The world will be a much better place when evil Syrian tyrant Bashir Assad is dead. It is possible (though not certain by any means) that the Syrian people will be better off if and when his regime falls – especially if he is using chemical weapons against his own people, as is suspected. But should the U.S. intervene militarily?
The answer is no.
We do not have a vital national security interest in the outcome of Syria’s civil war – certainly not one that requires that we spill the blood of American soldiers to shift the outcome in a way that we currently see as preferable. We need to be careful that we are not simply replacing one tyrant with another. As terrible as the Assad regime has been, revenge is human nature and we can expect retaliation if his opponents take power. That probably will not be confined to the actual perpetrators of war crimes against civilians.
Our lack of a vital national security interest is what makes the remarks by John Boehner so irresponsible. Boehner accused President Obama of “outsourcing” our national security to the United Nations. As evil as it is for Assad to use chemical weapons against civilians, that is not a threat to our national security. Boehner’s political grandstanding and exaggeration of the threat is not helpful.
Obama said months ago that use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would require a response from these United States – but he was not clear what that response would be. It was a bad gamble by Obama. As Assad grows increasingly desperate to hold onto power, the odds that he would ramp up force on his own people grows. After all, Assad knows what happened to Moammar Gadhafi when the Libyan rebels won their civil war. By laying down a “red line,” Obama set the stage for us to get involved in another nation’s civil war (where we do not have a national security interest) or to have our credibility damaged by issuing empty threats.
If we have a national security interest here, that interest is to keep it from spreading to other nations, as well as preventing either side from threatening our allies, such as Turkey and Israel. That should be our focus here. But we cannot be the world’s policeman and we have sacrificed too much blood and treasure (and brought too much hatred and resentment upon on ourselves) by appointing ourselves to that role.