I haven’t posted anything about the situation in Syria, because–to be utterly candid–I’m conflicted about it. Not about Assad–he’s a vicious dictator–but about what America should or could do that wouldn’t simply make a horrible situation worse.
I don’t consider myself either a hawk or a dove; I opposed our intervention in Iraq, but not Afghanistan, because the situations were very different. Afghanistan had harbored and supported the people who attacked us. Iraq was an obvious war of choice, trumped up by people who quite clearly had no understanding of the complex political realities of the Middle East. Furthermore, we had international support for our response to Afghanistan, and a pathetic, trumped-up “Coalition of the Willing” for our aggression in Iraq.
Justified or not, neither war went well.
Now I am listening to the arguments for and against a “targeted” action against Syria. The President’s argument–Syria has defied international norms and inaction will send a message that such violations can continue with impunity–resonates with me. But so does the argument that another “go it alone” cowboy intervention in the world’s most dangerous region is likely to end badly, doing more harm than good.
Until I read this post by Andrew Sullivan, I thought I was the only person impatient with the self-righteous moralists on both ends of the political spectrum. On the Right, we have the American Exceptionalists who believe we should be the world’s policemen, not to mention the irony-challenged chickenhawks who pontificate about saving the lives of Muslims they routinely stereotype and discriminate against here at home; on the Left, we have the anti-imperialism scolds who loudly accuse anyone considering any intervention of any sort for any reason guilty of moral turpitude and/or commercial intent. To both camps, waging war or not is apparently a simple decision, to be made without any ambivalence or concern for the truly disastrous consequences that could flow from a wrong decision.
A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker made all of these points far more clearly than I can. (Actually, this article from the Onion did an even better job of laying out the unattractive options–and when the Onion is the voice of sanity, that sort of sums it all up.)
Whatever we do, act or refrain from acting, prudence requires that we think carefully about the pitfalls. What do we want to accomplish, what decisions and tactics are likely to achieve that goal, and at what cost–not just in human lives and dollars, but to America’s long-term international interests?
I’m all for realpolitik. I just don’t know what it looks like right now.