Home/Daniel Larison/Why Aren’t There More Liberal Syria Hawks?

Why Aren’t There More Liberal Syria Hawks?

The Postreports on the relative silence of many liberal hawks on Syria. This quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter unwittingly explains why there aren’t more advocates for intervention in Syria:

Slaughter said she wants to hear more from the intellectuals who joined her in urging intervention in Kosovo, Rwanda and, most recently, Libya. “The place to look, I think, is not 10 years ago [in Iraq], it’s Libya,” she said. “Where’s the Libya coalition?” [bold mine-DL] She blamed the Obama administration inaction in Syria for creating a climate of “despairing futility” that rendered her former allies moot.

It is significant that these are the only mentions of the Libyan war in this article. We can’t understand the relative lack of liberal support for Syrian intervention without first remembering that there was not that much liberal support for the war in Libya, either. The aftermath of the Libyan war has not changed the minds of skeptics and opponents, and the experience of Libya seems to have been enough of a headache for the administration that it wants to avoid an even more difficult war in Syria. As far as many liberal Syria hawks are concerned, intervention in Libya was a great success that ought to have been repeated in Syria. Because they kept assuming that Obama would change his position on Syria as he did on Libya, liberal hawks now seem baffled by ongoing administration reluctance to start a new war. Liberal hawks appear to be so confused about the limited support on the left for military action in Syria because they are misreading the political landscape here at home, and they mistake their unduly positive view of the Libyan war for one that is widely shared.

Slaughter asks where the Libya coalition is today. The answer is that it was never much of a coalition in the first place. If it weren’t for Obama’s abrupt about-face in March 2011, it wouldn’t have happened, and for the moment there doesn’t appear to be much chance that he would do the same thing again. When interventionists were pushing for U.S. military action in Libya, some of them emphasized that the conditions that made the Libyan war possible were very unlikely to be repeated again anytime soon, and it seems that they were right about that much. The “Libya coalition” has diminished in size in part because the conflicts in Libya and Syria are sufficiently different to warrant even more caution now, and there is much less of an international consensus in favor of military action in Syria. That is reflected in the lack of any U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria. That lack of consensus may be a reason that the administration has so far not taken more aggressive measures, or it may be a convenient excuse to avoid another war, but it is one of the major differences between the Libyan and Syrian cases. It’s possible that there aren’t more liberal supporters of Syrian intervention because they take international law far more seriously than Syria hawks do.

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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