The Syria Decision

Mark Thiessen writes,

These are the isolationist Republicans (whom McCain famously dismissed as “wacko birds”) — folks like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — who oppose Obama’s plan because it is too vigorous. They don’t support even a limited strike on Syria because they don’t want America involved in the conflict — period.

To me, this seems to be the only sensible position. Acts of war are risky. They have big downsides. Sometimes, the upside compensates. Or sometimes there is no riskless alternative. But this looks like writing an at-the-money option, where you have nothing but down side and not much up side.

13 thoughts on “The Syria Decision

  1. My impression is not that they (Rand & Cruz) are “isolationist” in the 1930s meaning of the term. Rand has explained that he wants a strong U.S. military. Rather, that they decline the opportunity to involve the U.S. in a religious & wholly civil war being waged by parties, each of whose interests are inimical to those of the U.S.

    An unprovoked attack on Syria, which of course it would be, as it would be done absent imminent threat by Syria to the U.S., and without the support and resolution/authorization of the U.N. or other appropriate body, is justifiable how? If Syria’s neighbor states refuse to take direct action themselves, and neither the U.N. nor the American public support this action, then WTF is Obama doing pursuing it? It is not, as some argue, the credibility of the U.S. that is jeopardized by inaction, the credibility of the U.S. is already diminished to almost nothing by the incoherent, principle-less, and ad hoc foreign policy of this administration. Rather, Obama wants to lead the U.S. into a military attack on a sovereign nation because he made a stupid statement about a red line, and his ego and arrogance will not permit him to acknowledge his mistake.

    This is most emphatically not a basis for the U.S. to make war on another country where our enemies are in the process of attriting themselves. That is not isolationism; that is common sense.

  2. This seems like a good time to link to Bryan Caplan’s “The Common-Sense Case for Pacifism.” (By “pacifism” he means he favors peace over war, not that he is opposed to violence in all circumstances.) Summary of his points:

    1. The immediate costs of war are clearly awful.
    2. The long-run benefits of war are highly uncertain.
    3. For a war to be morally justified, its long-run benefits have to be substantially larger than its short-run costs.

  3. Lawfare discusses the President’s speech of yesterday w/r/t the legality of Obama taking the U.S. unilaterally to war against Syria (for that, in fact, is what the U.S. would be doing.) Here, it mentions one factor that I had not thought of: the stance of the military in following an order of the Commander in Chief that is possibly not in compliance with national and/or international law.
    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2013/09/marty-lederman-on-the-presidents-syria-press-conference-and-a-brief-response/

    Excerpt: “Second, Marty’s interpretation of the President’s remarks puts U.S. soldiers carrying out the President’s commands in an awkward position. Every U.S. soldier is taught the importance of complying with law, including international law, in every task he or she undertakes. They are also taught that dishonor or worse follows from violating this law. Many of the soldiers and all of the lawyers involved in the Syria planning will surely feel at least a little uneasy about a military action that the President acknowledges does not pass the test of international legality.

  4. It’s clear who’s pushing this, the neoconservatives, who see Syria as a test of their strength. If they can push this completely ridiculous attack through, they presume they will be able to push anything in the future through. Hopefully, the country is finally ready to shut them up and tell them to go away, as Jon Stewart did a couple days ago. :)

    • Ajay, your comment puzzles me. Distinguish, if you would be so kind, the relative effectiveness on President Obama’s decision to attack Syria of (i) the neoconservative push that you indicate as the primary (sole?) support for this “completely ridiculous attack” and (ii) Samatha Powers’s “responsibility to protect” faction that is promoting this Syrian action on humanitarian grounds.

      Which group do you believe might carry more weight with the President? Why?

        • Ms. Powers is our current U.N. Ambassador, having taken over that post after Rice went to national security advisor. (FWIW, Powers is also married to Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law prof, author, and a former White House admin of some kind.)

          Obama’s foreign policy team, that is, Kerry, Hagel, Powers, Rice, et al., were, according to reports, strongly encouraging Obama to start shooting off Tomahawks last week without seeking input from Congress. Obama’s sudden decision to obtain Congressional authorization was contrary to their expectations (again, according to reports.)

          This article is a bit more recent:

          “Rice and Power kept the lowest profiles of the new foreign policy team during the Syria debate, both choosing to make their only public comments on Twitter. But their 140-character statements backed up their reputations as supporters of intervention for humanitarian purposes.”

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/02/obama-foreign-policy_n_3856974.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

          If neocons were indeed encouraging intervention in Syria for years (I’m not familiar with neocon history nor personnel, so I’ll take your word for that), it seems that Obama successfully ignored them for at least the first five years of his presidency, so I would hesitate to grant them much influence, if any, now. I think it far more likely that Obama’s hand-picked foreign policy team would carry the day — which it seems to have done re: policy, notwithstanding its failure re: timing.

      • I wouldn’t read too much into all the “inside baseball” accounts of who’s pushing Obama on this, as those can be easily manufactured these days, ie Obama decides to do something and then they make up a backstory about how some group is pushing him to do it, to make him seem impartial. What we do know is that the most public, strident supporters of intervention in Syria have always been the neocons. They never met an intervention in the middle east that they weren’t for: the first Iraq war, they initiated and drove the second, and now want to get into Iran, Syria, the list goes on. Robert Novak reports his dismay in his autobiography that he was personally savaged- this is the Prince of Darkness we’re talking about!- by neocons like David Frum over his opposition to the first Iraq war. Whether or not the neocons have an inside line to the President, they have been pushing this agenda for years, if not decades, now and he knows that any intervention will be vociferously supported by them in the public debate. I would say this situation is far more influenced by them than some bleeding hearts in the White House who wouldn’t know the Constitution if you hit them over the head with it. ;)

        • ‘Course, au fond, I’m doubtful that Obama listens to anyone but his egotistical inner voice. :-)

  5. Please consider that the soon coming strike on Syria, is theSyria War of Isaiah 17:1-11, and that it will precede the Ezekiel 38-39 War, where war against Iran will be initiated; its as Robert Fisk relates in Common Dreams article Iran, Not Syria, Is the West’s Real Target.

    The Bible is clear that Syria’s capital Damascus will be utterly, absolutely, and totally destroyed, that is obliterated, per Isaiah 17. Whether this is done by the USA, UK, the EU, or Israel, the Bible does not specify, but it will happen.

  6. I find it quite entertaining that the only Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – Barack Obama – is the leading drum-beater for a military attack on Syria.

    I wonder how many other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are advocating war right now.