Obama has gotten himself into a mighty pickle – he foolishly issued an ultimatum, and now there’s some pressure to go through with it. In my estimation, bombing Syria at this point would be by far the greatest international relations blunder of his presidency thus far. There are three basic reasons to do it, and all three fall far short of justifying action.
The first is some kind of ideological impulse – the stated desire to ‘send a message’ about chemical weapons, or to somehow help the Syrian people. Even if Assad used chemical weapons (an unproven charge), chemical weapons have been used with surprising frequency, especially in the Middle East, and this ‘message’ serves basically no purpose. With the advancements in high explosives, ‘chemical weapons’ are simply not a game changer, and to treat them as a hair-trigger for war is unjustified. Further, there is no evidence that any kind of US action in Syria will bring this conflict to an earlier end.
There’s the argument that we should do it because our three closest allies in the region, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, all want to see action. None of their interests, however, are threatened – Israel merely wants to see a rival weakened, and the Sunni populism that seems to be driving Turkey and that they would like to see extended into Syria is no necessarily in our best interests. The Saudis want to eliminate an Iranian ally and increase Sunni power, but again its unclear that this is really in the US interest.
Finally, there’s the straight up Geo-Political argument – Assad is an ally of Russia, China, and Iran, and thus to weaken those nations, we need to eliminate Assad. This seems to be the game many within the US foreign policy apparatus are playing, but I think they are playing it poorly. A few Tomahawk missiles are not going to depose Assad; indeed, it seems his position is largely unassailable without large-scale intervention. As we have no allies in Syria who can be relied upon to take over and maintain something like control of the country, the best-case scenario is chaos, and it’s certainly not worth spending money and credibility, and inevitably killing Syrian civilians, on an attack that AT BEST creates chaos in Syria.
Tester, Daines, and Baucus ought to emphatically oppose this action. It’s not as huge of a blunder as Bush’s invasion of Iraq or as ethically unjustified Clinton’s ‘Desert Fox’ action, but it’s not going to accomplish anything of value and will be risking quite a bit. A firmly opposed congress is perhaps the only way the administration can back out of this ill-considered action while saving face.