The Case for Attacking Syria Is As Flimsy As Ever
Dennis Ross and Andrew Tabler make a case for attacking the Syrian government that is just as flimsy as every other one that has come before it:
There is an alternative: Punish the Syrian government for violating the truce by using drones and cruise missiles to hit the Syrian military’s airfields, bases and artillery positions where no Russian troops are present.
Opponents of these kinds of limited strikes say they would prompt Russia to escalate the conflict and suck the United States deeper into Syria. But these strikes would be conducted only if the Assad government was found to be violating the very truce that Russia says it is committed to. Notifying Russia that this will be the response could deter such violations of the truce and the proposed military agreement with Moscow. In any case, it would signal to Mr. Putin that his Syrian ally would pay a price if it did not maintain its side of the deal.
Ross and Tabler’s proposal is an op-ed version of the dissent letter signed by several dozen State Department diplomats, and it is just as unpersuasive as that was. It makes no sense for the U.S. to be attacking both sides in a civil war, and it also makes no sense to attack the forces that represent the most significant opposition to ISIS inside Syria. Attacking Syrian government forces isn’t going to make Russia more inclined to cooperate or pressure its client, but will instead be used by Moscow as an excuse to do just the opposite. Russia has never become more cooperative with Washington when the U.S. has attacked one of its clients, and it would not do so in this case. What cooperation there has been on Syria has come about because the U.S. has refrained from directly striking at the Syrian government despite occasional threats to do so. We should also assume that when the use of drones and cruise missiles fails to change the Syrian government’s behavior that the same people advocating for this attack will call for more aggressive measures, so the risks and costs of an attack would likely keep growing in a vain effort to compel Syrian compliance.
The case for attacking the Syrian government fails on its own terms, but it’s also worth noting that the U.S. has no authority or right to do this. Attacking the Syrian government would be illegal and unwarranted, and it would not advance any American security interest. The U.S. would not be defending itself or any treaty ally from attack, but would be initiating hostilities against another state for the sake of policing a civil war in which the U.S. has little or nothing at stake. Even if such an attack might “work,” it would still be a mistake for the U.S. to do it.