The case against a U.S. attack on Syria

President Obama wants Congress to approve a limited attack on Syria, as punishment for using nerve gas against civilians.  He promised he does not plan a full-scale invasion of Syria.  Here’s why I think Congress should not grant approval.

Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad

1.  An attack on Syria will not benefit the people of Syria nor will it benefit the people of the United States.

2.  We don’t know for sure whether President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did order nerve gas attacks on Syria.

3.  Assuming that he is guilty, a limited attack on Syria will result in dead Syrians and possibly some damage to the government’s military power, but it will not hurt President Assad personally.  An attack would likely strengthen his standing with the Syrian people and with Arab people generally.

4.  The rationale for the attack is to maintain the credibility of American power.  But an ineffective attack, which this is almost certain to be, will undermine credibility, and create a demand for further and more extensive action.  As in Vietnam, the U.S. government would be in the position of a gambler doubling his bets rather than cutting his losses.

5.  There are other ways to bring war criminals to justice than by bombing.  Assuming there is proof of Assad’s guilt, the U.S. could bring charges against Assad to an international court.  This would provide a basis, and a duty, for the international community to act.

6.  There are other ways to help poison gas victims than by bombing.   Our government could provide kits for sair gas treatment to whoever wants them.  The side that would be helped the most would be the side not using gas.

7.  Syria, unlike Iraq and Libya, has powerful allies, including Russia.  There is a danger that Russia will enter a U.S.-Syrian conflict, just as China entered the Korean War.   There is a danger of a wider conflict involving the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Sunni Arab militants on the one hand, and Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite Arab militants on the other hand.

8.  An attack on Syria, like the invasion of Iraq and the attack on Libya, provides one more incentive for the government of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and delivery system as a deterrent against attack.

LINKS

On Syria by SF writer Charles Stross, a good analysis of the Syrian situation followed by a constructive suggestion for helping poison gas victims.

US: the indispensible (bombing) nation, a good analysis by Pepe Escobar of Asia Times.

Land Destroyer: Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack, an investigative report by Yahya Ababdeh and Dale Gavlak for Mint Press News.

Putin’s bid to launch peace doves over Syria, an analysis of Russian policy by M.K. Bhadrakumar for the Indian Punchline blog.

The Military As Abusive Parent: the View Toward Syria From an Exhausted Army, a letter from an Army wife to James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly.

Obama, Congress and Syria by Glenn Greenwald, about how Obama sees the vote by Congress as purely advisory and not as a constraint on his power.

Point-by-Point Rebuttal of U.S. Case for War in Syria by Barry Ritholtz [added 9/4/23].

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9 Responses to “The case against a U.S. attack on Syria”

  1. mac Says:

    Splendid. Very good case – full support from here!

    Like

  2. Robert Nielsen Says:

    It is true that a limited attack will have only a limited effect. It probably won’t dislodge him and might even strengthen him. That’s why I would support a full scale intervention.

    It is clear that the best way to help the people of Syria is for the war to end. For the last 2 years we have tried ignoring it in the hope it will go away. However, the problem has only gotten worse and the death toll has risen higher.

    The numbers of refugees is constantly rising into a crisis point. It is time to address the problem at the source and stop Assad. Enough people have died.

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    • philebersole Says:

      What is the plan if Russia intervenes to support Assad? U.S. and Russian troops have never fought, except briefly in 1920 when the United States participated in the anti-Bolshevik intervention in Siberia. Should the United States risk armed conflict with the only country that has sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy it?

      One good thing that President Obama did during his first term was to improve relations with President Putin and the Russian Federation. This improved working relationship is being jeopardized as a result of the Snowden affair and now this.

      What is the post-Assad plan? I don’t think Syria’s armed factions will settle down and live in peace just because a particular individual is no longer on the scene. Do you? If the United States occupies a country, I don’t see how we can escape responsibility for governing it — and I don’t think Syrians want to be ruled by Americans.

      Robert, what do you think should be the responsibility of your own country? Ireland historically has been neutral. Should Ireland provide a small number of troops to show support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq?

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      • Robert Nielsen Says:

        Russia won’t intervene. Even during the Cold War when Russian and America were sworn enemies, they never directly fought each other. Now relations have improved so it definitely won’t happen. Russia will certainly try to block intervention but they have nothing to gain from sending troops.

        Post intervention is always messy as no uprising has ever lead to a clear leader or peaceful set up initially. Even in Ireland it took 10-15 years before democratic institutions were properly established and we had a relatively united uprising. To expect a clear alternative exist is unrealistic, uncertainty is an inevitable part of the picture.

        My ideal scenario would be a foreign invasion followed by a relatively rapid withdrawal similar to say the US occupation of France after WW2.

        Ireland has never gone to war since independence and neutrality is a tradition that is unlikely to change. Plus our army is tiny. However, as we speak Irish troops are being sent to the Golan Heights in Syria as part of a UN peacekeeping mission

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      • philebersole Says:

        Robert, you’re probably right about direct Russian intervention. My analogy with the Korean Conflict was a bad one. A closer analogy would the Vietnam Conflict, when the old Soviet Union was arming North Vietnam and the United States was bombing the country.

        Then again, in 1914, nobody expected Russia to intervene to product Serbia against Austria. Neither you nor I can predict the result of going to war, any more than could the diplomats and statesmen of Europe on the eve of World War One.

        If the United States takes action that results in the death of Russians or the destruction of a Russian client state, I believe they will find ways to retaliate, if not in Syria by some other means. I don’t want a renewed global duel with the only nation which has sufficient nuclear weapons and missile to destroy my nation—not over a situation as murky as this.

        I don’t think the liberation of France is a good comparison for what you propose. The invasion of Germany is more like it.

        I don’t think Ireland would have benefited if some foreign army had invaded to liberate the Irish from the British. At least Ireland didn’t have foreign powers intervening in its internal conflicts and sending arms to both sides.

        I think Ireland’s role in providing troops for peacekeeping missions is admirable. I hope the time comes when there is a role for peacekeeping forces in Syria.

        I call your attention to the excellent analysis by Barry Ritholtz, which I have added to my links menu.

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  3. whungerford Says:

    I can’t help but note that what is said about Syria would apply as well to Iran. I like the arguments against war, it is hard to argue for war although there is a time for that, I like the suggestions for a non-military response, I think Congress should approve President Obama’s request in some form — those who cry for peace when there is no peace may be hurting their cause.

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