Home/Daniel Larison/Americans Don’t Want to Take Sides in Syria

Americans Don’t Want to Take Sides in Syria

Frederick Kagan makes the least compelling “some war is better than none” argument for attacking Syria yet. He is concerned that the Syrian opposition will feel let down if no attack happens:

Especially after this lengthy buildup and public debate, Syrian rebels and their supporters would view a U.S. failure to act as abandonment of their cause. In particular, the moderate Syrian opposition, which relies on support from the United States and its allies, would be devastated.

I suspect Kagan is exaggerating for effect here, but even if he isn’t this is a terrible reason for the U.S. to launch strikes on the Syrian government. Obama erred in taking a side in Syria’s civil war, and he compounded that error by announcing that the U.S. was going to arm them directly. Attacking Syria so that the Syrian opposition does not now feel abandoned by its very reluctant American patron would just add another mistake to the previous ones. “A weak strike is better than none” only if one wishes to continue escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict. After all, if the opposition would feel abandoned when no U.S. strikes happen, they would be encouraged to think that the U.S. is going to fight openly on their side if it does strike, and their advocates here in the U.S. will demand nothing less. Having offered them the (false?) promise of military intervention, the administration will sooner or later feel compelled to deliver on that promise or face the same choice (escalate or “abandon”) later after the U.S. has become even more entangled in the conflict. We will hear the same bad “credibility” arguments all over again, and the U.S. will find itself pulled in deeper on account of the “logic” on display in Kagan’s op-ed.

Kagan asks an odd question:

How does one convey to a Free Syrian Army fighter that the United States really is on his side when almost all of the amendments to the use-of-force resolution involve limiting the strike, ruling out ground forces, and demanding that the president identify offsetting spending cuts in the defense budget or elsewhere — and then the bill is still defeated?

I don’t think Kagan understands why the Syria resolution stands a good chance of being voted down. Most Americans don’t want to be on the side of any Syrian faction. They never have. Americans haven’t supported arming rebels in Syria, they don’t want U.S. forces in Syria, and they have said time and again that they don’t want the U.S. to bomb Syria. For a while, it seemed as if the administration was paying attention to this, but through his own mistakes Obama has managed to put himself on the wrong side of public opinion anyway. Because there is no political support here at home for what Washington has been promising the Syrian opposition, sooner or later they were bound to be let down and are sure to feel abandoned by a patron when its people don’t want the U.S. to take sides.

So how do Syria hawks tell the FSA that they have been leading them to expect a level of support that was never realistic? I have no idea, but that quandary isn’t a reason to vote for the use of force against Syria.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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