Home/Daniel Larison/Attacking Syria Wouldn’t Have Changed Anything In Ukraine

Attacking Syria Wouldn’t Have Changed Anything In Ukraine

John Vinocur repeats a very tired argument:

French President François Hollande, in a radio interview last week, took what I think is a swipe at the Obama administration by suggesting that if the U.S., with French help, had whacked Syria as planned last August, Russia might never have seized Crimea or moved against Ukraine.

There is no merit to this belief for reasons that have been laid out many times before. If Hollande believes such a thing, his judgment is worse than it already appeared to be. If he expects others to believe it, he must think everyone else to be very gullible. Nonetheless, it is somewhat remarkable that so many Syria hawks continue to promote this view despite its numerous flaws, since it makes these hawks appear more ridiculous each time that they repeat it. None of these hawks ever explains exactly how bombing Syrian forces would have discouraged Moscow from interfering in Ukraine or seizing Crimea, because there is no credible explanation to be offered.

After all, Russia was always likely to react very badly to the overthrow of Yanukovych no matter what happened elsewhere. It requires some exceptional magical thinking to expect that attacking a Russian client in another place will somehow make it less hostile to an unfriendly government on its border. Events in Ukraine triggered the Ukraine crisis and caused Russia’s overreaction, so it is hard to see how things would have gone any differently had the U.S. and France been killing pro-regime Syrians last year. Insofar as Moscow justified its intervention in Ukraine as a sort of payback for past Western interventions, attacking Syria would only have given Moscow one more example of Western hypocrisy about international law and sovereignty. Far from discouraging Russian interference in its neighbor’s affairs, an attack on Syria would have provoked Russian hostility to any government perceived to be “pro-Western” in its vicinity and further fueled the Kremlin’s paranoia about Western intentions. Except for giving an undesirable boost to Russian propaganda, attacking Syria would have changed nothing in Ukraine. At the same time, intervention in Syria would have created a new rift between the U.S. and many of its other European allies and diverted additional attention and resources away from Europe shortly before the Ukraine crisis began. Dragged into a new conflict against its will, the public would be even more averse to involvement in Ukraine. This doesn’t even begin to account for the unintended consequences that a Syrian war would have had.

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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