Donald Trump

There Are No Good Reasons for the U.S. To Wage War in Syria

Nick Gillespie talks Trump's missile strike on tonight's O'Reilly Factor, 8 P.M. to 9 P.M. ET on Fox News.

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I'm scheduled to appear tonight on The O'Reilly Factor, where I'll be arguing that there are no good reasons for the United States to be bombing Syria and otherwise escalating our involvement in that country's civil war. The show airs at 8 P.M. Eastern Time and I should be appearing around 8:30 or so.

Let's run through some of the arguments against the missile strke and, as important, further U.S. involvement:

As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement earlier today, it's disgusting for a country to use chemical weapons and the Assad regime has no redeeming qualities. But those facts don't mean the United States is somehow encumbered to enter a conflict in which we have already demonstrated near-complete incompetence. Have we already forgotten how quickly the (at-the-time secret) arms we provided to "moderate rebels" almost immediately ended up in the hands of al Nusra?

In a concise-yet-encyclopedic article at The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty notes that pro-interventionist Americans are living in a dream world in which we'll be able to depose Assad, spread liberal democracy to Syria, and keep ISIS and other jihadists in check. All while playing nice with Russia and Iran, a regional power we made much stronger by unseating Saddam Hussein. Good luck with all that.

In what is surely one of his least-convincing falsehoods, President Trump justified the missile strike on an airbase by saying, "It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons." This is simply nonsensical. It would be a better world, yes, had chemical weapons never been invented. But why does using gas to kill scores of people necessitate a categorically different answer than killing thousands or more via conventional weapons? The Syrian government has killed north of 100,000 rebel and anti-state fights. If those deaths don't necessitate an American response (and they don't), why should Assad's use of chemicals?

It's important to note that the president, like others before him, refused to seek congressional approval for what is clearly an act of war. Even the most-expansive reading of the war powers granted the president under the Constitution can justify such an attack on a country that posed no immediate danger to us. This should concern all of us regardless of our evaluation of this particular act. And it hardly makes things better to pretend that the authorization passed on September 14, 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks is the controlling legislation here:

The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

As Eli Lake wrote for Reason back in 2010,

As long as this authorization of force remains the law of the land, any change in the legal conduct of our open-ended, undeclared war will be, at most, cosmetic. Although it's true that President Obama appears more reluctant to use these extraordinary powers than his predecessor, he is nonetheless asserting, enthusiastically at times, that he has such powers. And because so much of the American war on terror is conducted in secret, it is difficult to know what Obama is and is not doing to wage it.

But if the missile strike is misguided, at least it was ineffective. AFP's White House correspondent Andrew Beatty reports that "the base hit by Trump yesterday is already being used again to launch air strikes."

Donald Trump would hardly be the first leader to use a military action to build his base at home and he is already receiving bipartisan praise for the strike. But none of that justifies the action or makes it wise. The one thing we might do to help the people of Syria—accept more of them as refugees who are simply fleeing regional chaos that past and present American actions have intensified—is one thing that Trump has ruled out.

NEXT: Some questions raised by Trump's missile strike on Syria

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  1. Bill is gonna grab Gillespie by the pussy.

    1. Awww. I wanted to make that joke.

  2. DVR’ed

    1. WE’LL DO IT LIVE!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. Haha!

  3. “In what is surely one of his least-convincing falsehoods, President Trump justified the missile strike on an airbase by saying, “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons.”

    We can (and I do) disagree with what Trump thinks is in the interests of the United States, but for eight years under the Obama administration, putting the interests of the United States first was imperialist, racist, bigoted, etc.

    With the Obama administration (and with the Bush the Lesser administration, too), what difference did it make whether what we were doing was in the interests of American security–if the people in those administrations didn’t care?

    1. We can disagree with what Trump thinks is in the interests of the United States, but

      But Obama!

  4. Bush justified the prolonged occupation of Iraq in terms of what was in the best interests of the Iraqis. Obama’s refugee policies and Iran nuclear deal were about the interests of the refugees and the Iranians–not the United States. Can someone explain how the terms of the Paris Accord on climate change benefited the United States? Obama was about forcing Americans to make sacrifices for others. “The interests of the United States” sounded suspiciously selfish to Barack Obama.

    I agree that what Trump did in blasting Syria was not in the interests of the United States–especially if it just opens up a new front in the war on terror with Hezbollah. Regardless, if Trump has the wrong answer to the question, “What’s in the best interests of American security?”, at least he’s asking the right question.

    1. at least he’s asking the right question

      Jesus Christ, Shultz.

    2. “Obama was about forcing Americans to make sacrifices for others. “The interests of the United States” sounded suspiciously selfish to Barack Obama.”

      Good of our chocolate savior to be oh so generous with MY money. Of course, such is the progressive way.

  5. Bush justified the prolonged occupation of Iraq in terms of what was in the best interests of the Iraqis. Obama’s refugee policies and Iran nuclear deal were about the interests of the refugees and the Iranians–not the United States. Can someone explain how the terms of the Paris Accord on climate change benefited the United States? Obama was about forcing Americans to make sacrifices for others. “The interests of the United States” sounded suspiciously selfish to Barack Obama.

    I agree that what Trump did in blasting Syria was not in the interests of the United States–especially if it just opens up a new front in the war on terror with Hezbollah. Regardless, if Trump has the wrong answer to the question, “What’s in the best interests of American security?”, at least he’s asking the right question.

  6. By being involved, we’re simply prolonging the horror show. Let them figure it out for themselves. We’re not going to like their solution but we don’t have to. Need to walk away.

  7. Trump, Putin, Assad, and Erdogan all have the best intentions! It’s a mystery why we fight and die.

    1. We fight and die because we choose to get involved in conflicts that should not concern us. No mystery there.

    2. Trump, Putin, Assad, and Erdogan…Bush, Obama, Clinton….
      Just a bit selective, but then lefties are gonna lefty.

      1. I can’t believe they have the balls to demand Trump gets Congressional approval when Obama couldn’t be bothered.

        Just when my opinion of progressives couldn’t be any lower they pull this shit.

        1. Two wrongs make a right!

        2. Dude you’re a fucking Canadian. Enough said.

      2. I’m talking about here and now. Right now.

  8. And another case today of Gillespie taking an unwarranted shot at W over unilateral presidential use-of-force (this time through a quote taken out-of-context).

    Bush, unlike both of his successors and all of his predecessors back to Hoover, never involved the US into combat without Congressional authorization. It was the one bright spot in his administration; a restoration of Congress’s proper war powers. Refusing to give him proper credit for that bit of constitutional adherence is not merely unfair, but undermines the whole project of trying to get the executive properly restrained.

    1. Bush, unlike both of his successors and all of his predecessors back to Hoover, never involved the US into combat without Congressional authorization.

      I guess this is true if one adopts an extremely low-to-the-point-of-utterly-meaningless value for the term “Congressional authorization,” given the Bush administration’s military operations in places like Somalia and Yemen.

  9. Nick, the United States has not been involved in a war since VJ day.
    All of the military actions since then have been called anything but a war. For a very good reason; war has a specific legal meaning in international law, and in the process of activation international treaties.
    If you review the weasel words in the authorizations of force, you will begin to see that the “problem” in a war on terrorism is that there is no nation state to declare war against. Hence “organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided”. That blanket can cover the whole world. I could “determine” you “aided” terrorism by not turning in every illegal immigrant you saw.
    The terrorists will not put on uniforms and comply with international rules of war. (If they would, it would be over in a week) So you can’t actually have a war, and the war powers act is toothless. At best the congress can defund the military, but I doubt that suggestion will get out of committee.

  10. The world would be a very different place if the USA waited for an actual rational reason before waging war…

    1. I was listening to Oliver North on Hannity’s radio show this week. North advocated staying out of Syria and instead encouraging a regional coalition to deal with the problem. A coalition that would consist of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. to manage the area in p,ace of the existing regime.

      I like that better than us or the Russians running the show.

  11. From the Reason offices in Ohio…

  12. It appears Papa Bear has corralled the fringe opposition into one segment.

  13. Doctor Gillespie? When did this happen?

    1. He ain’t the kind of doctor that does nobody no good.

  14. Yeah, this segment is going exactly as I had expected.

  15. “…far better relationship with the Russians.”

  16. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement earlier today, it’s disgusting for a country to use chemical weapons and the Assad regime has no redeeming qualities. But those facts don’t mean the United States is somehow encumbered to enter a conflict in which we have already demonstrated near-complete incompentence.

    Incompetence.

    Yes, because if you have done something poorly so far, you can never do it better. Typos, likewise, remain forever.

    It is true that the US is not encumbered to enter a conflict. They were not encumbered to enter WWII and help stop the genocide of the Jews, either.

    But given that the US has already entered the conflict, it does bear some responsibility for at least working to help end the conflict.

  17. I don’t have internet, who’s winning?

  18. We’re not in a “war” in Syria. Lobbing a few Tomahawks does not meet the definition of a war – just like Libya was no war.

    Iraq was a fucking disastrous war.

    As much as I hate the Con Man what he did in Syria was logical.

    1. So on the flip side of that, how many missiles would someone have to fire at us before it’s considered an act of war?

      1. Yes

      2. Isn’t that like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    2. How is it logical? The U.S. is helping ISIS through this action.

    3. Luanching a few tomahawks into a sovereign nation kinda seems like an act of war to me, you mendacious asshole.

  19. 59 Tomahawks, whether liked or no, made the cock of Trump shoot through the front of his tailored trousers like a fucking steel roadrunner high on angel lips and big-country dreams. Truckloads of elites spilled their panties, Calvin Kleins, and finger taps with buckets of baby-making juice jet-shot into a fucking day of trilling shrill white-tipped delight so thick with glee Mama Butters’ anal compulsions wouldn’t release the silvery rocket full of screaming space aliens she had jammed deep between her super-gleamy meatseat, praise god, because she just washed it and larded it down with pig fat and mysteries.

  20. I’ll be arguing that there are no good reasons for the United States to be bombing Syria and otherwise escalating our involvement in that country’s civil war.

    Well, that’s not strictly true, is it?

    I mean, no good reasons? I think that Trump listed one good reason. To deter further use of chemical weapons. That’s actually a pretty good reason.

    The question is, how do you accomplish that goal? Absent a dangerous and multilateral civil war, you might get the message across with a security council resolution and worldwide sanctions. But Assad really isn’t going to respond to those incentives, given that his state is fighting for its life. And other potential users of chemical weapons probably aren’t impressed by sanctions either.

    So some form of military action is probably on the table at that point.

    You could go with “destroy their entire military and command and control structure”, but that’s a pretty big price and you definitely end up with a failed state and multiple factions fighting over the corpse for many years. So that is a crappy option. Plus, Russia probably would fight you on that one.

    Or you could go really minimalist by blowing up a single building where you suspect the weapons are housed. But that’s pretty ineffectual.

    So what is left? Taking out a single airfield temporarily harms the state’s ability to wage their civil war. But probably not that much.

    So not entirely irrational.

    1. Don’t take this as an endorsement for intervention. It is just that you can’t make hyperbolic arguments like “there are no good reasons” and dismiss the good reason given because you don’t agree with the ultimate policy.

      You might put “killing with chemical weapons” in the same bucket with “killing with indiscriminate bombings”. You’d be justified in doing so by purely utilitarian logic. But you’d be way, way in the minority in doing so. The entire world has weighed in on this one already. WWI was so horrific with the gas attacks that everyone got together and agreed that this sort of weapon was off the table for everyone at all times, forever.

      So claiming that it isn’t a distinction just doesn’t hold water. There’s a whole treaty regime and set of war crimes that were created just because the entire world disagreed with your assessment that chemical weapons are no different.

  21. Additional rebuttal:

    Although it’s true that President Obama appears more reluctant to use these extraordinary powers than his predecessor, he is nonetheless asserting, enthusiastically at times, that he has such powers.

    What possible basis was there for writing that Obama appeared more reluctant to use those powers than Bush? He aggressively expanded the range of US involvement, and campaigned that he would do so. I’ll grant that this was written before Libya, but Pakistan was already under escalated attack, as was Afghanistan and the gulf states. Was it the Peace Prize aura that made it seem like he wasn’t a war monger back then? Was it that he made some speeches that included jabs at Bush for starting wars?

    I suppose it is forgivable to still be drinking the Obama cool-aid a year into the administration. But only barely. His rhetoric was obviously empty long before he obtained the nomination – so failing to see through it isn’t totally excusable.

  22. The rhomites at ” Reason magazine” are . should’ve kept out it. We should not be helping ISiS rebels.

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here.

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  24. If you ever needed a reason for Congressional approval for war it would be Donald Trump. Although they claim Trump has an IQ of around 150 if you ever seriously listen to what he say and how he puts it you might think it is closer to 70. His attention span is non existent and he take every word uttered as personal affront and naws on it like a dog on a bone. Yet the scariest thing is he actually believes 90% of the crap he reads on twitter. I have little use for government in general and none at all for politicians but that said if Bill and Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Donald Trump had of been aborted the world be a better place.

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