I’ve been listening to quite a few of the speeches in the UK Parliament about Syria, and also some US commentary. I have to say that the arguments against military action against Assad seem more persuasive to me, despite the fact I hate the thought that he gets “away” with using chemical weapons against children.
The most persuasive argument against is that once you take action, even if a few cruise missiles, then you have entered the conflict on the side of the rebels. And you may get drawn into the conflict more and more. What if you bomb some sites, and Assad uses chemical weapons again? Do you escalate? Do you end up sending troops in eventually?
Will a few missile strikes deter or prevent Assad? Probably not. Only if you sent them to his home!
Also on a minor matter of international law, Syria never signed the treaty against chemical weapons. It doesn’t make the use of them any better, but it does mean that justification for a strike is more difficult.
Add on the fact that the UN won’t support action, UK isn’t in, the public don’t support a strike, and there is no clear end game, I think the safer option is not to strike. Obama has said he will ask Congress for authorisation. I wonder if he hopes they will vote no, so he can say he tried, but he can’t. However he risks looking ineffectual after his red line comment.
The case for a strike is partly based on how unacceptable it is for Assad not to be punished or face consequences for what he has done, or allowed. And I have to say that grates with me. However I am a bit of a believer in karma. It may not happen immediately, but I do wonder if his use of chemical weapons may in fact lead to greater opposition to his regime from Syrians. Maybe someone will assassinate him, or at some point I think he will face a messy end. Gassing your own people rarely ends well.
The real problem, and tragedy, is there is no good end game. There is no real path to an end to the conflict, and the formation of a Government with wide-spread support. The opposition is almost as bad as Assad (if not worse), and spend a fair amount of time attacking each other also.
So for now I think sadly the balance is to hold back. Unless you are prepared to intervene to such a level that you remove Assad or destroy his military capability, a more limited strike may achieve little, and drag the US into the conflict.
On a lighter note, enjoy this humour from the Huffington Post.