I support military intervention in Syria. But I also recognize the legitimate concerns about the efficacy of the proposed military strategy, and the uncertainty of what will happen after the 60- to 90-day time limit allowed by the Senate resolution. There are plenty of smart arguments against military intervention, like this crisply coherent stance from MSNBC's Chris Hayes.
Unfortunately, there are several ridiculous and brazenly disingenuous arguments coming from some anti-intervention corners, too, and they risk sullying the debate. Whether you are for or against intervention, it is in all of our interests to bury these arguments of mass distraction, and focus on the really hard questions, to best ensure we meet this historic moment. Let's get to work.
1. "Let Allah sort it out." - Sarah Palin
Setting aside for a moment the bizarre and offensive religious condescension and sense of the other built into this statement... perhaps Palin doesn't realize that Christians make up 10 percent of the Syrian population? They have largely been neutral in the civil war, but have been caught in the crossfire. One of the reasons why a negotiated power-sharing agreement is critical to achieve is so the many religious communities in Syria all will have representation in their government and protection against persecution.
2. "Your goal is not winning." - Sen. Rand Paul
Paul said this in response to Secretary of State's John Kerry emphasis that the plan is for a "limited" strike. It's fair game to question military tactics and strategy, but Paul is employing disingenuous logic.
If he is concerned that a limited strike falls short of "winning," the sincere and constructive response would be to define what he means by "winning" and propose a resolution that would back an open-ended military operation to achieve that goal.
The broader context of these arguments is the claim that President Obama cavalierly drew a "red line" a year ago, implicitly threatening military action if chemical weapons were used. Because of his sloppy rhetoric, he now feels he has no choice but to condemn us to quagmire.
But Obama made no "promise" of U.S.-led military action if chemical weapons were used. Yes, it was strongly suggested. But his rhetoric allowed for much wiggle room.
The exact words were: "A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation… We have put together a range of contingency plans."
That was not a promise for a specific course of action. There are other ways he could have "changed his calculus" if he thought that U.S.-led military action wouldn't work, such as increased arming of the opposition or pursuing U.N.-led action as he did with Libya. He also could have walked back his initial comments last year and claimed they were misinterpreted if he thought that he made an error.
It's nonsensical that Obama would deliberately take a course of action he thought was detrimental, to others and himself, solely because of one comment that was open to interpretation. People should just accept that Obama said what he meant and debate him on the merits of his proposed action.
4. "Our current president accuses Assad of using chemical weapons against a fraction of the civilians provably murdered with poison gas by Saddam Hussein. So why did Obama angrily denounce the military operation that removed Hussein?" — Ann Coulter
"Now, back in the early ’80s, we knew Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran and were likely to use them again. Not only did we not attack them we supported Iraq … remind us again why we have to do this?" — Jon Stewart
Coulter and Stewart both try to compare Syria today to Iraq of the 1980s. They come from opposite angles yet settle in the same place: Obama is a hypocrite.
Because of Iraq's use of chemical weapons before Obama's 30th birthday? Please.
Ms. Coulter, the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2002, and in turn Obama's position on the war, had nothing to do with Iraq's use of chemical weapons more than 20 years prior. The person in charge who ignored Hussein's chemical weapons use was Ronald Reagan, not Barack Obama.
Mr. Stewart, the fact that America under Reagan supported Iraq's use of chemical weapons says absolutely nothing about whether America under President Obama should try to stop Syria from using chemical weapons today.
Past inaction is not an argument for present inaction. "Never again" beats "Well, we didn't last time."
5. "Why was there no call for military response in April? Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals; the failure of ObamaCare enforcement; the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration or the upcoming debt limit vote?" — Rep. Joe Wilson
This conspiracy theory is particularly moronic because if President Obama was really that conniving, he could have easily declared in June — when the IRS and NSA "scandals" were at peak media frenzy — that we had sufficient evidence and launched a military strike without consulting Congress at all.
But the silly season of scandal is already behind Obama. If anyone should be worried about the debt limit vote, it's Speaker John Boehner, who fears a breach will lead to the loss of the House next year. Politically, Obama is actually throwing the Republicans a lifeline.
Beyond Wilson's specific charge, the whole notion of launching military strikes to "distract" from domestic political troubles — a perennial conspiracy — is always laughable for a simple reason: Wars don't always go well, and presidents know it. Vietnam ran Lyndon Johnson out of town. Korea sunk Harry Truman. Iraq nearly upended George W. Bush's re-election.
You don't "distract" from problems by taking on a massive set of new, far more difficult problems with an uncertain outcome.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- 7 language habits that reveal your age
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- The best online movies to watch this weekend
Subscribe to the Week