No roads to Damascus

“What is the story in Syria?” asks Warren Meyer:

We kill a couple hundred folks with cruise missiles to avenge a few dozen folks killed with poison gasses and, what? Do the citizens of Syria really need yet another foreign power lobbing explosives into their country? The only argument I hear is that Assad crossed a line and now we have to show him what for. But this sounds like an 18th century aristocrat vowing to defend his honor after an insult. It’s sort of emotionally satisfying — take that, asshole! — but where does it get us except further mired in yet another foreign conflict we have no hope of making better? We look back and criticize the major powers in 1914 for getting involved in the constant squabbles in the Balkans but do the same thing in the Middle East, the 21st century’s Balkans.

Short answer: Because Russia. And were there any other quasi-superpowers [e.g. China] intruding, because them too; we have to protect our interests, and one of these days when there’s nothing else on the schedule, we’ll figure out just what those interests are.

This is not to say that we did a Bad Thing: dropping the occasional MOAB appeals to my sense of noblesse oblige. But if we’re going to pretend that there’s a reason we did it other than because we could — “Well, he needed killing,” said the Texas lawman of legend — the least we can do is go through the motions of announcing a plan, so everyone will have a chance to say “I told you so” when that plan, as it must, goes awry.


  1. McG »

    17 April 2017 · 9:10 pm

    There’s something to be said for acknowledging when you’ve screwed up — as we did by letting Obama piddle and simper on the world stage for most of a decade. There’s even more to be said for trying to clean up the mess even though it was some other guy who actually made it.

    The simplest Realpolitik explanation of our interests is, in fact, keeping Russia and/or China and/or whomever else from being able to tell us what our interests will be. Even if the world were a civil society like your hometown or mine, and the rival powers were merely influential neighbors, that would be valid.

  2. Francis W. Porretto »

    18 April 2017 · 4:47 am

    Sigh. It’s U.S. policy to punish the use of WMDs, and has been for decades! You can argue with the policy, or the details of a particular instantiation of the policy, but it’s incontrovertible that President Trump merely acted in accordance with it.

    It’s become all too easy to produce a WMD. It’s getting easier to develop or acquire a delivery system for it. These hellish weapons are now within the reach of many small states — perhaps all of them. Ask yourself whether it would be wise to tolerate an international order that accepts the use of WMDs, in place of the current one in which a superpower has promised to punish any such decision.

  3. Holly H »

    18 April 2017 · 8:43 am

    What bothers me is the mercurial nature of his decisions. One minute we are told that we’re leaving Syria alone, and the next minute, in an emotional moment, Trump allows a video of suffering children to change his mind. This is a time for thoughtful and careful decisions, not “Oh what the hell, let’s bomb them” snap-judgments.

  4. fillyjonk »

    18 April 2017 · 9:44 am

    FWIW, I don’t think there’s a good solution to the issue. I’m not even sure there’s a less-bad solution.

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