Syria FAQ: Is Striking Syria in America’s Strategic Interests?
Kim Holmes /
Is Obama’s plan to strike Syria in America’s strategic interests? Is it true that unless we attack Syria, chemical weapons could somehow be used against us or our allies? Is it true that America’s credibility really is at stake? And will the planned strike measurably change the balance of power in the conflict, as required by the proposed congressional resolution?
Let’s take these claims one at a time.
Will Assad’s chemical weapons likely be used against us if we don’t strike?
As horrible as their use has been against the Syrian people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to use them against us or anyone other than his own people unless we escalate the conflict. He’s already got his hands full. He could very well use chemical weapons again against his own people, but he has shown no sign in the past of sharing them with others, including outside terrorist groups.
What about U.S. credibility? Proponents argue it will be undermined unless we strike.
I’m afraid that argument has already been lost. President Obama has been so adamant about the limited nature of the attack on Syria that no one reasonably expects him to escalate if Assad uses chemical weapons again. So the question arises: What kind of military intervention exactly would we be signaling is on the table? The Administration has been crystal clear that it does not want to use force in a large way. Perhaps supporters of a strike wished it were otherwise, but it makes no sense to pretend as if Senator John McCain (R-AZ) were making strategic decisions instead of Barack Obama.
Iran already knows Obama doesn’t want to escalate. A strategically meaningless strike would not deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons any more than sanctions have. Not only that, the Iranians already know that Obama would be no more enthusiastic about using force against them in the future than he has been against Syria. The cat’s already out of the bag on that one. If anything, a meaningless pinprick strike will be seen as yet another gesture of weakness.
What about changing the balance of power in the Syrian civil war? Will a limited strike make a difference?
The strange thing about this argument is that it completely ignores the fact that the Obama Administration has had ample opportunity to aid the rebels with arms but chose to delay as much as possible. Engaging moderate rebels a couple of years ago and arming them may have made a difference. But now it’s too little too late. Radical Islamist groups are in contention to replace Assad, and a future civil war may emerge between them and anti-Islamist groups. What do we do then?
Again, the only use of force that could change the balance of power is precisely what Obama says he will not do. It is theoretically possible that a military strike could destroy Assad’s chemical weapons, but that would involve precisely the kind of ground-force intervention Obama has completely foresworn. In London, Secretary of State John Kerry went so far as to characterize the attack as “unbelievably small.” How could that affect the outcome of the war?
Putting aside for a moment whether a change could actually benefit the Islamist forces, the real problem is this: The promise of gain from such a strike is too small to outweigh the risks involved. We could spark a wider war rather than contain it. Iran could unleash Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Iranians could start a terrorist campaign against us or our allies. Assad may actually use chemical weapons again precisely to call Obama’s bluff. It is bad enough they’ve been used already. It would be an outright tragedy if, because of Obama’s miscalculation, the U.S. gave Assad yet another reason to use them.
It is not in America’s strategic interests to use force against Syria as outlined by President Obama. It does not meet the most basic criteria for defending our security and achieving military success.