BOSTON — President Obama is reviewing possible military responses to the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
To help assess the options for the president and the international community, Morning Edition spoke with Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations and history at Boston University.
Bob Oakes: The message from the White House is that whatever action it takes, it tends to “deter and degrade” Syria’s ability to launch any sort of chemical weapons attack. Do you think that makes a U.S. military response a certainty? And are there any likely responses that don’t involve military force?
Andrew Bacevich: I think the chances of U.S. military action are probably about 99 percent now. So the question is not whether we’re going to attack; I think the question is why we are attacking and what purposes we think we’re going to achieve.
The quote you just gave us really consists of weasel words.
What do you mean by weasel words?
“Degrade.” “Deter.” If indeed the crime here is the use of chemical weapons to inflict large scale casualties, how will this presumably very limited attack prevent any recurrence of that event? This will be an act of war by the United States against the government of Syria. When we go to war, we should do it only for the most serious reason. We should have very specific political purposes to be served, and I don’t see that in this particular case.
I think what we have is a president who backed himself into a corner by foolishly saying the use of chemical weapons constituted a red line. Now the red line’s been crossed, and people in Washington are concerned about American credibility or the president’s prestige being compromised. I think we’re going to have a modest, ineffective military action undertaken to try to give the impression of restoring that credibility and prestige.
Are you saying that doing nothing would be better than doing something that’s limited and maybe ineffectual?
Yes, I actually do think doing nothing is better. Politically, the Assad regime is contemptible. But politically, the forces attempting to overthrow the Assad regime are unlikely to be any better. So this is not a circumstance in which it makes any sense to choose sides.
If we are looking for humanitarian purposes that we wish to advance, we don’t have to confine ourselves to Syria, since there are plenty of other humanitarian violations occurring around the world — to include: in Egypt.
The other message from the White House is that whatever action it takes is not intended to oust Syrian President Assad or even force him to the negotiating table. Is that part of why you’re saying what you’re saying?
Yes. I think that’s indicative of how unserious this military action is. The real issue we ought to be discussing is not Syria but U.S. policy toward the Middle East more broadly. To think that anything we do vis-à-vis Syria is going to redeem the failures of U.S. policy that have occurred over the last 10, 20, 30 years is an illusion. So it’s time to step back. It’s time to evaluate how a long series of U.S. military actions in the Middle East have failed to provide stability, have failed to promote democracy, have cost us an enormous amount. It’s time for us to step back, rethink, try something different instead of this continuous reliance on military power as the preferred instrument of U.S. policy.