By Paolo von Schirach
September 6, 2013
WASHINGTON – Whatever your opinion on Obama’s wisdom in warning Syria about not crossing “red lines” regarding the use of chemical weapons and in asserting that military action would be taken by the US, if and when Syria crossed said “red line”, it is abundantly clear to me that an American retreat, at this juncture, would be a major political disaster. (See link above to a related piece).
Smart analysts may and do argue that Obama should not have made threats without evaluating the political risks of a military intervention, especially of a “solo” adventure, (backed now only by French military participation). Now –they say– Obama “boxed himself in”, he “painted himself into a corner”. The same analysts may add (with cause) that Obama’s uncompromising, ” tough guy” stance was most ill-advised, especially given the totally unfavorable political climate in the US. Simply stated: it is clear that most Americans do not want to go to war; and quite frankly they do not understand the technical and political nuances between “war”, “boots on the ground”, and “limited strike”.
Indeed, in the last few years, (in large part due to reactions to the lengthy and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), old-fashioned American “Isolationism”, historically embraced by conservatives, has come back –in full force. Libertarians and Tea Party people are against US military engagements, limited or open-ended. They do not see any justification in getting American resources committed to foreign mission, except in the extreme cases in which there is a clear and direct threat to US national security.
The whole “Internationalist” idea whereby America as the sole Super Power has global responsibilities, including, as in this case, the responsibility to inflict punishment in case of an egregious transgression of established principles of the laws of warfare, (the use of chemical weapons), is lost on them.
On the left there is an equal number of politicians who piously (and in most cases in a rather disingenuous way) recommend to make our case at the United Nations’ Security Council, knowing full well that nothing will be done there, on account of Russian and Chinese vetoes and guaranteed obstruction.
A bad idea
Given all this, all told, this idea of striking against Syria looks pretty stupid. America would have to act alone, with limited and tepid international backing, and with American public opinion strongly leaning against any military action.
Sadly, these are the facts. Still, having gone this far promising retribution for an action that is beyond dispute, (in other words we know the facts), there is no way that the Obama administration can retreat now, without a colossal, perhaps terminal, loss of face. If Obama will accept any kind of face-saving political “compromise” that will let Assad go unscathed, it will be almost impossible to re-establish America’s credibility around the world.
The price of inaction
This is what Secretary of State John Kerry said will happen in case America would not act against Syria:
” I’ll tell what will happen. In Pyongyang, in Tehran, in Damascus –folks will stand up and celebrate….In a lot of other capitals in parts of the world, people will scratch their heads and sign a sort of condolence for the loss of America’s willingness to stand up”.
There you go, our enemies will rejoice, the rest of the world will mourn. I recognize that “prestige” and “credibility” are intangible. Still, not much will be accomplished by any (once upon a time) Great Nation that lost them.