What's the point?

Syria prompts vital questions, but military action is a poor answer

Tens of thousands of deaths and several years in, we have reached the inevitable “somebody should do something” phase of the Syrian civil war.

Thanks to President Obama’s vague and platitudinous threats, the United States now appears obliged to “do something” about the Syrian regime’s chemical attacks on its own civilians.

The ugly results of the attacks have been horrific and galvanizing, even for a gutless and divided international community. And, after months of deliberately imprecise talk of chemical weapons use crossing his “red line,” a blustery but irresolute President Obama is being pressured to act on his loosely worded principles.

Someone in Syria – presumably the Assad regime, but perhaps the rebel opposition – has called his bluff.

Perhaps a military strike is called for. Perhaps no one is situated to do it quite like we are. And the fact that Russia and China are warning us not to strike Syria makes it a bit more appealing to do so. The chance to blow up Syria’s ill-begotten Russian hardware is just a great byproduct.

Russia and China, after all, have prevented an already weak-willed United Nations from long ago marginalizing Bashar al-Assad by peaceful means. Thanks for nothing, comrades. The blood of those Syrian children are on the hands not just of the Syrian murderers but on those of their patrons’.

But while we may have to take action just to safeguard our president’s waning credibility, some vital questions loom. What is the U.S. interest in Syria? What would the strategic objective of a military strike be? How many American lives are we willing to put at risk? Is it likely that any amount of American intervention will ingratiate us to that ceaselessly hostile part of the world?

We frankly don’t think the answers to those practical questions lead to American military action.

Moreover, the Obama administration and the American media have done everything but check Assad’s calendar in warning him about our plans: Two or three days of air strikes on some 50 targets starting as early as today.

Indeed, it all sounds more like an appointment on a calendar than an entry into a war: CNN quotes an Obama administration official as saying there’s “a desire to get it done before the president leaves for Russia next week.”

“We are all familiar with the concept of ‘surgical strikes,’” writes The Weekly Standard. “This is more like scheduled surgery. Outpatient style. Assad may not even need to change his dinner plans.”

What’s the point?

If it’s to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to wage war on its own people, let’s hope the “brief and limited” operation is enough of a commitment to do that. If it’s simply to punish the regime, how will a spanking change the behavior of a mass murderer?

Besides, punishing someone is a rather odd use of a military.

Meanwhile, with Mr. Obama leaving it to surrogates to make an unconvincing case for intervention, polls show a Syrian adventure to be this country’s least-supported military action in modern history.

“About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act,” Reuters reports on its own poll.

Nor has Mr. Obama done much to win the support of our elected representatives in Congress. And guess who said, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” That’s right: Barack Obama, back in 2008.

With a paralyzed and complicit United Nations looking on these past few desperate years – what amount or quality of atrocities does it take to get thrown out of that useless debating society? – there’s almost no way the Syrian war ends well.

Getting embroiled in it can’t be much more promising.

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