How America Will Enter the Syrian War


Last year, President Barack Obama declared that if Syria used chemical weapons against rebel forces the evil Assad regime would be crossing a "red line," after which there would be some kind of heightened retaliation by the United States, presumably involving miitary force. As Ed Krayewski pointed out yesterday, France has been saying since last summer that any chemical weapons usage should trigger Western intervention. At a press conference in Israel yesterday, Obama answered questions about murky chemical-weapons allegations by declaring that "Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." It seems likely that no matter how war-weary Americans might be, we may soon be in another Mideast military conflict.

This illustrates, among other things, the perils of drawing "red lines" in an era of ever-lower bars for American intervention. Presidents volunteer, in the face of constant badgering from congressional hawks and the press, the line beyond which the U.S. will have to intervene. If it's in the context of a civil war, participants seeking American help (and outsiders cheering on intervention) will thus be incentivized to make sure that that line is or appears to be crossed. When that happens, hawks will make a lot of noise about "American credibility," and before you know it, here we go again.

Chemical weapons usage isn't the only red line available; the mere possibility of putting "chemical weapons" and "jihadis" in the same sentence will also suffice, as this roundup of hawkish commentary suggests.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

I've never been more worried about weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorists' hands than I am right now. And I would urge the president and Republican leaders to openly embrace ending this conflict sooner rather than later with a post-Assad plan that focuses on securing these chemical weapons sites.

Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

President Obama has said that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar Assad is a 'red line' for him that 'will have consequences.' If today's reports are substantiated, the President's red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised. That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups. If today's reports are substantiated, the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:

If we know their intention to use these chemical weapons and don't do anything about that, that is a stain on our national character….So we've got a growing bloody conflict, you've got a regime that's under pressure, at least a high probability they have used most recently or in the past some amount of chemical weapons. This is the time to act. Don't wait until we have 5,000 dead. That's too late.

What the hell, Graham again:

I don't care what it takes….If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.

That last quote might be the most apt. Some interventionists literally don't care what it takes to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for determining world events. Dead Syrians, dead Americans, regional chaos, tax dollars down the sump hole, limitless deployment, unintended consequences, NO MATTER. What's important is to uphold the childish illusion that we can always just "cut this off," whatever "this" might be.

Read Reason's symposium on (evidently unlearned) lessons from the Iraq War.