President Donald Trump is suddenly jumping up and down about President Assad after the alleged chemical attack in Syria several days ago.
Recent news reports that the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against its own people have amplified calls for the United States to intervene militarily. The images of victims of the chemical attack, which shock the conscience and grieve the soul, all but cry out for a response. The Russian government claims, quite implausibly, that the attacks were either launched by rebels who oppose Assad or as a false flag effort to make Assad look guilty.
After years of watching former president Barack Obama dither and do nothing on Syria while Russia and Assad seized the initiative following Obama’s disastrous red line comments, many hoped President Donald Trump might be willing to take military action to put an end to Assad’s atrocities.
These calls are understandable given the magnitude of death and destruction wreaked by Assad. But what proponents of military action to depose Assad have not explained is what our clear national security interest is there, what political victory looks like, what our main risks are, and what costs we will be required to pay in order to achieve that victory.
Here are 14 questions that proponents of war in Syria must answer before anyone considers whether military intervention to remove Assad is the best course of action for the American people.
1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?
2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?
3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?
4) What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?
5) How long will it take to achieve political victory?
6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?
7) What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?
8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?
9) What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?
10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?
11) Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?
12) Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?
13) Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?
14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?
Is trump capable of considering 4 let alone 14 questions?