A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria: Taking Action Without a Clearcut Objective?

There seems to be little room for doubt that the US is about to take military action against Syria. Certainly, assuming the evidence of the Asad regime's use of chemical weapons really exists, anyone with a sense of moral outrage will want to lash out. But to what end? (And unlike 2003 in Iraq, I hope the evidence really is conclusive and indisputable this time.)

It seems clear that the US is seeking to "send a message" to Asad to deter further use of chemical and nerve agents, but that it is not seeking to plunge itself into the Syrian civil war or effect a regime change.

Using bombing to "send a message" rather than achieve a specific and realistically achievable military purpose is not a new idea. It was tried in Vietnam. The Onion, as often happens, gets to the point: "Experts Point To Long, Glorious History Of Successful U.S. Bombing Campaigns." The late Robert McNamara was a pioneer of the idea of bombing as message-sending, and eventually realized his error. The other side had a clear objective, and took Saigon.

A case can be made, I think, for staying out of the Syrian affair altogether, and a case can be made for going in and changing the situation on the ground. But a middle ground that accomplishes little but to make us feel better? The worst of all possible worlds.

And George Packer at The New Yorker captures an internal dialogue that recognizes both sides of the argument, 

I hope, first, that the US makes evidence of the use of chemical weapons public, along with clear evidence of who used them. I hope that whatever action it takes is not just aimed at feeling something has been done, but is actually aimed at degrading the regime's ability to repeat its actions. And I hope there is some sort of clear and achievable objective. Am I expecting too much?

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