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Syria and the Cult of Resolve

DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett, Released

The stupidity of the cult of resolve is on full display right now:

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Mr. Trump should make good on what the president appeared to be threatening on Twitter.

If the president “doesn’t follow through and live up to that tweet, he’s going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran,” Mr. Graham said on “This Week.” “This is a defining moment.”

“You need to follow through with that tweet,” he added. “Show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.”

Graham would seize on the slightest pretext to start a new war, but his reaction to Trump’s reckless bluster this morning is unfortunately all too common in Washington. Just as Obama would have been a fool to follow through on his off-the-cuff “red line” statement by launching an attack on another government, Trump would be a fool to back up an ill-considered tweet by ordering yet another illegal attack on the Syrian government. When the president issues these statements so carelessly and so frequently, we have to stop treating them as if every random utterance he makes counts as a commitment by the U.S. government to do something. Besides, going to war with another government because you think it shows “resolve” may be the most moronic possible reason to use force.

The U.S. is not obliged to go to war against another government to back up random public statements by the president. There are no vital American interests at stake in Syria, and there certainly aren’t any that require the U.S. to commit acts of war against the Syrian government. There is no authorization for the use of force against the Syrian government, and U.S. forces already in Syria are there illegally. The administration needs to take our forces out of Syria instead of looking for new excuses to keep them there. Congress has never debated or voted for U.S. forces to be fighting in Syria, and they definitely never voted for war with the Syrian government and its allies. If Trump does what Graham wants, he will be trampling on the U.N. Charter and the Constitution again. Unfortunately, he never paid even the smallest price for doing that a year ago, so he will probably end up doing it a second time.

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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