Should the U.S. strike Syria over the use of chemical weapons?

Location of Syria within the Middle East.
Where Syria is located in the Middle East.

There is no good answer to this question, just various unpleasant ones.  By whatever standard the Syrian question is judged by, there is no overriding reason to become involved nor is there a similarly sufficient reason not to.  So, let’s look at the options:

1. Use cruise missiles and limited bombing strikes to damage and destroy the chemical weapons capability of the Assad government. This option is clean and simple, addressing the central violation of international norms cited as the reason for U.S. intervention -- using chemical weapons. However, in the context of past U.S. government statements, it appears inadequate. At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Assad had to leave power. A limited strike is incompatible with total objectives.  The Obama administration has stated that the intent is not to be a decisive part of the war. However, the U.S. cannot strike and somehow be perceived as an impartial party enforcing rules.

2. Mount a wider campaign of bombing similar to Libya in 2011 to provide a decisive boost to the rebels. The Obama administration has stated this is not its intent but in order to maintain U.S. credibility to our allies and reinforce other fronts such as denying nuclear capabilities to Iran, it may be necessary. Option #1 looks weak compared with statements and claims made by the Obama administration. Option #2 is out of step with public opinion but might be necessary to bring to an end a civil war that is embarrassing for the U.S. The downside here is that anti-American groups may seize control in Syria.

3. Do nothing. Much of the enthusiasm for intervening in Syria springs from a need to ‘do something.’ If we use military force but find little relevance to U.S. interests, it means we feel like we should get involved but we have a difficult time articulating a reason to do so. This translates into little public appetite for the intervention, especially considering the exhaustion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost is that we stand by the side and watch suffering continue as well as lowering our reputation in the eyes of allies and the world community. The benefit is that a continuing grind leaves all our rivals and enemies worse off, a cold-hearted calculation we are not used to making.

No good option, but a choice has to be made.


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