I've heard several arguments for action by the United States to tackle the Syrian problem.
The foremost and most compelling is that the United States should prevent the use of chemical weapons so as to uphold international law and the laws of war. There is also the argument of preventing the slaughter of innocent civilians as a result of the ongoing conflict. There is the argument of liberating a people from the oppression of a brutal dictator. Finally, there is the argument of containing the violence in Syria so as to prevent the war from escalating into a regional conflict.
Each of these reasons are good for the United States, as a country concerned about the welfare of human beings world wide, to take action of some sort to confront the challenges listed above. On that note, I am persuaded. Whatever actions the United States chooses to spend in its money, time, energy, and manpower on, should tackle each of these important problems in turn. The best possible solutions should be on the table and each given due consideration, as is proper for a great nation.
But, there is not a military solution to any of them. Follow me below the fold to learn why.
The problem with our current posture, towards Syria and all other conflicts of this sort, is that the United States all too quickly concludes that there is a military solution to each of these problems. Or that military action, in some way, will assist in solving them. This is the great problem in American foreign policy. American policymakers conclude much too often that foreign affairs should be conducted with military force as the cornerstone and backbone of policymaking.
This manner of doing business with the world, with American weaponry at the forefront, limits creative decision making and forces us into increasingly costly and ineffective options. We discount or ignore other non-lethal yet aggressive tools like subterfuge, secret diplomacy, bribery, and deception. We fail to deploy some of our greatest social assets in conducting foreign affairs, such as the appeal of our popular culture, our technological ingenuity, or business acumen. We fail to think of how to creatively deploy the full arsenal of American soft power, while relying too much, too often on the hard. Into the vacuum steps others, whose power to persuade seems to go further and prove more enduring than our power to kill.
I always think of Fadl Shaker. Fadl Shaker, if you don't know him, was one of the biggest pop singers in the Middle East. Huge number of hits, millions of records sold. A dozen hit albums. Influential to young men and women from Rabat to Baghdad. Especially women. Fadl is a handsome crooner, with a buttery voice that sang of love and lust. Fadl would have been just the sort of person America would have been well to contact. The kind of influential person who could have been invited to the United States and strategically placed in some silly romantic comedy alongside some Hollywood starlet or whatever. But we didn't get to him. One of the Sunni militant sheikhs, Ahmed al-Azeer, did. Fadl is now a militant Salafist soldier. Al-Azeer has called for Jihad in Syria against the Shia and Christians. Fadl is now singing about doing just that. I can imagine, not long after we have bombed something fierce, that he will be singing about a similar Jihad against America.
There are occasions where the strategic use of military force can have a positive effect on self-defense or defense of allies. Our long-standing military deployment in Germany, for example, backing up the NATO treaty alliance has created a long stretch of almost unheard-of peace in Western Europe. But there is a good argument to be made that the Marshall Plan, perhaps the most shining example of the effective use of American soft-power, was even more effective than establishing permanent bases in the heart of Europe.
The United States can't expect to solve every problem in the world, be it genocide or civil war or terrorism, solely through the dangerous and unpredictable nature of war. Not that there isn't a place for war. In self-defense or in defense of treaty allies, war is the only solution to a military attack. This is the primary reason we have a military force, to do what what it is trained to do: protect and defend territory. Not to conduct foreign policy.