Home/Daniel Larison/Carson’s (and the GOP’s) Crazy Syria Rhetoric

Carson’s (and the GOP’s) Crazy Syria Rhetoric

Support for a “no-fly zone” in Syria is disqualifying for a presidential candidate, and Ben Carson is the latest to remind us why that’s the case. Carson is famously hopeless on foreign policy, and his answers on the subject have widely been perceived as nonsense. So it should tell us something about the bankruptcy of the proposed action in Syria that someone with such a poor grasp on the issues thinks enforcing a “no-fly zone” by shooting down Russian jets is a fine idea. Carson said this in a recent interview:

If they come into that area, after you have given them adequate warning, after we have talked to Putin, you shoot ‘em down, absolutely.

So Carson is fine with potentially precipitating a war with a major, nuclear-armed state so long as we have talked to their president first. It might be possible to dismiss this as the statement of someone who knows nothing about foreign policy, but it is a statement being made by the second-place candidate for the Republican nomination, and it is virtually identical to the positions taken by most other Republican candidates. On this issue, almost the entire Republican field is living down to Carson’s level of foreign policy expertise.

When the radio host pointed out that the Russians would retaliate to the downing of their planes, Carson blithely replied:

Whatever happens next, we deal with it, but we can’t continue backing down because in the long run, that’ll hurt us.

That’s pure insanity. If “whatever happens next” is a shooting war with Russia, you shouldn’t be entertaining the possibility of taking the action that leads to that. Shrugging off the dangers of a major war is what one expects from children and pundits, not from the people that aspire to be president. American presidents managed to avoid this sort of direct confrontation with the Russians for forty-six years during the Cold War, so there is absolutely no reason to risk a clash with them now, and especially not over Syria where the U.S. has nothing at stake. What makes Carson’s statements even more unhinged is the idea that the U.S. has been “backing down” in the recent past. It simply hasn’t happened. Refusing to risk the start of WWIII and choosing not to launch an aggressive air campaign in a foreign country is not “backing down” from anything.

As Peter Beinart pointed out earlier this week, this lunacy is not unique to Carson. Many of the 2016 candidates have talked about their support for more aggressive measures in Syria specifically in terms of countering Russia:

Five of the candidates on the main stage, and everyone in the GOP’s undercard presidential debate, support a no-fly zone in Syria. Asked why, most of them said some variation of: We need to show Russia who’s boss.

Beinart goes on to say that this copies “the worst mindlessness of the Cold War,” but that almost gives these hawkish candidates too much credit. Except for the most fanatical “rollback” advocates, hawkish anticommunists didn’t argue that the U.S. should directly engage Soviet forces, but at most wanted to oppose their clients and proxies elsewhere in the world. Even the people that claimed to favor “rollback” policies were never crazy enough to implement them once in office because they understood the disastrous consequences that would follow. The position that hawks are taking on Russia and Syria today is every bit as reckless and irresponsible as the “rollback” arguments of sixty years ago, but there is a much greater danger that one of them would follow through on this threat in the future. Our hawkish politicians have become so used to the U.S. issuing threats and intervening in other countries with impunity for the last twenty-five years that they can’t see that there are limits to what U.S. power can do, and so they think they can commit an act of unprovoked war against Russia without even having to think through what happens next. None of them should be allowed anywhere near the presidency.

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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