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The Danger of Intervention Creep in Syria

Micah Zenko makes [1] the important and obvious objection to the “limited” attack on Syria that is being planned [2]:

Subsequently, the United States will be correctly perceived by all sides as intervening on behalf of the armed opposition. From there, it is easy to conceive how the initial limited intervention for humanitarian purposes – like Libya in 2011 – turns into a joint campaign plan to assure that Assad is toppled.

Since almost everyone concedes that the planned strikes are virtually useless [3], it is hard to believe that the administration won’t feel compelled to launch additional attacks on the Syrian government when the first strikes [4] fail to change regime behavior. There will presumably be increasing domestic and international pressure for an escalation of U.S. involvement once the U.S. begins attacking Syria, and once Obama has agreed to take direct military action of one kind he will have greater difficulty resisting the pressure for even more. There is also always a possibility that Assad and his patrons could retaliate against U.S. forces or clients, in which case the pressure to escalate U.S. involvement will become much harder to resist. The U.S. is rarely in the habit of bombing a foreign government without sooner or later being drawn deeper into a larger conflict with it. Watching Obama’s creeping interference in Syria’s civil war over the last year gives me no confidence that he would be able to resist demands for future escalation.

It goes without saying that any military strike on Syria at the present time won’t be legal. It will probably have consequences for other U.S. interests that aren’t being considered right now. Far from boosting U.S. credibility with Iran, this will almost certainly undermine negotiations and increase tensions with Tehran. If U.S.-Russian relations were deteriorating before now, they will get much worse once the U.S. starts attacking Syria, and that could affect cooperation on any number of other issues. Launching attacks on their client will be sure to intensify Iranian and Russian paranoia about U.S. motives, and that could easily have undesirable effects in the months and years to come.

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30 Comments To "The Danger of Intervention Creep in Syria"

#1 Comment By R. Con On August 27, 2013 @ 11:12 am

Within days of any US punitive attack the interventionist / neoconservative Rote Kappelle will spin the narrative to “Assad has survived this weak response, humiliating Obama and undermining US credibility.”

#2 Comment By Neildsmith On August 27, 2013 @ 11:24 am

I remain convinced that America will not stop intervening in foreign wars until it loses one badly. As terrible as that might seem… it is the only way. I pity those poor soldiers who have barely recovered from the trauma of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are about to get thrown into another one.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On August 27, 2013 @ 11:42 am

I remain convinced that America will not stop intervening in foreign wars until it loses one badly.

People say we have a liberal media – but when it comes to war, that is far from true. The news media loves the viewers and readers and hits that come along with being able to report about carriers deploying and missiles launching and troop movements, and so it seems we’re never going to see them taking as critical a look at the declared Casus Belli as an independent actor should take.

More often, we’re subject to the cheerleading we saw at the onset of “Shock and Awe”.

#4 Comment By Richard W. Bray On August 27, 2013 @ 11:48 am

Illegal, stupid, counterproductive, homicidal, supported by nine percent of the country. So what’s the point?

Sate the Holy

Freedom, honor, enterprise
Fatherhood and faith
The gallant shall not compromise
With heathens at the gate

Fear and hatred breed the guns
Inseminating wealth
Warfare yields the bloody ones
That signify our health

Indignation plants the seeds
That sanctify our culture
Corpses feed the swords of greed
And sate the Holy Vulture

(Richard W. Bray. All rights reserved)

#5 Comment By Stephen P On August 27, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

What will it take to impeach this man? Since when did Congress turn into the imperial Roman Senate—nothing but a rubber stamp for whatever war our Caesar decides to wage, the Constitution be damned?

#6 Comment By John On August 27, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

@Stephen P/12:25 p.m.:

You’re at least ten years late to make that particular criticism of Congress.

#7 Comment By SteveJ On August 27, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

Rather than Libya 2011, perhaps the model is Libya 1986 — a single retaliatory strike. Under the ’86 model, the strike is not linked to regime change, although the regime may weaken itself by inviting more retaliatory strikes if it chooses to use chemical weapons — assuming it was Assad who used chemical weapons in the first place.

The Assad regime invites more strikes or none at all depending on his future behavior — as was the case with Gaddafi in ’86.

#8 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 27, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

Imbecilic. With luck it will be like Clinton’s ineffectual strike in the Sudan.

We are ruled by ninnies.

#9 Comment By Noah172 On August 27, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

I remain convinced that America will not stop intervening in foreign wars until it loses one badly

Vietnam?

Smaller but more recent: Lebanon (Reagan), Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan.

#10 Comment By AndrewH On August 27, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

People say we have a liberal media – but when it comes to war, that is far from true.

That would only make sense if liberals were antiwar. Liberals love war as much as regular conservatives – though, obviously, not quite as much as today’s neoconned GOP, but that’s not saying much.

#11 Comment By Noah172 On August 27, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

I wrote over in Rod’s blog about Israel’s advantage in our coming Syrian misadventure: mission creep into Lebanon to fight Hezbollah, Assad’s ally and of course Israel’s longstanding enemy.

[5]

#12 Comment By W.E.B. Dupree On August 27, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

Stephen P, at this point it seems like Congress would be more likely to try to impeach him for NOT bombing Syria.

#13 Comment By Patrick D On August 27, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

SteveJ,

I don’t think that Libya 1986 was much of a deliberate choice as people make it out to be today. There are major differences between 1986 and today including: a Soviet counterweight to aggressive U.S. action then, and a (related) foreign policy with a more realpolitik orientation.

The real constraints on U.S. actions driven by the NeoConservative/NeoWilsonian magical thinking of today are less obvious and their effects are less immediate. That is also why so much is made of “political will” and “resolve” as self-imposed constraints today.

#14 Comment By Rob in CT On August 27, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

Right, now we’re reduced to hoping for a minimal airstrike (for show, basically).

Our leaders, be they Republican or Democrat, are addicted to war.

#15 Comment By James Canning On August 27, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

I think Susan Rice hopes to see “intervention creep”. A good reason for Obama to hold back.

#16 Comment By Patrick D On August 27, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

“— assuming it was Assad who used chemical weapons in the first place.

The Assad regime invites more strikes or none at all depending on his future behavior — as was the case with Gaddafi in ’86.”

Further, no one has produced evidence that the regime used chemical weapons and it is clear they don’t have the need or motivation to use them. Presumably, some among the rebel groups are capable of deploying chemical weapons* and have every motivation to do so.

A U.S. strike weakening the regime signals to the rebels that they need only use the occasional chemical weapon for the U.S. to do their work for them.

*Many of the rebel groups would be considered jihadi terrorists under other circumstance by those pushing regime change in Syria. Such groups have amply demonstrated their willingness to kill civilians in pursuit of their cause over the last decade. Many in the regime change crowd regularly use the specter of jihadi terrorists using chemical weapons in an attack on the U.S. to stoke American fear. Are we to believe that is a real threat in spite of the huge logistical difficulties involved but it is unthinkably improbable that they could do that in Syria at close range, from territory they control, where they receive assistance from outside parties?

#17 Comment By Patrick D On August 27, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

“A U.S. strike weakening the regime signals to the rebels that they need only use the occasional chemical weapon for the U.S. to do their work for them.”

Sorry. I should be explicit about this. These circumstances (a weakened regime being attacked for chemical weapons used by rebels) would have no reason to restrain itself and every reason to use every weapon and tactic at its disposal to win as quickly as possible.

#18 Comment By Leon Berton On August 28, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

This is but another version of ‘wag the dog’.

The entire scenario is profoundly symptomatic of the incredible erosion of respect for the Constitution and due process over long decades, and the stunning augmentation of Congressional incompetency and impotency.

A Constitutional convention with a well-defined and short list of strategic objectives, in spite of its risks, may well be among the final potential remedies to reinvigorate the Republic.

#19 Comment By Son of Maurice On August 28, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

But, but Assad doesn’t love Israel!

#20 Comment By MikeCLT On August 28, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

The US strike against Libya in 1986 was followed by Libya blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland. The strike did not modify Libya’s behavior. Furthermore, the US did nothing in response to this bombing. Not a helpful precedent.

#21 Comment By Reinhold On August 28, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

“Many in the regime change crowd regularly use the specter of jihadi terrorists using chemical weapons in an attack on the U.S. to stoke American fear.”
Agreed; the fact that the FSA is almost entirely staffed by Islamists, ‘terrorists’ or not (al-Nusra is openly terroristic, the FSA not so much, but still Islamist), puts the lie to the ‘stop Islamism at all costs’ arguments for military expeditions in the Mid-East. The only goal left is: regime change.

#22 Comment By Labropotes On August 28, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

The USA Patriot Act makes it a federal crime to provide any help or support to a terror group. If Obama attacks Assad, currently battling al Qaida, he’s taking the side of a terror group and should be indicted under the Patriot Act.

#23 Comment By balconesfault On August 28, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

This is but another version of ‘wag the dog’.

I think you can hardly call it “wag the dog” when many of the parties who are calling for more investigation of actions by the President and the Attorney General are at the same time some of the most strident voices in calling for some kind of military action in Syria.

If for example Bob Corker and John McCain and Lindsay Graham really think the country’s attention should be focused on the IRS or on the NSA (ha!) or on birth certificates or whatever … shouldn’t the quit running around talking about how imperative military action is?

#24 Comment By Leon Berton On August 28, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

@ balconesfault … ‘wag the dog’ in the current lexicon connotes diverting attention from what is more important to what is less important.

As for your (ironic?) mention of Corker, McCain, Graham et alii, you are right as to what they ought to do (i.e. stop ‘talking about how imperative military action is’);

But this would require ignoring totally the way they habitually act and fail to act, since each in varying ways and degrees chooses to be a willing accessory to policies that erode the limits of delegated powers articulated in the Constitution.

#25 Comment By the colonel On August 28, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

recalling the arguments about Syria leading up to the last US presidential election, i certainly hope Israel plays ball at the newest round of peace talks given that they’ve, once again, managed to get the US to do their dirty work. after all, we have a reputation to maintain.

#26 Comment By REMant On August 29, 2013 @ 12:26 am

The US is already perceived as being in league with the Sunnis, to which, I think, may be added Israel. It’s hard to see, too, how knocking out the regime’s air force is going, by itself, to limit the use of artillery delivering, which this, if it took place, must have been. Undoubtedly the anticipated scenario was for it to proceed like Libya, the regime to be goaded into retaliation and further action thus justified. But opposition is mounting. Even the Arab League wants a Security Council sanction. Iraq and Jordan have denied the use of facilities and airspace. More than a hundred representatives demand Congressional approval. Labour and even some Conservatives have stymied Cameron. If he has to go alone it is unlikely the president will take the step, when polls show only 9% approve, even if he does view himself as Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, and they got away with Egypt.

#27 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 29, 2013 @ 8:07 am

The NeoCons get paid by the arms industry to foment war. Ms. Power, the MIC’s Joan of Arc, does it for free.

#28 Comment By David Giza On September 2, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

I want to see the proof that Assad used chemical weapons against the rebels. I doubt very much if the Obama administration would provide this to the American people. They never showed Osama bin Laden’s body. I believe that bin Laden was killed or died years ago shortly after 09-11-01. Congressional approval is just a formality; part of the so-called ”legal process.” Obama or any president can use the military any time that they wish to do so. It doesn’t matter what Congress or the American people think.

#29 Comment By IrateNate On September 3, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

Why hasn’t anyone asked our ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about dealing with the “reformer” Assad?

#30 Comment By Victor Tiffany On September 5, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

The House is not looking like they are going to support the strike on Syria.

[6]

If that pans out, we’re going to find out how much of a dictator and hypocrite President Obama is. If he acts anyway, he may well be facing articles of impeachment drawn up in the House.