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McCain and Graham’s Predictably Terrible Ideas for Syria

(Photo by U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell) (Released)

John McCain and Lindsey Graham spell out their terrible ideas for Syria:

A coherent strategy is necessary to destroy ISIS and end the conflict as soon as possible. America must work with its coalition partners to establish and protect zones inside Syria where refugees can be safe; to deny the Assad regime the use of its air power, especially its horrific barrel bombs; and to impose real costs on Russia if it continues to target moderate opposition groups.

Notice that two out of three pieces of this “coherent strategy” are focused on attacking and/or threatening regime forces and the regime’s patrons, which has nothing to do with “destroying” ISIS and promises to widen the conflict by committing the U.S. to fight against the Syrian government and its backers. There is nothing coherent about this, unless the goal is to get the U.S. into as many simultaneous conflicts with as many different parties as possible. For the sake of defending proxies that have proved themselves to be useless, McCain and Graham want the U.S. to risk open war with Russia. When they talk about the “real costs” that they want to impose on Russia, we know they are talking about killing Russian personnel and shooting down their planes, because they have explicitly called for this in the past.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the destructive duo want the U.S. to commit to an open-ended mission on the ground in Syria:

But the reality is that no ground force exists today that is both willing and able to retake Raqqa. Nor will one emerge on its own. So the U.S. should lead an effort to assemble a multinational force, including up to 10,000 American troops, to clear and hold Raqqa and destroy ISIS in Syria. Such a force could also help to keep the peace in a post-Assad Syria, as was done in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Like Rubio’s imaginary “multinational force,” this will be made up almost entirely of Americans because very few other states are willing to contribute troops to such an effort, and it will be stuck policing a much more dangerous territory for many years to come. The comparison to Bosnia and Kosovo is wildly misleading, not least since most of the people in those countries wanted a U.S./NATO presence and Syrians will not. The members of this “multinational force” would be targets for jihadist and other insurgent attacks as long as they remain in the country, their presence would encourage more jihadist recruitment, and they would be stuck in a “peacekeeping” mission that would have no clear end. If we want a plan for trapping the U.S. in another prolonged ground war in the region, we should listen to McCain and Graham. Otherwise, their plan makes no sense for the U.S. or its allies.

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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