War opponents have another simple fact: There is no alternative to Assad. The insurgency is dominated by Islamist radicals. It seems like our best post-Assad scenario looks depressingly similar to post-Soviet Afghanistan.
War opponents have public opinion on our side, which is always a nice place to be.
War opponents don't have to contend with "allies" like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Having them agree with anything you support is always depressing.
And war opponents don't have to deal with arguments like this one, from the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof:
So far, we’ve tried peaceful acquiescence, and it hasn’t worked very well. The longer the war drags on in Syria, the more Al Qaeda elements gain strength, the more Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized, and the more people die.The administration has gone to great lengths to stress just how limited air strikes will be, and to great pain to reiterate that regime destabilization is not the goal. So I'm not sure where Kristoff gets the idea that such attacks will have any effect on the growing influence of Islamists in the region. But let's say that by some miracle, the air strikes do weaken the Assad government, it is the "Al Qaeda elements" that stand most to gain, as they are be best placed to pick up the pieces.
Lebanon and Jordan both oppose American intervention in Syria. It's adorable for war supporters like Kristof to decide what's best for other countries, but there's no reason to provide anyone else "help" that they don't want. And finally, does anyone really think that killing a few Syrians will mean fewer people will die? Assad has proven that he doesn't give two shits about his people, and will go to great and creative lengths to kill them. He knows that there are only three ways this ends: 1) he wins, 2) he ends up strung up on a Damascus lamppost, or 3) he ends up incarcerated at the Hague. Guess which option he'll do everything to achieve? A few dead government soldiers and maybe a plane or three is a small price to pay for what is, for him, a battle for his survival.
More Kristoff below the fold.
[H]ow is being “pro-peace” in this case much different in effect from being “pro-Assad” and resigning oneself to the continued slaughter of civilians?Unless Kristoff is advocating boots on the ground and regime change, neither of which are currently on the table, then his argument is nonsense. Again, war supporters can't get over the hump of how lobbing a few missiles and dropping a few bombs will fix the situation. Pounding on the table and screaming, "we must DO SOMETHING!" is not a strategy. Sometimes, there is nothing one can do without risking all. And there's no reason for the United States to risk all on Syria.
To me, the central question isn’t, “What are the risks of cruise missile strikes on Syria?” I grant that those risks are considerable, from errant missiles to Hezbollah retaliation. It’s this: “Are the risks greater if we launch missiles, or if we continue to sit on our hands?”There are no risks to American interests if we sit on our hands. So we act, accomplish nothing, and face risks, or we do nothing, accomplish the same nothing, and avoid risks. That's the cold calculation.
Let’s be humble enough to acknowledge that we can’t be sure of the answer and that Syria will be bloody whatever we do. We Americans are often so self-absorbed as to think that what happens in Syria depends on us; in fact, it overwhelmingly depends on Syrians.Great! So if doing nothing will lead to bloodshed, and doing something leads to the same bloodshed, and the solution in Syria depends on Syrians ... why are we having this conversation?
Yet on balance, while I applaud the general reluctance to reach for the military toolbox, it seems to me that, in this case, the humanitarian and strategic risks of inaction are greater. We’re on a trajectory that leads to accelerating casualties, increasing regional instability, growing strength of Al Qaeda forces, and more chemical weapons usage.Ah, we're back to this. Now how will bombings reduce casulaties, halt the growing influence of Al Qaeda, bring about greater regional stability (in a region that is largely opposed to US involvement), and stop the use of chemical weapons? Faith. That's how. It just will.
In Syria, it seems to me that cruise missile strikes might make a modest difference, by deterring further deployment of chemical weapons. Sarin nerve gas is of such limited usefulness to the Syrian army that it has taken two years to use it in a major way, and it’s plausible that we can deter Syria’s generals from employing it again if the price is high.See? Faith. Faith that low-impact cruise missiles (each warhead packs less punch than a 1,000 lb bomb) will scare anyone into using less efficient methods of killing. Because, you know, killing 100,000 with bullets, mortars, and bombs is okay. Killing them with gas is beyond the pale.
The Syrian government has also lately had the upper hand in fighting, and airstrikes might make it more willing to negotiate toward a peace deal to end the war. I wouldn’t bet on it, but, in Bosnia, airstrikes helped lead to the Dayton peace accord.More faith. Faith that a limited (the administration's word, and they've stressed and re-stressed it) operation will have the same kind of effect that a months-long sustained campaign did.
Missile strikes on Assad’s military airports might also degrade his ability to slaughter civilians. With fewer fighter aircraft, he may be less able to drop a napalm-like substance on a school, as his forces apparently did in Aleppo last month.Runways can be rebuilt in hours. Aircraft are dispersed or in hardened bunkers immune to cruise missiles. So unless we start enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (something I might actually support, by the way, if it came with international backing), this is mostly a pipe dream. Not to mention, Assad doesn't lack the means to slaughter his civilians. But degrading his air force? If accomplished, it's true. It could very well shift the balance of power back on the side of the rebels. And that means we'd start planning today on what to do about whatever Talibanesque government eventually took up shop in Damascus.