Why is America Intervening in Syria Now?

Reason contributor, longtime Miami Herald hand, and reporter from Central America during the 1980s Glenn Garvin has a smart piece about escalating U.S. involvement in Syria. Snippet:

Two years ago, we could have acted decisively to end the Syrian civil war before it really got started. We could have made a realpolitik decision to support Assad, who, though a vicious brute to his own people, mostly minds his own business. Or we could have thrown in wholeheartedly with the rebels, picking one faction to provide with arms and international prestige, keeping (maybe) the worst elements out of power.

Instead, the Obama administration dithered, denouncing Assad and drawing lines in the sand over his behavior, then backing away every time he crossed one. We managed to alienate both sides as well as convincing all concerned that our bark had no bite.

In short, Obama has adopted as his guide Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy of 1979, when the United States cluelessly half-yanked the rug from beneath the shah in Iran and Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, then primly tsk-tsked their opponents. The eventual result was that two of our allies were replaced with regimes implacably hostile to our interests, which quickly began destabilizing everything around them. Sadly, that’s now the best possible outcome in Syria. If the War Party get its way, you’ll see the worst.

And there's this as well, which is just as important. Polls show that Americans are very much against sending U.S. troops into Syria (68 percent opposed according to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll), with 51 percent against even sending arms to the rebels (go here for more info). Those numbers track closely with Gallup, which also shows 68 percent using "military action to attempt to end the conflict."

Garvin notes:

Anybody living outside the Washington Beltway should be thinking long and hard why reluctance to go along with this policy prescription is getting Rand Paul denounced as a libertarian loon. The problem in our capital is not that there’s too much division between Republicans and Democrats, but that they’ve merged into a single War Party when it comes to the Middle East.

Read Garvin's whole piece.

Despite having a soft spot for Murray Rothbard, Garvin is no general peacenik and implicit in his take is an important point for those who generally favor intervention in Syria and elsewhere: The Obama administration has done next to nothing to explain why we should be intervening, other than to issue some offhand comments about chemical weapons being a red-line trigger (now that it seems both sides have used them, what do we do?). As in Libya, there are vague and not-so-vague gestures toward humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities. Those may be noble goals - even if they rarely achieve their goals - but they don't substitute for serious discussion of U.S. goals and aims, much less assurances of how an operation might work.

I'm not in favor of intervening in Syria and I'm not sure of the arguments that would sway my mind, but it's amazing to think that the Obama admin - along with hawks such as John McCain, last seen calling for heavy weapons for the rebels and posing with apparent kidnappers of religious pilgrims - don't even feel a need to sell the next new war to the vast majority of Americans who are against war.

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  • sarcasmic||

    chemical weapons being a red-line trigger (now that it seems both sides have used them, what do we do?)

    Nuke 'em from orbit!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    All or nothing.

  • sarcasmic||

    They both used chemical weapons. Kill 'em all.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obama needs a diversion.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I thought the ice cream cone was supposed to divert him from trying to ruin the country for a little longer...

    Wait, did you mean to distract the public?

  • DJF||

    If only there was some policy guidance on what to do in this situation given by a previous President

    Washington's Farewell Address 1796

    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18t.....ashing.asp

  • Rich||

    BZZZT!!

    There's *nothing* in there about chemical weapons!

  • DJF||

    It was 1796, there was horseshit in the street which was probably more dangerous then any Syrian WMD’s Just drinking the water back then could kill you.

  • sarcasmic||

    Biological blanket warfare!

  • Gray Ghost||

    + The Lord Jeffs.

  • General Butt Naked||

    THE CONSTITUTION ISN'T A SUICIDE PACT, even to those that live very far from AMERICA, or it is!

  • ||

    No, but the Declaration of Independence was.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yes, this old ridiculous trope again -

    but that they’ve merged into a single War Party when it comes to the Middle East.

    Syria = Iraq. They are EXACTLY alike!

  • UnCivilServant||

    I'd vote War Party - Invade Canada!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    But not Quebec. We can let them have their little Frenchie paradise, right?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I love Quebec. It would have been so much harder to go out to bars before junior year without them.

  • ||

    Is that where poutine comes from? I've yet to try that, we can't nuke Quebec until then.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Originally - but their knowledge has seeped into the rest of Canada.

    Still, we should leave the Quebeckers be. They can still snowbird to FL.

  • ||

    I'll be honest with you John, I have no idea what your last sentence means.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Live in Florida during the winter, head back north in the summer.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    There are certain parts of FL during the winter where to be "bilingual" is to know French rather than Spanish.

  • Spiny Norman||

    54-40 or fight!

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Syria = Iraq. They are EXACTLY alike!

    PB, militarily intervening in another country is an act of war. It does not matter if you shoot missiles into that country or send in troops. Either act is war. And you do know who in the US gets to declare war, right?

  • DJF||

    I bet PB answer is Blue team Presidents.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Judging from the history of the last century; Democrats. A Republican President may, under extreme circumstances, go begging, hat in hand, for the authority to use military force. Even if his decision to do so is wildly popular, Democrats in Congress, the Media, and Academia will be calling him a "Warmonger" as soon as they think they can get away with it. But a Democrat President who is constantly getting the U.S. involved in little Third World piss-ups will get as much of a pass as the Liberal Left can arrange.

    Both World Wars, Korea, and the majority of the slide into Vietnam happened under Democrats, but Republicans are the War Mongers.

    *spit*

    Violence is the last resort of the incompetent because the competent either know it won't work or use it before they have run out of options.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent because the competent either know it won't work or use it before they have run out of options."

    Violence works quite well in some circumstances - to quote Mr. Heinlein -

    “Anyone who clings to the historically untrue—and thoroughly immoral—doctrine that, ‘violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedom.”

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Exactly. Now, one could say honestly "Violence tends to solve problems in ways I dislike", but that wouldn't have the patina of moral superiority, would it?

    The older I get, the more tempting it is so say to any fool who blurts "Violence never solves anything", "Go away or I'll punch you."

  • ||

    Both World Wars, Korea, and the majority of the slide into Vietnam happened under Democrats, but Republicans are the War Mongers.

    Because Republicans are capitalists, and according to Noam Chomsky all US military interventions are part of a vast capitalist conspiracy to enslave the proletariat.

    Democrats are on the side of the proletariat, ergo, whenever they do military interventions it's because the evil corporations are forcing them into it.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

  • ||

    "Yes, this old ridiculous trope again -

    but that they’ve merged into a single War Party when it comes to the Middle East.

    Syria = Iraq. They are EXACTLY alike!"
    It's not ridiculous Buttplug, it's the f&@king truth. Someday, if you ever get your lips off Obama's cock, you might see that.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Gillespie, you got to know your audience! There's like only 3 to 5 people here who would get your alt-text reference.

    Next time just do a Firefly reference or write some doggerel like this:

    When I find my code in tons of trouble,
    Friends and colleagues come to me, Speaking words of wisdom: "Write in C."
    As the deadline fast approaches, And bugs are all that I can see,
    Somewhere, someone whispers: "Write in C." Write in C, Write in C,
    Write in C, oh, Write in C. LOGO's dead and buried, Write in C.
    I used to write a lot of FORTRAN, For science it worked flawlessly. Try using it for graphics!
    Write in C. If you've just spent nearly 30 hours,
    Debugging some assembly, Soon you will be glad to Write in C.
  • LTC(ret) John||

    *slow applause that pick up speed until they become a thunderous ovation*

  • sarcasmic||

    No JAVA?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I'm an applied linguist, and even I know that Java is just C with a lisp. (No, not that LISP.)

  • sarcasmic||

    Lost In Stupid Parenthesis?

  • General Butt Naked||

    I WRITE IN AMERICAN YOU SON OF A BITCH!

  • ||

    You got it and so did I. So that's 2 of us. Who are the other 1-3?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Call the roller of big cigars,
    The muscular one, and bid him whip
    In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
    Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
    As they are used to wear, and let the boys
    Bring flowers in last month's newspapers."

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I got it, but only because Steven King quoted it in Salem's Lot.

  • Ronny Paulino||

    I, uh [searches Google] got it too!

  • ||

    Don't tread on me (Python)

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "We could have made a realpolitik decision to support Assad, who, though a vicious brute to his own people, mostly minds his own business."

    The people of Iraq and most especially those of Lebanon beg to differ.

  • Rich||

    Oh, so *that's* what's meant by "the business of the people".

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I am more for staying out because we cannot even identify an interest, much less a party/side/faction that deserves such support.

    I'd prefer telling some rebels exactly where Assad was, and leave all the rest to them.

  • Gray Ghost||

    The only interest in Syria I care about is making sure that any WMDs, like nerve gas, don't end up in the hands of some group that would release it here. How to achieve that, I'm not sure. Would straight bribery work? A chartered jet for Assad straight to exile with all the foreign bank accounts he can eat, if he delivers to the U.S./NATO the locations of all his WMD stockpiles?

    What was the plan to secure WMDs when the Soviet Union went through its death throes? Or when they had their coup? Was there one?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    What would have a good chance of working? If the West had a track record of landing like a ton of bricks on the country of origin of any ideology-addled jackass who used an indiscriminate weapon to kill civilians. Unfortunately, the west abandoned that salutary practice more than half a century ago, and played 'appease the jackasses' instead. Also, wee took to punishing regimes (like the Shah's) that cracked down on extremism. Consequently regimes that will hunt terrorists are in short supply, and terrorists are multiplying like cockroaches.

    Yes, clobbering the country of any terrorists would have involved punishing some innocents. But by getting to squeamish to apply gunboat diplomacy where it would do some good, we have arrived at the present mess, where violent morons kill innocents in large bunches.

    These days, every time I hear some Liberal pontificating about the horrors of "Colonialism", I get the most powerful urge to kick them right in their fat rump.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    That was bribery - we paid to "secure and process" all of the nuke stuff in Ukraine, etc.

  • Ted S.||

    They're going to intervene in Syria because fuck you, that's why.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Mostly, yes.

  • Ted S.||

    BTW: It took over five minutes for the page to reload after hitting the "submit" button on my previous comment. What he hell is taking H&R pages so long to load?

    And then, as I tried to scroll up to read the other comments? The browser just freezes up for a good 30 seconds. Shit like this happens all the time on H&R. Is there any way you can fix these problems?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    but it's amazing to think that the Obama admin ...don't even feel a need to sell the next new war to the vast majority of Americans who are against war.

    Why should he? We've dropped all pretense of checks and balances a long time ago. For all intents and purposes, the Executive is, like his Roman counterpart, a magistratus extraordinarius with complete and unchallenged imperium.

  • Rich||

    This article has multiple issues.

    But, to be fair, so does the administration.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Imperium Maius, right?

  • ||

    See, the problem here is the same problem we've had with drugs in this country. Instead of characterizing it as a WAR (a la "The War on Drugs") we need to use terms like "PEACE", and "AID". So instead of going to WAR with Syria, we really need to go to AID with Syria.

    When we're at AID with them, people will know we've cut out all this "war" nonsense and realize the our mission is about peacefulness and global stability, not destruction. So just like with the drug aid problem (not a "war"), people will know Dear Leader has made everything better.

    Remember, we've always been at aid with Middleastia.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have a better idea; since we clearly have very little idea what kind of "aid" might actually help matters, let's stick to what we know and make the destructive, barbarian, camel-pestering swine so scared of us that they leave us the hell alone.

  • ||

    It's sort of like a right-wing mind-meld with Geroge Lakoff.

  • ||

    Personally, I think some of this is payback for Syria's covert support for the Iraqi insurgents. Protests to the contrary notwithstanding, there is plenty of evidence that many of the senior Baath officals fled to Syria (also ruled by the Baath Party), from which they managed the fundraising and leadership of the early Shiite insurgency. There were also some rumors that Saddam's chemical weapons (what was left of them) were shipped across the border to Syria. Whatever cooperation Syria might have provided on Al Qaeda, there's good reason to think they may have wanted to protect the Baathist leadership and foment insurgency to keep the US biusy in Iraq.

    Thus, what we're doing is payback. We're going to take down the two-faced Assad, and in a way, we have to, to send a message to some of our other "allies" that they aren't going ot get away with pretending to help us while secretly aiding our enemies.

  • ||

    Erg. The SUUNI insurgency, not the Shiites.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Two years ago, we could have acted decisively to end the Syrian civil war before it really got started. We could have made a realpolitik decision to support Assad, who, though a vicious brute to his own people, mostly minds his own business. Or we could have thrown in wholeheartedly with the rebels, picking one faction to provide with arms and international prestige, keeping (maybe) the worst elements out of power."

    Excuse me, but why is this "smart"? Garvin can't possibly know what would have happened, and the notion that the U.S. could have cleanly and easily ended the rebellion either for or against Assad sounds like "George Bush thinking." Like all pundits, old Miami Herald hand Garvin has the fantasy that "decisive" action always works, while "dithering" doesn't. Yet dithering is not seldom the truest wisdom in politics. If Obama had dithered more, instead of being "decisive" about chemical weapons, he'd have more freedom to maneuver.

  • Spiny Norman||

    It shares long borders with our two major allies in the region, Israel and Jordan, who cannot help but be affected by what goes on in Syria.

    And Turkey, which is a NATO member and hosts a US Air Force base.

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