Home/Daniel Larison/Gerson and Kristof’s Mindless Pleas for Intervention

Gerson and Kristof’s Mindless Pleas for Intervention

Michael Gerson writes:

But the war on terrorism does not exhaust America’s risks or responsibilities. The risks are increasing, along with doubts about our global role.

Most of Gerson’s column consists of a list of things that are happening or may happen, and it leans heavily on the assumption that the U.S. ought to be doing “more” than it is in some fashion in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. It is debatable whether the risks to the United States are increasing around the world. The U.S. is arguably the most secure it has been in many decades, and the risks that Gerson describes are quite remote.

In fact, if the administration followed Gerson’s implied lead the U.S. would be assuming new and additional risks. He never actually says that the U.S. should provide more support to the Syrian opposition or take military action, but that would seem to be what he is suggesting. Because he never explicitly says what he thinks the U.S. ought to do, he doesn’t address how greater U.S. involvement in the conflict would not result in “extending a savage conflict” or how increased support for the opposition would not lead to even bloodier retribution by their forces.

Gerson doesn’t like that the administration is declaring its intention to “wind down” the war in Afghanistan, but he wants the administration to be talking up the prospect of war with Iran. The latter is called “preparing” Americans for conflict, as if war with Iran were inevitable. The one and perhaps only encouraging sign that war with Iran is not going to happen in the near future is that the administration has not yet begun building up a public case for it. Gerson seems to think that it would be worse for the U.S. to have our “bluff” called than it would be to start yet another unnecessary war in the Near East. That seems to hint that Gerson thinks the U.S. should follow through on its threats to use force against Iran, which would be disastrous in its own right, but he isn’t going to say as much.

Impressively, Gerson manages to write an entire column about the importance of foreign policy issues without identifying any specific alternative policy measures that he prefers. If U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 is undesirable, is he saying that U.S. forces should remain there longer? If so, how much longer? Indefinitely? For what purpose? Gerson won’t say. His column might be summed up as “bad things are happening, other bad things might happen, Obama isn’t decisive enough.”

Gerson needn’t worry about making explicit interventionist arguments. Other columnists have that covered. Nick Kristof wrote an op-ed openly calling for military intervention in Syria, and he doesn’t address any of the standard objections to his proposals. Kristof’s argument is essentially that William Perry and Madeleine Albright think intervention is necessary, so naturally that must settle it*. Kristof rather disingenuously qualifies his argument for war in Syria by saying that he isn’t a hawk. Regarding other conflicts, he might not be, but on Syria Kristof has undeniably been a hawk for the last two months. He calls Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Syria proposals “sensible,” but these same proposals have been widely criticized as unworkable and stepping stones to escalation. Kristof’s op-ed is a classic example of “do something”-ism with no attempt to assess the costs or risks to the U.S. that his proposed policy would involve.

* Albright was Clinton’s Secretary of State during the war in Kosovo, so of course she favors military intervention in Syria. Were John McCain and Joe Lieberman not available in Aspen to offer their views to Kristof?

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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