The Wall Street Journal‘s editors are disappointed that Romney didn’t call for direct U.S. intervention in Syria yesterday:
Yet Mr. Romney promised only to work “through our international partners” to arm the Syrian opposition, which is not much more than the Obama Administration is doing. Mr. Romney might have called for direct American arms supplies or a possible no-fly zone or humanitarian corridors. He wants to avoid any suggestion of overseas adventures, but here was an opportunity to strike a substantive contrast with Mr. Obama.
There’s just no pleasing some people. The position that Romney has taken on Syria is virtually identical to administration policy, but one important difference is that Romney boasts about it and wants to be associated with this bad policy. He wants the public to see him as more eager to funnel weapons to Syria’s opposition, which is something that the public overwhelmingly opposes. If that’s how he wants to be perceived, that’s how voters should judge him. Romney doesn’t get to agitate for more involvement in foreign conflicts while being treated as the candidate who wants to “prevent war.”
The WSJ editors have favored increased U.S. involvement in the conflict for many months, so it’s hardly news that they want Romney to advocate for a more aggressive policy. It is telling that they think Romney would have been well-advised to “strike a substantive contrast” with Obama by agitating for another war, which is what establishing a no-fly zone or humanitarian corridors would require. There is always the option of striking a contrast with Obama by warning against unnecessary entanglements, but we already know that Romney isn’t going to do that even when it is obviously to his political advantage. Does anyone think that a new Romney administration would be willing to ignore the constant drumbeat for a Syrian war from its ideological allies as the Syrian conflict continues? Romney seems only too eager to “lead” the U.S. deeper into the conflict in Syria, so once in office it will likely be only a matter of time before he endorses more aggressive measures.
It’s worth reviewing why a new war in Syria isn’t in U.S. interests or the interests of any of Syria’s neighbors. Escalating and widening the Syrian conflict would have a much more adverse effect on Syria’s neighbors than the conflict is having at present, as the number of refugees moving into these countries would increase and U.S. allies and clients would be targeted for retaliation. That would further destabilize neighboring states, and create an even larger humanitarian crisis. As for the U.S., America has nothing at stake in Syria’s conflict that is worth the cost and risk that a war in Syria would entail. Assuming that the intervention was eventually successful, the U.S. would become responsible for a significant part of the post-war reconstruction and stabilization. Unlike Libya, there will be no question of leaving Syria with a weak new government without an international stabilization force, and it is unlikely that other states will want to volunteer their soldiers unless the U.S. contributes. In addition to the direct costs incurred by the fighting, intervention in Syria would likely make a negotiated deal with Iran virtually impossible. Having lost its ally in Damascus, the Iranian government would assume that it is next on the list for regime change and would have an even greater incentive to acquire a nuclear deterrent. If the U.S. insists that this is an unacceptable outcome, war with Iran would become much more likely as a result.