What Would Attacking Syria Accomplish?

by Patrick Appel

Obama claims that he hasn’t made a decision regarding Syria, but he emphasizes that “the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place”:

Fisher thinks that this is the primary rationale for using force:

The U.S. decision to move toward possible strikes appears, rightly or wrongly, wisely or unwisely, to be all about reinforcing international norms. It’s not about us; it’s not about “because Obama said so.” It’s about “because international norms say so.”

Alex Massie wants to know exactly what we are trying to achieve:

We are clear that we do not wish to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. So we do not think his use of chemical weapons is that big a deal. Certainly not a big enough deal to make the case for regime change.

The plan, in as much as there is one, seems to be to put him in detention rather than expel him. But to what end? Will bombing Syria persuade Assad to modify his behaviour? Is our objective to make him offer the rebels a “fairer fight”?

… How, having intervened once, can the United States and its allies walk away? Shoving Assad onto the naughty step seems an insufficient response to his misdeeds. If the aim is simply to persuade Assad that any further use of chemical weapons will bring additional consequences it might be wise to consider what those consequences might be.

Marc Lynch likewise worries that intervention will lead to more intervention:

[T]he administration’s loud protestations of limited aims and actions are only partially reassuring. Much the same language was used at the outset of the Libya campaign. Everybody knows that it will be excruciatingly difficult for Obama to hold the line at punitive bombing after those strikes inevitably fail to end the war, Assad remains publicly defiant, the Geneva 2 diplomatic process officially dies, and U.S. allies and Syrian insurgents grumble loudly about the strike’s inadequacy. Once the psychological and political barrier to intervention has been shattered, the demands for escalation and victory will become that much harder to resist. And what happens when Assad launches his next deadly sarin attack — or just massacres a lot of Syrians by non-chemical means? This too Obama clearly knows. But that knowledge may still not be enough to save him.