Intervene? Or End Syrian War?
Whether saber rattling or not, word is out that the White House is "rethinking its options" on intervening in the Syrian war.
The collapse of John Kerry's Geneva 2 talks between the rebels and regime, the lengthening casualty lists from barrel-bomb attacks, and a death toll approaching 150,000, are apparently causing second thoughts.
All the usual suspects are prodding Obama to plunge in, if not with troops, at least with a no-fly zone to prevent Bashar Assad from using his air power.
Our frustration is understandable. Yet it does not change the reality. This is not America's war. Never was. As Obama said, it is "somebody else's civil war."
Still, the case against intervention needs to be restated.
First and foremost, Obama has no authority to go to war in Syria, for Congress has never voted to authorize such a war.
An unprovoked attack on Syria would be an impeachable act.
Last August, the American people were almost unanimously opposed to intervention. The firestorm they created was why Congress ran away from the Obama-Kerry plan for missile strikes.
So if Obama has no authority to attack Syria, and America does not want a war, why, after Iraq and Afghanistan, would Obama divide his nation and plunge his country into that civil war?
What are the arguments for intervention? Same old, same old.
America has a moral obligation to end the barbarism. At the time of Rwanda we said, "Never again!" Yet it is happening again. And we have a "Responsibility to Protect" Syrians from a dictator slaughtering his own people.
But while what is happening in Syria is horrible, all Middle East ethnic-civil-sectarian wars tend to unfold this way.
And if there is a "moral" obligation to intervene, why does it not apply to Israel and Turkey, Syria's nearest neighbors? Why does that moral duty not apply to the European Union, upon whose doorstep Syria sits? Why is it America's moral obligation, 5,000 miles away?
It is not. The Turks, Israelis, EU and Gulf Arabs who hate Assad would simply like for us to come and fight their war for them.
The Washington Post says we must address not only the moral "nightmare," but also the "growing threat ... to vital U.S. interests."
Exactly what "vital interests" is the Post talking about? Syria has been ruled by the Assads for 40 years.
And how have our vital interests been imperiled?
And if our vital interests are imperiled, how much more so are those of Israel and Turkey? Yet neither has chosen to invest the blood of their sons in bringing Assad down.
If we have an enemy in this fight, it is al-Qaida, the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, all of which are terrorist and implacably anti-American.
And who is keeping these enemies of ours out of Damascus?
Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and our old friend Vladimir Putin.
And who has been supplying the terrorists? Our friends in the Gulf, with weapons funneled through Turkey, our NATO ally.
Have the interventionists who are beside themselves watching all these insurrections and wars breaking out thought through what is likely to happen if we intervene?
The Syrian war would become a more savage affair, as Assad would know he was now in a fight to the finish. As U.S. air power was committed to the defeat of Assad, his allies would likely provide more weapons for his defense. Casualties could soar and the probability of a wider war would increase geometrically.
Should Assad fall, his routed soldiers and Alawaites and Christians would face reprisals for which we would be morally responsible, as it was our intervention that brought this about. We might have to intervene with troops to stop a massacre by jihadists.
And if Assad fell, pro-Western rebels would likely have to fight the al-Qaida rebels for power. Syria could come apart, and we would own it.
Obama's frustration is understandable. He said two years ago Assad must go. Assad flipped him off. Obama said use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" which, if crossed, would bring serious consequences. Assad's troops apparently crossed that line.
What did we do? Worked with Russia to remove the weapons.
Washington is enraged that Putin continues to support Assad.
But Assad's regime is the recognized and legal government of Syria. Russia has a naval base in Latakia, is owed billions by Damascus, and has been Syria's ally for decades.
Why should Putin abandon Assad at our request?
What have we done for him lately? Besides send Billy Jean King to his Olympics? Why, Putin might ask, should he abandon his Syrian allies rather than us, the Turks, and Gulf Arabs abandoning ours?
There is a grave moral issue here — for us.
How, under just war theory, can we continue to sustain a conflict that is killing thousands every month with no end in sight? Are we not morally obliged to try to stop such a war?