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.