Should the U.S. Strike Syria? 6 Articles You Need to Read About Syrian Intervention


With the White House indicating that tactical missile strikes on Syrian chemical weapons depots could come as early as Thursday, everybody from neoconservative hawks to isolationist libertarians to equivocal moralists weighed in on the U.S.’s options. Here is a list—by no means exhaustive—of articles representing the spectrum pros and cons of military intervention.

1. Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: Ten Syria Lessons

Rubin makes the hawk’s case for military intervention, arguing that had the U.S. intervened when chemical weapons were first reported, we would have saved thousands of lives (though she doesn’t quite detail what actions would have produced that result).

The best takeaway is her critique of Obama’s reported plan to strike without any commitment of troops, a movement that would have little impact on Assad’s capabilities while plunging us deeper into the conflict:

“When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Empty words and half-measures have only emboldened Assad, as will a couple of cruise missiles that fail to knock out chemical weapons, don’t do real damage to Assad’s forces and fail to protect civilians. Unfortunately, that is precisely what, according to news reports, the president intends to do. A strike that leaves Assad with his military advantage and does not attempt to destroy chemical weapons will be useless and, worse, convince Assad and others that the downside of using weapons of mass destruction is slight.

2. John Hudson, FP: Architect of Syria War Plan Doubts Surgical Strikes Will Work

Even the architect of the Syrian missile strategy has serious doubts that it will be effective. In June, Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, drew up a strategy involving low-cost missile strikes and almost zilch by way of U.S. troop deployment, which seemed to answer the conundrum of how to intervene in Syria without actually intervening in Syria. But Harmer now says his outlining of the strategy should not have been taken as a recommendation of it.

“I made it clear that this is a low cost option, but the broader issue is that low cost options don’t do any good unless they are tied to strategic priorities and objectives,” he said. “Any ship officer can launch 30 or 40 Tomahawks. It’s not difficult. The difficulty is explaining to strategic planners how this advances U.S. interests.”

“Punitive action is the dumbest of all actions,” he added. “The Assad regime has shown an incredible capacity to endure pain and I don’t think we have the stomach to deploy enough punitive action that would serve as a deterrent.”

3. Ken Dilanian, LA Times: Punitive strikes ineffective, even counterproductive, analysts say

Dilanian lays out the history of U.S. tactical strikes in the region, and the way the tendrils of such supposedly-contained actions stretch unpredictably into the future. Of Bill Clinton’s targeted retaliations against Osama bin Laden, Dilanian writes:

Bin Laden canceled a planned meeting at one of the bombing sites, and he and many of his top lieutenants escaped unharmed. Documents declassified in 2008 suggested the strikes may have brought Al Qaeda and the Taliban closer politically and ideologically. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks when the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden.

If you want to discuss the U.S.’s Syrian options at a bar this weekend without the “This is just like Kosovo/Iraq” analogies that everybody else will have brought from home, Dilanian’s piece is your crib notes.

4. George Packer, New Yorker: Two Minds on Syria

Packer’s thought experiment elucidates better than anything the intractable gulf between outrage over the deaths in Syria and constructive action to prevent more of them. That Assad has crossed every imaginable line towards his own people may demand a response, but moral justifications don’t gild actions, and there’s no reason to think we’ll be successful—or even helpful—simply because we’re right.

Note that Packer’s dialogue is called “two minds,” suggesting he’s not arguing with someone else, but himself. The complexity of the Syrian civil war and the U.S.’s response to it seems to have scrambled traditional ideological and moral reactions. Packer’s piece is a nimble rejoinder to the simplistic arguments you’ll hear coming from both sides of this debate.

5. Matt K. Lewis, Daily Caller: Beating the drums: The run-up to war is exciting!

Lewis links today’s nervous excitement to the anxiety preceding the first invasion of Iraq. I remember the feeling, and he’s right that the jitters are eerily similar. He’s also correct to suspect them, writing:

I’ve felt this feeling before. So have you. I was in school during the Desert Storm era, and the media anticipation made it feel sort of like the way it feels when weather forecasters predict a foot of snow will hit. There was an energy in the air. Nobody thought anything bad would happen to us, of course. And it didn’t. But it was something to talk about (and we got to watch some cool CNN coverage.)

Here’s the thing: Even when military action is the right thing to do, we should treat is as a solemn thing. But we seem to treat it more like the anticipation of an upcoming Super Bowl.

6. Nick Gillespie, Reason: Is Bombing Syria Necessary to Save “the Future of Civilization”? Or, It’s Always 1938 Somewhere

Reason’s Nick Gillespie rolls his eyes at liberals who are suddenly down with Middle East intervention, but he has even less patience for the right wing hawks who’ve never seen a problem they couldn’t militarize.

“It’s always the same time: Right after Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and right before the Munich pact was signed,” Gillepsie writes. “If the best case for a U.S. war with Syria is that “the future of civilization” is at stake, it’s clear that pro-war forces have no argument other than overheated rhetoric. The simple fact is that Syria’s civil war (and that’s what we’re facing here) is not the test case for civilization, Western or otherwise.”

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Images via NPR, Telegraph

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