The world is complicated. My wife pointed out to me today that I think striking Syria with cruise missiles is a bad idea, but also that I would do it if I were President. Huh?
Here is the logic. Cruise missile attacks on the chemical weapons command systems, especially attacks constrained to disrupt other military activities as little as possible, are not very likely to succeed.
But what is success? Stopping Assad from using chemical weapons again, in order to establish an international taboo. That could happen.
Or it could fail. But if it fails, so what? Internationally, that is a nothingburger. Oh, the foreign policy Village will bleat about American credibility and all that, but this is not Munich. We did not lose credibility after the fiasco of the second Gulf war and subsequent occupation. (Heck, we retained enough influence to get European countries to force down the Bolivan president’s jet.)
The certain loss would be the Syrian soldiers (and possibly civilians) who would die. That is not a loss that I would take likely, but it would be worth establishing a red line regarding chemical weapons use. If the attempt to create such a red line fails, then it would be a tragedy. But it seems a cost worth paying for the chance.
So what are the risks? One is Iranian retaliation, but I admit to being sanguine about that. Another would be worries about tipping the balance in the civil war, but if the strikes erred on the side of weakness then that risk would not exist. A third would be the fact that the legal basis for an American strike would be shaky. (The domestic ship of Article I, Section 8, has sailed long ago, back during the Jefferson administration in fact, but Articles 2 and 42 of the U.N. Charter are still in port.)
Finally, there would be pressure to do even more in the event that Damascus uses chemical weapons again.
That last one is a risk with somebody else as president, but were I the President then I would not worry about it. With myself as President the only risk would be devaluing the UNSC’s notional monopoly over authorizing the use of military force across international boundaries ... but inasmuch as the relevant articles of the U.N. Charter are “still in port,” it is an exceedingly stormy one.
So yes, as President, I would roll the dice. And then if Assad used chemical weapons again, I would throw it to the Security Council, since it would then be obvious that stopping their use required regime change and that I would not countenance unless the Security Council so decided.
But I am not the President, thank the Lord. Barack Obama is the President. Will he be able to resist the pressures for further involvement should Mr. Assad use chemical weapons again despite the strike?
Whether I support an attack hinges on the answer to that question.