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Tom Cotton and the Hawkish Syria Panic

Russia's deeper involvement in Syria's civil war isn't a "near catastrophe" for U.S. foreign policy.

Tom Cotton reminds us that his foreign policy judgment is consistently terrible. This is his response to Russian intervention in Syria:

“I think this is a near catastrophe for U.S. foreign policy in the region and really around the world,” the Arkansas Republican said, adding that it goes against a longtime bipartisan understanding that Russia should not be a powerbroker in the Middle East.

As I said last week, Russian intervention in Syria is a mistake on their part, and we are already seeing that their limited number of airstrikes is inflicting additional harm on the civilian population. Careless and inaccurate bombing in Syria isn’t going to do anything except to kill more Syrian civilians. However, one doesn’t need to endorse Russia’s deeper involvement in Syria’s civil war to understand that it isn’t a “near catastrophe” for U.S. foreign policy. I might not as far as saying that it is a “blessing in disguise,” but it is not something that should cause us to panic. As Cohen says in the linked article, the fact that hawks in Washington are panicking tells us little about the significance of Russian moves and everything about how “Washington fetishizes the mere exercise of power.”

Russia is taking on a larger role in a foreign conflict in a bid to shore up a weakened client. This is not a sign of Moscow’s strength or strategic genius, but rather of the weakness of its client’s position and by extension Russia’s relative weakness in the region. As hawks have also tried to do with Iran recently, they are trying to present a deteriorating position as proof of expanding influence, and they are doing it partly to try to build support for the more aggressive policies in Syria that they have wanted all along. You can almost hear them saying, “We cannot allow an intervention gap.” On this, as on everything else in the region and beyond, they are wrong.

The potential danger here, as Dan Drezner emphasized earlier today, is the possibility that Russian and U.S. forces could clash over Syria. That is obviously something that must be avoided, and it is the latest reminder of why it was never a good idea to expand U.S. intervention into Syria with its multi-sided civil war. This could be an opportunity to reassess the wisdom of waging an unnecessary and illegal war in Syria, but we all know that this opportunity will be squandered.



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