they had used chemical weapons in the '80s against Iran and still had them in 1991, based on the evidence we found when we went into southern Iraq in the First Gulf War. It took us some time after the war to get our intelligence assets into place, but we figured that we had confirmation in 1995 from the Kamel defection. Since we didn't see any indication that any weapons were being destroyed after 1995, when we had assets in place, and since we didn't believe Kamel's public statements that everything had been destroyed before that, we were pretty sure they still had WMDs.)
If we do attack with a previously-stated restriction that there won't be "boots on the ground", would this be enough to "deter" other states, or even Syria, from continuing to use chemical weapons? What if a tyrant is willing to trade having $100 million worth of crappy Russian weapons and a few empty buildings destroyed in exchange for us using $250 million worth of Tomahawks, especially if the tyrant gets the support of the "America is always wrong" crowd to boot? Suppose we were to say "You Arabs don't like chemical weapons being used in your part of the world? Let the Arab League handle it."? While I'm adamantly opposed to the isolationist/Ronulan view that we need to bring all our troops home, why can't we just let two groups who both hate us continue to kill each other while we stand aside?
For the upcoming Congressional debate, there is one thing of which I'm sure -- I really want the debate to be over "should the U.S. intervene in Syria and, in general, be the world's policeman" and nothing else. I really hope the House doesn't attach some dumb-ass "repeal Obamacare" amendment that would turn the debate into a cheap political stunt, but I'm not very hopeful on that score. I want to see Congress do their job and debate this important issue. And I kind of hope they reach a consensus that it's not our job to intervene unilaterally. (Note that if Turkey, a NATO ally, goes to NATO with a request to intervene since they fear the Syrian chemical weapons will be used against them, we should eagerly join in a NATO effort. Since, as I mentioned above, I almost always support an opportunity to blow up Ba'athist air defense and command-and-control infrastructure.)
[Also, kind of off-topic, I've been really disappointed in the "amateur hour" nature of the Administration's response to the whole thing. I don't think the new SecState is really up to the job.]
What do you think? Should we attack Syria?