Another War Is Brewing

by Patrick Appel

Only 9% of the American people want to go to war with Syria. Even when chemical weapons are mentioned, a growing plurality is against intervention:

Syria Intervention

But First Read believes that the US will use force:

All the action and body language over the weekend suggests that the United States is preparing for some kind of military response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The question is: Just what kind of response will it be? On Saturday, President Obama met with his national security team, and he called British Prime Minister David Cameron. “The two leaders expressed their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime… The United States and UK stand united in our opposition to the use of chemical weapons,” the White House said per a readout of the call. And on Sunday, the president spoke with French President Hollande. (These are the types of calls a president makes to both build support and inform of upcoming plans. Also of note, Secretary of State John Kerry spent the weekend briefing and speaking with a slew of Arab allies, particular the folks in the Gulf States, who could drive an Arab League decision that gives the U.S. the international legal justification it is currently looking for.) Indeed, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY,” the United States and its allies are considering military options — most likely, cruise missiles from Navy destroyers and submarines in the Mediterranean or U.S. fighter jets targeting Syrian airfields from where chemical attacks could be launched. “I do think action is going to occur,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said on “TODAY.” The question no longer seems to be “if”; rather, it’s “when,” “how,” and “how long.”

War is the one area where the normal rules of politics are suspended. A president need not convince the American people or Congress that war is advisable. He need not explain the costs and benefits of force. Popular domestic policy proposals are routinely killed thanks to the fillibuster or the House’s ideological fanaticism, but deeply unpopular foreign policy interventions are carried out without haste. Mark Thompson notes how Congress avoids debate over going to war:

The last war Congress declared was World War II. Everything since — Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq (again!) and Libya — has been fought with something less than a full-throated declaration of war by the U.S. Congress.

Generally speaking, the President likes this, since he doesn’t have to convince Congress of the wisdom of his war, and Congress likes it even more. Under the current system, lawmakers get to wink at the White House by passing an authorization for the use of military force or other purported justification as a fig leaf they can abandon if things go sour. A declaration of war demands more, and Congress is leery of going on the record with such declarations for its own political reasons.

Hawkishness is Washington’s default setting – it remains one stubborn bit of bipartisan agreement in an era of deepening partisanship. But the disconnect between Washington’s foreign policy consensus and the nation’s has grown larger in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. If bombing Syria devolves into a quagmire or it draws us into a war with Iran, the backlash could erase the gains the Democrats made on foreign policy by belatedly coming out against the Iraq War. Obama risks starting one of those “dumb wars” he so famously railed against. Crowley argues that Obama can accomplish his goals through “limited strikes on a handful of military targets, probably by means of cruise missiles that involve no risk to U.S. personnel.”:

The goal would be to impose a cost on Assad that outweighs whatever he thinks he gained by gassing hundreds of people near Damascus last week, as he is accused of doing. In doing so, Obama could hope to deter Assad from using his chemical arsenal again. And to demonstrate to the rest of the world, and especially to Iran, that he means what he says. Anyone hoping for more will likely be disappointed.

Larison fears that, if such measures fail to prevent further chemical weapons use, that “the U.S. will be pressured to continue escalating its involvement until the Syrian government is overthrown”:

After the regime is defeated, Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal will no longer be secure, and these weapons will go to whichever group can seize or buy them first, and it is even less likely that these groups will respect the taboo against their use.

Syrian blogger Maysaloon wants a Kosovo-like intervention:

The Kosovo model for intervention is not perfect, but it stopped the bloodshed and today Kosovo is limping along and people are rebuilding their lives at least. Of course it is still not a recognised state thanks to Russia blocking its recognition, but the important thing is that militias are not slaughtering whole families and villages. The same thing needs to happen in Syria and the country must be given as much support as possible to get back on its own two feet. This is not because Syrians need the world’s charity, but because if that does not happen then Syria will become a Somalia on the Mediterranean and bordering Europe. It is in the world’s interest to stop this wound from festering, and it is in Syria’s neighbour’s interests – all of them – that this country not implode. Because when it implodes all of Assad’s toys are going to end up in the wrong hands, however “careful” the West is and however pervasive Israel’s intelligence tries to be. A poisoned atmosphere and water table is not something anybody in the region can afford. Syria is a big puddle that can splash a lot of people, Assad knows this and he has been using this to stay in power, but it does not mean he cannot be toppled.

Fred Kaplan also compares Syria to Kosovo:

Given the threat, the humanitarian crisis, America’s standing in the region, and the importance of preserving international norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction, the best option might be to destroy huge chunks of the Syrian military, throw Assad’s regime off balance, and let those on the ground settle the aftermath. Maybe this would finally compel Assad to negotiate seriously; maybe it would compel the Russians to backpedal on their support (as NATO’s campaign in Kosovo compelled them to soften their support for Milosevic). Or maybe it would just sire chaos and violence. But there’s plenty of both now, and there might be less—a road to some sort of settlement might be easier to plow—if Assad were severely weakened or no longer around.

Tomasky worries that strikes against Syria could lead to war with Iran:

[T]here are reasons to act. But there’s one massive difference between Kosovo and Syria. Milosevic didn’t have a major regional power watching his back. Syria does. Iran complicates this immeasurably. Also over the weekend, the Iranian armed forces’ deputy chief of staff said the following: “If the United States crosses this red line [of intervention], there will be harsh consequences for the White House.” And this: “The terrorist war underway in Syria was planned by the United States and reactionary countries in the region against the resistance front (against Israel). Despite this, the government and people of Syria have achieved huge successes. Those who add fire to the oil will not escape the vengeance of the people.” Getting sucked into a situation that could lead to war with Iran is unthinkable. Of all the bad options, that is without question the most bad.

Walter Russell Mead wishes we had struck sooner:

Unfortunately, the policy of delay has made all the options worse without, it now appears, succeeding in keeping the US out of war. Instead of the choice we had at one time between American intervention and a humanitarian disaster, we now have American intervention AND a humanitarian nightmare, with a revival of a serious Al Qaeda presence in the heart of the Middle East thrown in for good measure.

And W. James Antle III is against a new war:

The only lesson Obama seems to have learned from Iraq is that large, expensive military occupations with American casualties are politically unpopular. The long-term, unintended consequences of regime change and the question of whether we are arming people today who will shoot us tomorrow do not seem to have left much of an impression.