In Syria, the Middle Course Is Our Worst Possible Option

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In the LA Times today, Ken Dilanian writes that plenty of foreign policy experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of lobbing a few cruise missiles against Syria:

Punitive strikes ineffective, even counterproductive, analysts say

In two major episodes in 1998, the U.S. government unleashed a combination of bombs and cruise missiles against its foes — Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. In a more distant third case, in 1986, the U.S. bombed Moammar Kadafi’s Libya.

The bombs and missiles mostly hit their targets, and the U.S. military at the time declared the attacks successful. But in the end, they achieved little. Two years after the U.S. bombed Tripoli, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 passengers and crew. Investigators later concluded that the U.S. attack was a primary motive for Kadafi to support the Lockerbie bombing. Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Hussein kicked out international weapons inspectors and survived despite sanctions until a U.S.-led invasion deposed him in 2003.

….“If the U.S. does something and Assad is left standing at the end of it without having suffered real serious, painful enough damage, the U.S. looks weak and foolish,” said Eliot Cohen, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a former State Department official in the Bush administration, who has long been skeptical about reliance on air power.

This is the fundamental problem. All the evidence suggests that Obama is considering the worst possible option in Syria: a very limited air campaign with no real goal and no real chance of influencing the course of the war. You can make a defensible argument for staying out of the fight entirely, and you can make a defensible argument for a large-scale action that actually accomplishes something (wiping out Assad’s air force, for example), but what’s the argument for the middle course? I simply don’t see one. It’s the act of a president who’s under pressure to “do something” from the know-nothings and settles on a bit of fireworks to buy them off and show that he has indeed done something. But it’s useless. The strike itself won’t damage Assad much and it won’t satisfy the yahoos, who will continue to bray for ever more escalation.

If Obama wants to intervene in Syria, then he needs to make the case that we should intervene in Syria. But if he does, I hope he listens to this short video first:

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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