A conservative case against war in Syria

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns, Issue Watch, War

Published on August 30, 2013

A guest post by Brady Cremeens

Obama-16As Washington slouches toward war, the prevailing elite opinion seems to be that we have to go to war in Syria to find out what to do about Syria.

President Obama, having erased from memory his formerly staunch adherence to constitutional limits on war powers back when he was a senator Obama and a Republican was president, finds himself plenty delighted to discover gray areas he once proclaimed couldn’t be found.

“The President does not have the power under the Constitution to authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation” was the current Commander-in-Chief’s stern rebuke of the previous Commander-in-Chief, who was at that point mulling a strike on Iran to wipe out its uranium-enrichment facilities.

Then-Senator and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden agreed, even threatening a move to impeach if Bush bombed Iran without congressional approval.

Now President Obama seems to have no such qualms about engaging in Syria sans congressional permission. The obviously typical yet vexing hypocrisy aside, the President and his administration are in quite a predicament here, a dire state of affairs with major domestic and foreign political implications at stake.

Popular support for intervening in Syria is non-existent at 9% (significantly lower than the 76% majority who supported invading Iraq in 2003), and support doesn’t increase when specific options – such as aiding the jihadist rebels – are offered. Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s close ties with Russia and Iran, weapons of mass destruction, and alliance with terrorists from Hezbollah are cause enough to warrant a United States’ national interest. Add to the mix Syria’s close proximity to Jerusalem and America at least retains some vague interest in the region.

One of Thomas Sowell’s renowned axioms expounds that in economics there are no solutions, only trade-offs. The same goes for foreign policy — and the main problem with a Syria invasion is that there are no good trade-offs. Syria’s rebels are nearly as unappealing and appalling as the tyrant they’re attempting to overthrow, and not fit to govern should their rebellion conclude in success.

Unfortunately, myriad innocent lives have been lost in the fight. Assad is accused of gassing and starving his own people in an attempt to squelch the rebellion, and by most counts more than 100,000 non-combatant Syrians have been slaughtered between his own totalitarian rule and the uprising it has spawned.

All of this unquestionably justifies a U.S. intervention in Syria, morally and geopolitically. But to what end and by what means? There’s some national interest here somewhere, but it isn’t at all clear what outcome would best serve it or whether our involvement would advance it.

Without some blueprint for a plausible net benefit before sending bombs, troops, or both into Syria, America should stay out. The Obama administration’s talk of a “shot across the bow” is just irresponsible. How are our interests best served by shaking things up without a firm hold on the outcome?

You can have great compassion for the unjust loss of guiltless human beings, but war requires a plan to improve their lot. Bush’s Iraq was demonstrably better off for his actions there, whether or not this trade-off was worth the pain and expense. The establishment of free elections enabled Iraq to become, arguably, the most stable Arab nation for the better part of the past decade. The feasibility of improving the situation in war-torn Syria, whose population is two-thirds that of Iraq, is not nearly so obvious, even if the morality and compassion arguments for intervention seem compelling. There’s a stark difference between a justifiable war and a wise war, and it’s not an easy line to toe.

If we are able to make positive net progress in Syria, I think we’re morally obligated to do so. But that “if” is a hefty one.

One need not be an isolationist or even a non-interventionist to oppose military action in Syria. Doubting the net benefits for Syrian citizens and Middle East stability are motive enough. If there’s a plan to bring enduring peace and liberty to Syria, Obama should lobby for congressional approval and proceed, but so far none exists.