Syria Interventionists Keep Asking What Will Happen If US Doesn't Intervene, Never Answer What Would Happen If It Does

Bomb first, ask questions never


rand paul not pictured

The latest raving in favor of military intervention in Syria comes via the Hill's Brent Budowsky, who argues that Rand Paul is "Bashar Assad's man in Washington" because he won't support US military action in Syria. Budowsky relies on the tired argument that the US must act militarily because otherwise Bashar Assad "will commit more crimes against humanity." John Kerry offered that as a response to Paul when the senator pointed out at this week's hearing that no one knows what Syrians will do if Congress votes against military action in Syria. At that hearing, Paul also noted that as Assad's use of chemical weapons knowing the US would respond was already illogical, expecting the Syrian dictator to respond rationally to US military action wasn't rational.

Yet interventionists don't provide any kind of answer on what might happen if the US intervenes. Kerry this week consistently pivoted to what would happen, instead, if the US didn't intervene; more atrocities in Syria. Despite Kerry's insistence otherwise, there is no "guarantee" of that. More importantly, it's not an acceptable substitute for an answer to the question of what happens if the US intervenes. Russia has warned such a move could create a nuclear disaster, referring to the possibility nuclear reactors might get hit. US military action, however, could also serve to escalate the conflict in Syria. Russia, a backer of the Assad regime, could see US action as reason enough to ramp up its own participation in the Syrian conflict. They sent additional ships to the region this week. Syria's regional ally Iran could also respond to US military action in a similar way, taking it as an opportunity to pour more resources into the conflict. Assad, who has reportedly had the strategic advantage on the ground for several months, could respond to US military action by doubling down on the killing of his own people. Sure, Assad might not use chemical weapons again, but if he increases his regime's rate of killing, less than nothing is accomplished. Assad could just as easily not use chemical weapons absent US intervention. Russia may already be pressuring him to do so, since his use of chemical weapons makes it more difficult for them to prop up his regime and limit the West's own interference.

And what if Assad simply ignores a US intervention? What if, even with the "diminished capacity" Kerry promises an intervention would secure, Assad decides to keep using chemical weapons in a last ditch effort to eliminate as many of his perceived opponents as he can. The US insists it won't put boots on the ground, but such an insistence is highly dubious; if Syria ignores a US strike, or responds opposite to the way Kerry and other interventionists are sure he will, the same crowd that says now the US is interested only in "limited" military action, will trot out arguments in favor of boots on the ground, to protect US "credibility," of course.

The Obama Administration says regime change is not the goal in US strikes in Syria, but the president's called for Assad to go for two years already. Interventionist hawks point to this as a reason not to limit military action in Syria to the use of cruise missiles. The Wall Street Journal's Brett Stephens, for example, argues military strikes aimed directly at Assad, his family, and his government are the only US military action that could hasten the end of the civil war. Notably, when the US intervened in Libya in 2011, that was nominally to stop a massacre from occurring in Benghazi, but ended seven months later when Col. Qaddafi was sodomized and killed by Libyan rebels who pursued him after NATO bombed his convoy. President Obama hailed his demise as a foreign policy success. Interventionists may limit their arguments on intervention in Syria to limited military action now, but regime change appears to be the ultimate goal for many. Even Marco Rubio, who's called for more US involvement in Syria for years but voted against this week's resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he opposes military action in Syria but supports engaging rebels with the purpose of helping them remove Assad from power.