Some diplomats at the State Department are agitating for an attack on Syria:
More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.
We can hope that this memo will be ignored, but it is worrisome that it was even written. It is rarely a good sign when diplomats are the ones pushing for military action. More often than not, they are yielding to the desire to “take action” without understanding the action they are demanding, and they have usually not thought through what would come next if their “judicious use of stand-off and air weapons” fails to have the desired effect. There isn’t any obvious U.S. or allied interest served by ensnaring the U.S. further in Syria’s conflict, and attacking Syrian government forces runs the risk of escalating tensions with Russia and Iran just as it has for the past several years. Given the presence of advanced Russian air defenses in the country, it also runs the very real risk of killing Russian personnel and triggering a crisis with a major power.
As the report notes, military commanders have had no interest in attacking the Syrian government:
The president has resisted such pressure, and has been backed up by his military commanders, who have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Mr. Assad was forced from power — a scenario that the draft memo does not address.
The dissenting diplomats insist that they are not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but then I suppose few people explicitly admit that their call for military action could lead to a much larger, more dangerous conflict. The key flaw in all this is that neither these diplomats nor the U.S. government as a whole can control what happens next. They might not want the dangerous consequences of their proposed action to happen, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Attacking Syrian forces when Russian air defenses are present practically guarantees a confrontation with Russia. At the very least, it puts the U.S. openly at war with the Syrian government, which is foolish enough all on its own. The danger of this proposal is not that there could be a “slippery slope” that catches us unawares. What the diplomats recommend is akin to jumping headlong down the slope.