Michael Crowley gives Rubio far too much credit on his remarks about Syria:
On Syria, for instance, Rubio gave one of the most reasoned arguments I’ve seen for an American intervention to help topple the Assad regime.
I agree with Scoblete that Rubio doesn’t engage in much reasoning in the section on Syria. He declares that certain things should happen, and he makes several assertions about what he thinks will follow from some form of U.S. intervention, and he provides no real arguments for any of them. Scoblete writes:
There are simply no reasons given for why anyone should believe that any of the positive outcomes Rubio lists would actually occur if the U.S. followed his advice. Rubio treats as self-evident assertions that actually need to be supported with evidence and argument.
Rubio doesn’t account for the consequences of Assad’s fall, and he misleads his audience into thinking that regime change in Syria is a win-win for all parties in the region except Iran and Hizbullah. For instance, Rubio asserts that Israeli security will be enhanced and the prospects for a general Arab-Israeli peace would be improved, but the latter is almost certainly false and the former is very doubtful. Is it usually good for a country’s security when a neighboring state is succumbing to civil war and sectarian violence? No, it isn’t, and it is doubtful that it is good for Israeli security if Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized by large refugee populations and/or internal conflicts.
Are Israel’s neighbors more or less likely to make peace with it if a future Syrian government is more representative of the majority of its population? Why would they be? Greater insecurity in the region presumably makes reaching a peace agreement with Israel much less of a priority for Israel’s neighbors, and it would be politically advantageous for new populist movements in Syria and elsewhere to demagogue issues relating to Israel. The section on Syria in Rubio’s speech is a classic example of the core neoconservative error of believing that all good things go together (e.g., promoting democracy, securing U.S. interests, and making Israel safer) and that U.S. “values” and interests typically advance in tandem.
There was also this false claim about regional reaction to U.S. non-intervention in Syria:
If we prove unwilling to provide leadership, they will conclude that we are no longer a reliable security partner, and will decide to take matters into their own hands. And that means a regional arms race, the constant threat of armed conflict, and crippling fuel prices here at home due to instability.
It’s likely that other states in the region will pursue their own perceived interests in Syria, but U.S. reliability as a security partner has nothing to do with supporting the projects of the Saudi and Qatari governments to back the Syrian opposition. Just because they happen to be U.S. clients, we shouldn’t assume that they have goals in Syria that serve U.S. interests. If there are going to be crippling fuel prices at home, it will be because of the sort of Iran policy Rubio advocates elsewhere in the speech. How would a proxy war in Syria between Saudis/Qataris and Iranians produce a “regional arms race”? It would mean that Syria would be flooded with more weapons, and there would be more Syrian casualties, but that is the practical outcome of the Syria policy Rubio’s hawkish colleagues in the Senate want the U.S. to adopt. There already is the “constant threat of armed conflict” in the region, which is another product of the sort of Iran policy Rubio favors.
Then there was this line:
The most powerful and influential nation in the world cannot ask smaller, more vulnerable nations to take risks while we stand on the sidelines.
On the contrary, the regional states that have the most at stake are exactly the ones that should be taking the risks (if anyone should be). Not only does the U.S. not “have to lead” in every crisis, but doing so when it is not necessary reinforces a debilitating dependency of allies and clients on the U.S., which increases the costs and burdens for the U.S. that others could be bearing. It’s also worth noting that the neighboring states that are most vulnerable to the effects of escalating violence in Syria are the most cautious and the most reluctant to provide arms to the Syrian opposition. It is mostly the Gulf monarchies that want to arm the opposition, and they know because of their distance from the war zone that they will suffer no direct consequences from a worsening Syrian conflict. The “more vulnerable nations” don’t favor the greater outside involvement (i.e., “U.S. leadership”) Rubio wants, and the states that favor it are insulated from the consequences of Syria’s conflict by geography and the nearby presence of U.S. forces. Unless vital U.S. interests are at stake, minimizing risk to the United States is what our government should be trying to do.