I'm just going to throw this out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up: instead of attacking Syria, how about we don't attack Syria?
Crazy, I know; this is America, after all, and our presidents like nothing more than to flip a few cruise missiles at other countries, combined with a few bombing sorties for good measure, because it's a hell of a lot easier than actual statecraft. Besides, it looks good on television, and all those meanies in Congress can't accuse the Commander in Chief of not doing anything. Oh, also, cruise missiles and bombs cost a lot, so if we pull the trigger on Syria, someone will get paid handsomely.
What ho, this we call "diplomacy," right? Flatten a few buildings, blow some children sideways out of their kitchens during breakfast, take a victory lap on the Sunday morning talk shows...what could possibly go wrong?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Once again, it is weapons of mass destruction at the crux of the matter. Unlike our Iraq debacle, however, there seems to be a fairly impressive body of evidence to suggest that chemical weapons were used in Syria. Doctors Without Borders seems pretty convinced it happened, despite the fact that the use of such weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, given the fickle nature of chemical weapons and how closely concentrated his own forces were near the area of the attack. A rogue military commander, perhaps? The rebels themselves?
The answer to whether or not a chemical attack took place will soon be forthcoming, as UN inspectors have arrived at the scene to investigate after being greeted with sniper fire. If it is established that the Syrian government did this, enormous pressure will be brought to bear on President Obama to "punish" the Assad regime with a military attack of some kind.
The short version of why such a course of action is an invitation to catastrophe: Syria is no paper tiger, and is very much capable of both defending itself as well as attacking American interests in the region if provoked. Syria and Iran are strategic allies and are pledged to each other's mutual defense, which means all the Iranian missile sites in the mountains above the Persian Gulf coast could launch their missiles in retaliation...and those Iranian missiles, by the by, are advanced enough to spoof Aegis radar systems, which means thousands of American service members currently manning our warships in the Gulf could very quickly be delivered into a watery grave. Russia is also a staunch ally of Syria, and could also be provoked into getting involved by backing Assad even more forcefully than they have to date.
In essence, any attack on Syria could quickly escalate into a full-scale war that would further destabilize the region and quite probably lead to the kind of conflagration found in the last chapter of the Bible. Finally, and not for nothing, but if Mr. Obama and his generals manage to come up with the perfect military plan and successfully end the Assad regime, the folks who will take over Syria in his absence are exactly the kind of people we started this whole "War On Terror" to confront and destroy in the first place. Or so I was told. The story seems to change so often, doesn't it?
An article published in Saturday's New York Times makes it very clear the degree to which American military action against Syria is a no-win scenario:
Indeed, it would be disastrous if President Bashar al-Assad's regime were to emerge victorious after fully suppressing the rebellion and restoring its control over the entire country. Iranian money, weapons and operatives and Hezbollah troops have become key factors in the fighting, and Mr. Assad's triumph would dramatically affirm the power and prestige of Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanon-based proxy - posing a direct threat both to the Sunni Arab states and to Israel.
But a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the United States and for many of its allies in Europe and the Middle East. That's because extremist groups, some identified with Al Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria. If those rebel groups manage to win, they would almost certainly try to form a government hostile to the United States. Moreover, Israel could not expect tranquility on its northern border if the jihadis were to triumph in Syria.
Given this depressing state of affairs, a decisive outcome for either side would be unacceptable for the United States. An Iranian-backed restoration of the Assad regime would increase Iran's power and status across the entire Middle East, while a victory by the extremist-dominated rebels would inaugurate another wave of Al Qaeda terrorism.
So there's all that, which is, in the end, a bunch of realpolitik game-of-thrones crap. If you need a flesh-and-blood reason why attacking Syria would be a tremendously stupid mistake, look no further than the shattered nation of Iraq. On Sunday, 47 people were killed there in a wave of car bombings and shootings. More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in July, as the sectarian tensions unleashed by America's colossal military blunder there simmer close to the boiling point.
Make no mistake: America did that. Every body that hits the ground as a result of Sunni-Shia violence in Iraq is our fault. The uncounted thousands upon thousands in Iraq who were slaughtered, maimed or displaced in the first decade of this century are our fault. If we attack Syria, Iraq will simply explode, and Syria could very easily become another Iraq.
If it is established beyond doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria, either by the Assad regime or the rebels, a response of some kind is both necessary and justified. But the military option must be kept on the shelf, high out of reach. As deplorable as the use of such weapons surely is, attempting to fix the situation with military action will only deepen the problem, cause even more unnecessary carnage, and will essentially destroy what it is we would be trying to save.
It is also worthy of mentioning that some 60% of the American people do not support military action against Syria, according to the most recent poll. You can't get 60% of Americans to agree on what color the sky is, but apparently, most of us have had quite enough of this whole eternal war thing, thank you very much.
I think I read somewhere that Mr. Obama is a pretty smart guy. Now would be a fantastic time for him to prove it by coming up with an answer to this that does not involve cruise missiles, bombs and mayhem.