Max Boot is annoyed that the U.S. isn’t meddling even more in Syria:
Suffice it to say, if the president were remotely interested in a more active American role, legal opinions could easily be ginned up to provide ample justification for such a policy [bold mine-DL]. And if the U.S. were serious about doing something, then NATO could very well be brought along [bold mine-DL]. These are not serious obstacles to action—but rather excuses for inaction.
Of course, we know that the Obama administration is capable of “ginning up” incredible legal opinions to justify what it does under U.S. law, which was on full display two years ago when Harold Koh was telling Congress that an air war against Libya didn’t amount to “hostilities” because there was not much chance that the regime’s forces could strike at Americans involved in the war. Even though the war couldn’t have happened without U.S. military support and involvement, it supposedly didn’t count as “hostilities” because, according to the administration, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.” It’s also true that Clinton simply ignored U.S. and international law and started unnecessary wars to intervene in another country’s internal conflict. These are examples of serious abuses of executive power, which doesn’t bother Boot. What matters to him here is that the president could run roughshod over the law, which Boot clearly wants him to do. Boot knows that no one would do anything about it, and what irritate him is that so far Obama hasn’t done it in this case. There clearly are legal obstacles to a U.S. war in Syria. What bothers Boot is that the president isn’t plowing through them for the sake of starting another war.
The remark about NATO being “brought along” is a bit odd, since it ignores how unwilling most NATO members have been to contribute to “out of area” operations in the last decade, and it overlooks how sick most European governments are of supporting U.S. and U.K.-led wars. Most of NATO didn’t participate in the Libyan war, and most members consented to make it a NATO mission only grudgingly. There will likely be much less support for doing te same thing in Syria. There is even less support within NATO for involving the alliance in Syria is what would be yet another military intervention that has nothing to do with allied security. If NATO members were looking for an opportunity to get into a Syrian war, they could have turned border incidents between Syria and Turkey into a (very flimsy) excuse to start bombing, but clearly there was no more interest from the allies in this than there was from Washington. Libya showed the limits of what the rest of NATO could and would do in a war of choice. All of this suggests that NATO is getting harder and harder to “bring along” to do anything more than agree to let some of the most powerful members wage wars in NATO’s name, and many of the alliance’s members may not be willing to go even that far anymore. NATO opposition may be more of a real obstacle this time than Boot imagines.
If Obama isn’t having administration lawyers concoct fabulous lies to justify an unnecessary war, that is welcome news. If he isn’t dragging NATO into a second unnecessary war in three years, that is something that sane Americans, Europeans, and Canadians should welcome. That Boot considers them to be reasons to complain tells us all that we need to know about the value of his policy recommendations.