Warped Motives on Syria

Warped Motives on Syria

A war of good feelings and domestic expedience.

A glimpse of the underlying political calculations comes through in a comment from an anonymous U.S. official that the level of military attack being contemplated is “just enough not to get mocked.” Politically, that is an understandable calibration. But it is not a sound motive to enter a foreign war.

Some of the same people who have been pestering the administration about intervening in Syria have also been berating it more generally for being too tactical and reactive, especially in the Middle East, and not being sufficiently bold and strategic. But responding with an armed attack to a single reported use of a particular kind of weapon is about as tactical and reactive as one can get. A truly strategic approach to the topic would not only lay out a thorough sense of what is at stake for the U.S. in Syria and what we intend to accomplish there, but also would consider carefully the repercussions of any U.S. military action on other important U.S. equities in the region.

There are several of those equities that would need to be considered, but take, for example, just one: the negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program. Analysts' views vary regarding current Iranian perspectives toward Syria, but a U.S. military intervention would at a minimum complicate the effort to reach an agreement with Tehran and at worst would kill off what is, following the election of President Hassan Rouhani, an excellent chance to negotiate an accord. It surely would make it politically harder inside the Iranian government to sell the making of concessions to the United States. One Western diplomat stationed in Tehran says a U.S. attack on Syria would be “a game changer for negotiations with Iran.” So we come full circle from President Obama's comment about Syria use of CW as a game changer.

We also come full circle on the objective of controlling proliferation of unconventional weapons. The most reliable way to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon is through a negotiated agreement placing restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. An attack made supposedly to deter use of one kind of unconventional weapon would thus increase the chance that another nation would develop a different kind of unconventional weapon—one that really is a weapon of mass destruction.

Of course, some of those pushing for U.S. intervention in the Syrian war are the same ones who want to kill the prospects for a negotiated agreement with Iran. That is one of the most warped motives of all for a U.S. attack.