The situation is Syria is awful. This much has been true at least since the 1970 Syrian Corrective Revolution, through which Hafez al-Assad came to power (in reality, things had been bad in the country for far longer still). Whatever delusional hopes for reform under Hafez's Western-educated son (the one with the wife that Obama supporters gushed over like an uncapped Kuwaiti oil well), Bashar al-Assad now presides over a country in the midst of a civil war that is pulling in surrounding countries and threatening to de-destabilize the Middle East.
Over the past two years, 70,000 people have been killed, a quarter of Syrians displaced, and millions of refugees are streaming into neighboring countries. Various Islamist groups are growing in power and influence and the Assad regime has apparently started gassing its own people.
A while back, President Barack Obama issued a "red line" warning that the United States wouldn't stand by idly if the Assad regime (or anyone else) used weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons: "We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists."
Now that it seems clear that the Syrian government has gassed people, what happens next?
If yesterday's Sunday morning yak shows are any indications, we know where this is all going. Republicans and right-leaning commentators are pushing the line that the U.S. must now get more seriously involved. We're already giving some "non-lethal aid" to rebels and relief groups, but that's never really enough, is it? On Face the Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) hauled out a playbook that almost always ends with long-term U.S. military engagement:
One way you can stop the Syrian air force from flying is to bomb the Syrian airbases with cruise missiles. You don't need to go deep into Syria to do that. If you could neutralize the air advantage the Syrian government has over the rebels, I think you could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly. As to arming the rebels, there are more radical Islamic fighters there than last year. And if it goes on six months more, there are going to be more. Let's give the right weapons to the right people. There are two wars to fight—one to get Assad out of there. He's really a bad guy, dangerous to the world. The second war, unfortunately, is going to be between the majority of Syrians and the radical Islamists who have poured into Syria. So we need to be ready to fight two wars. You don't need boots on the ground from a U.S. point of view, but you sure do need international actions to bring this thing to a close quickly. If it goes on through the end of this year, the whole region is going to fall into chaos.
Fellow Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia invoked the idea that we don't need to really to be in Syria to control its fate:
We don't need to put boots on the ground, but we need to enable their neighbors, the neighbors of Syria, to bring some sort of peaceful resolution to this. We can do it through a no-fly zone.
To which Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), followed up with the classic hedge of, hey, we've got to be careful here but…
If we take the bomber action, then that may lead to something else, and that's really what I'm referring to in terms of you don't ever want to say absolutely never any boots on the ground because, you know, Iran is busy here. Iran is very busy here. And so is Hezbollah.
Elsehwere, hawks such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol argued that given the president's unambiguous statements about red lines and chemical weapons, the credibility of the United States is on the line. "No one wants to start wars," Kristol said on Fox News Sunday, "but you've got to do what you've got to do."
We know what GOP hawks want to do: They want to up the American engagment in Syria and throughout the Middle East. And we've got a pretty good sense of what the Democrats—whether hawks or putative critics of "dumb wars" like the president said he was back when he was running for office—will end up doing. Which is signing on to a series of incrementally bigger and bigger interventions until the U.S. is once again in the the thick of things in a part of the world where our reputation and our demonstrated ability to accomplish much are equally weak.
Going to war isn't like getting a little bit pregnant. It's more like an actual pregnancy in that the conditions grows and develops over time until a bouncing baby arrives. And despite the past dozen years of totally inept warmaking on the part of two administrations, it sure as hell looks like we're already knocked up when it comes to Syria.