Sep 042013

I do not believe that we should intervene in Syria. There are many reasons for this, largely based on the fact that I see no benefits whatsoever to doing so. I don’t need to outline all the reasons against intervention – it has been done many other places quite elegantly, including by Mike here on Leftfielder.

But there seems to be a perception among the political brass that U.S. credibility is at stake. The U.S. drew a line in the sand regarding the use of chemical weapons and chemical weapons were used (although whether Assad was the one who used them is still contentious). If we don’t follow through with our threat then nobody will take our threats seriously in the future – or so the argument goes. And that argument seems, somehow, to be winning. The senate just moved a bill forward to authorize force, and everybody seems resigned to bombing a foreign country, against the auspices of the United Nations.

So, let me propose a counter: The senate could authorize the president to bomb if and only if Assad uses chemical weapons again.

To reiterate, I would prefer a “don’t bomb Syria” solution, but since that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, this is the next best thing. If Assad was, in fact, responsible for the first chemical attack, there is a chance that he would decide not to do it again – especially given that there was no reason for him to do it in the first place (he was winning without chemical weapons) and this threat would be much more credible since authority to bomb would already have been given. If it was the rebels who were trying to frame Assad, there would be a chance that they either wouldn’t be able to access chemical weapons again, or that some intelligence agency (US, UK, France, Russia, etc.) could catch the rebels in the act since intelligence services would be looking for it. In other words it creates a plausible deterrent, maintains our credibility for future threats, and reduces our likelihood of bombing from ‘near certain’ to ‘possibly not’.

I see this as a dominant option to authorizing bombing flat out. The former commits us, the latter gives us a chance of not bombing. The only downside is that it does allow for the possibility of one more chemical weapons attack. While this would be tragic, right now people are dying from more traditional weapons, and that is just as tragic. And a bombing campaign would only increase that tragedy, both in terms of prolonging the war, and in the deaths it directly causes.

Please congress, don’t send us to war. Give us a way out.

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