Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syrian Hiatus

In this age of instant everything, the President's decision to follow the constitution and ask congress for authorization to use force against Syria seems to some to be excessively extending the crisis. (Of course, it's still not as long as the crisis of July 1914, which lasted over a month - only to produce the worst of all possible outcomes!)
I listened over the weekend as the President's decision to go to Congress was characterized as a sign of weakness, further undermining American credibility in the world. Personally, I don't buy that. In any case, the advantages - legal, moral, and political - that come from following the law seem to outweigh any disadvantages. Of course, it all depends on what finally happens, what kind of military response we make, what effects it has on Syria and the other players on the global stage. That is what will ultimately enhance or undermine American credibility.
American credibility would certainly be undermined if Congress did nothing or if it explicitly rejected the President's request of authorization to use force. Admittedly, there are isolationists in both parties and their voices have become even shriller recently. Still, it's hard to imagine even this dysfunctional Congress taking the onus on itself of undermining American standing in the world in that way. So I do think that in the end Congress will pass something authorizing the President to do something.
That something, however, remains problematic. As I wrote the other day, it is hard to envision any intervention - however limited, or however massive - that would produce a good outcome. And part of the problem is that we really don't know what a good outcome would be. With or without chemical weapons, Assad is a fist class Bad Guy. But would his elimination better serve regional stability and security? The two likely outcomes of Assad's fall would be chaos (worse even than Iraq after Saddam) or an Islamist victory that would likely endanger Israel and the Christian minority in Syria.
American standing and credibility in the world may indeed require forceful American action. Such is the burden of being the global superpower. But precisely what military action should we take? And to accomplish exactly what goal? That, to my mind, remains still unanswered.
Perhaps this hiatus while Congress finishes its summer vacation (and the President goes - of all places - to Syria's ally Russia, for a G-20 Summit Meeting in St. Petersburg's Constantine Palace) might give us time to grapple better with those questions.

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