U.S. airstrikes, intended to punish and deter Assad and degrade his military but not overthrow his regime, would deepen the U.S. investment in the Syrian civil war and increase the chances of further intervention. Obama’s previous intervention is what has brought us to this point. Instead of steering clear of this regional conflict, he declared that Assad must go; designated the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” the crossing of which would bring a U.S. response; and armed and otherwise aided Assad’s opposition, which is dominated by al-Qaeda-style jihadists who have no good feelings toward America. Once an American president does these things, further steps are almost inevitable if for no other reason than that “American credibility” will be said to be at stake.
One can already hear the war hawks berating Obama for his “merely symbolic” punitive airstrike that had no real effect on the civil war. Once he’s taken that step, will Obama be able to resist the pressure for imposing a no-fly zone or for more bombing? He and the military seem unenthusiastic about getting in deeper, but political pressure can be formidable. Will the American people maintain their opposition to fuller involvement when the news media turn up the volume of the war drums? How long before the pictures from the war zone create public approval for “humanitarian intervention,” which the hawks will then point to in support of their cause?
Make no mistake: The United States would be committing an act of war against Syria — and judging by the 2011 Libyan intervention, it would be doing so unconstitutionally, without congressional authorization. If history teaches us anything, it is that war is unpredictable. Even limited “surgical” strikes can have unintended consequences (civilian deaths and American losses) and could elicit unanticipated responses, including from Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah.
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