Judis wants to use force in Syria to prevent further use of chemical weapons:
[S]ome people have argued that the United States should not do anything that might help the opposition win the war because that would help the Jihadis. The U.S., they argue, is better off with a bloody stalemate. But the Jihadis have benefited from the stalemate in Syria and from the perception that the United States is indifferent to Syria’s fate. By keeping its word to prevent the regime from using poison gas, the U.S. will help the opposition and will be in a better position to influence the eventual outcome without being responsible for it. It will, if anything, have halted the shift in power from the Free Syrian Army to the Jihadis.
I understand and respect John’s point. Mine is simply this – and I tangled with John McCain on CNN on the matter last night, prompting him to call me rude. (Being called hot-tempered by John McCain is, well, insert your own punch line).
Syria is an immensely complex sectarian civil war, just like the one George W. Bush kick-started in neighboring Iraq that is once again gathering steam after the rank failure of the “surge” to do anything but get us out of there.
We do not have a clue what we are doing. It’s their country and we involve ourselves at our peril. Once we directly intervene in defense of one nebulous faction, we will deeply alienate another. We will be injecting the US into a brutal religious and ethnic civil war. If there is one guarantee that will bring more Jihadism to America, it will be another intervention in a complex Muslim country. The idea that we can win favor in that region by intervening is insane.
Doug Bandow is also aghast at the lack of any historical memory among the liberal hawks:
Some analysts apparently believe that starting America’s third war in a Muslim country in a dozen years would enhance the nation’s reputation in the Middle East. Wrote Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter, a failure to act means Barack Obama “will be remembered as a president who proclaimed a new beginning with the Muslim world but presided over a deadly chapter in the same old story.” Actually, the war in Iraq was supposed to make Muslims the world over love the U.S. Unfortunately, something went wrong along the way.
Ya think? Judis also argues that, if “the Obama administration were to ignore its own ‘red line’ in Syria, that would send a message not only to the Assad regime, but also to North Korea and Iran that it could ignore American threats.” Well, they do ignore US threats, and have done so for a very, very long time. And one reason is that after Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of credible long-term domestic support for bombing North Korea or Iran or arming a movement losing momentum to al Qaeda in Syria is simply not going to be there. So sorry, McCain and Butters. You can’t have your Iraq catastrophe somehow erased from our memory. Americans are amnesiacs but not etch-a-sketches. Larison notes the hyperbole involved:
Judis’ argument requires us to pretend that there is no difference in severity between nuclear proliferation and the uncertain reports of possible chemical weapons use. According to him, the U.S. must start a war in response to a small, possibly accidental use of sarin if its readiness to attack Iran can be believed. To state this argument plainly is to discredit it.
David Kenner reviews public opinion on Syria. His conclusion:
If he has incontrovertible proof of Assad’s chemical weapons use, there is reason to believe he could initially cobble together a majority in favor of intervention. But given Americans’ relative apathy toward the conflict, there is also reason to believe that they would sour on the conflict if it dragged on or incurred significant costs. What the president needs is a quick, low-cost intervention that would allow the United States to take a backseat to other international partners. Whether that’s a realistic possibility, given the reality in Syria, is very much an open question.
(Chart from Pew (pdf), which finds that few Americans are paying attention to Syria)