Obama has put the ball in Congress’s court, and I kind of hope that the proposition fails, and he abides by the result. There’s always a big ballyhoo about how Congress doesn’t declare war any more, and the truth is that it doesn’t because it doesn’t want the responsibility. If things go south in Syria– whether we intervene or not– let Congress share the blame.
The Arab Spring was a rare unexpected thing in the world– a popular multi-country uprising against dictatorship in a region which seemed, for various tawdry reasons, immune to the global democratizing trend. It’s pretty amazing that Syrians were bold enough not just to demonstrate but to fight, and I have zero sympathy for Assad. And there’s no question that he’s created immense misery waging war against his own people.
The question, though, is whether US intervention would do good. It sure seems like we ought to be able to stop the bad guys, but look at our experience in the region– Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia. All pretty much just multiplied the suffering, failed to solve internal conflicts, and led Americans to wash their hands of the thing without making any permanent improvements. Even if our intentions are good, we are just not good at this.
You can point to Kuwait, Serbia, and Libya as partial successes– kind of. They were limited in scope, at least. But I really hope that Obama isn’t looking at his own intervention in Libya as a model. Syria has three times the population, it’s far more divided and complicated, the rebels already include some serious bad guys, and the goals are far from clear. Plus it’s far different when we were more or less invited to help by the neighbors, vs. going it alone. Anyway, Libya is actually still pretty out of control, and the post-Assad situation is likely to be even messier.
I read an interview with McCain today, showing he hasn’t lost his ability to expound contradictory policies. He thinks Obama has been too weak– but he vows to impeach him if he sends troops to Syria. Um, you can’t throw your weight around while also demanding not to get hurt. McCain’s declarations are a formula for large-scale failure.
On a humanitarian level, it’s painful to watch Assad going to war on his people. But there’s two things to keep in mind. One, bombing a country is not exactly a humanitarian intervention– on the contrary, it’s going to kill thousands of people and invite retribution. And two, the nice thing about not intervening is that it’s not us causing the problem.
I guess there is some chance that a bombing campaign will make Assad want to negotiate, or will impel some underlings to depose him. But the chances seem low, and at this point it seems far too late to put the battle-genie back in the bottle. There’s likely to be a low- or high-level civil war going on in Syria for several years, and very little interest in any sort of negotiated solution.