Syria: Is a ‘shot across the bow’ enough?
The U.S. response to Bashar al-Assad's use of sarin gas must be painful enough to serve as a true deterrent.
If President Obama merely wants to send a message to Syria’s murderous dictator, Bashar al-Assad, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post,he should text him. “You might incur a roaming charge, but it’s still cheaper than a three-day, highly telegraphed, perfectly useless demonstration strike.” One year after he declared a red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, our dithering president now has asked Congress for permission to send “a shot across the bow” of Assad’s regime—probably a Tomahawk missile strike on military buildings in Damascus that his henchmen fled a week ago. But you don’t order the U.S. military into action for “demonstration purposes.” Bill Clinton proved that in 1998, when he fired cruise missiles at mostly empty al Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, missing Osama bin Laden. Clinton’s “terminal unseriousness” was revealed, and al Qaida responded by bombing the USS Cole in 2000 and staging the 9/11 attacks a year later. If we are to attack Syria, we must do so with determination and “strategic purpose”—destroying Assad’s air force, fatally weakening his regime, and altering the course of Syria’s civil war.
We were serious about “regime change” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times,and how did that work out? The U.S. cannot impose order on Syria’s chaos by bombing it, even for a prolonged period. But I think Obama is right: We can’t ignore Assad’s barbarous use of sarin gas to kill more than 1,400 civilians. The world has banned the use of these weapons in warfare since 1925, and “there has to be a price for crossing lines.” So we must punish Assad in a measured fashion, to alert other dictators and hostile regimes that “they can only push so far before American military power pushes back.” We can’t fix Syria, said William Saletan in Slate.com, but completely ignoring it is not an option. Assad’s use of chemical weapons threatens the norms of civilization, and “we have to make him suffer.”
“So the U.S. launches a military strike. Then what?” said Robin Wright in the Los Angeles Times. Washington may call its strikes “limited,” but Syria and its allies in Hezbollah will see them as an act of war. They may respond with terrorist attacks on American interests or on U.S. soil, and with revenge attacks on Israeli targets. Do we then respond with another attack of our own, and become more deeply enmeshed? And what if we weaken Assad enough that he falls? said Daniel Byman in ForeignPolicy.com. “Jihadists are running amok in Syria,” and in a power vacuum, radicals would control much of the country. The ensuing sectarian struggle would result in widespread slaughter. Unless the U.S. is ready to assume responsibility for a post-Assad Syria, “then staying out altogether might be the best option.”
That kind of thinking is the result of “the Iraq syndrome,” said William Galston in The Wall Street Journal. Americans are understandably war weary, and would rather just give up on the entire Arab world. But as Secretary of State John Kerry told the nation last week, “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.” Like it or not, the U.S. remains “the guarantor of the global order.” Assad has committed what Kerry correctly called “a crime against humanity,” and the U.S. must make an emphatic response painful enough to serve as a true deterrent. “If we don’t, no one else will.”