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Analyst On Syria: ‘We’re Going To Have A Modest, Ineffective Military Action’

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.

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  • fun bobby

    I like this guy. how did he get on NPR?

  • fun bobby

    on the other hand that sure does sound a lot better than the massive ineffective military actions we have engauged in as of late

  • DKen0

    Just shows how important it is to be seen as doing something: be it jobs, national debt, healthcare problem, Syria, …
    Electorate seems to want action – even if it is clearly ineffective and not yielding results. More often than not, things get worse after our officials act (see all the above).

  • J P Fitzsimmons

    He’s got it right. This is about saving face, not saving lives or ousting a dictator. It will be seen by the combatants in Syria and our enemies everywhere for what it is. In the end it won’t satisfy anyone and will enrage the monsters who control the weapons.

  • cuvtixo

    I think a lot of Syrians would be very upset at this guy and the interview. Over 100,000 dead isn’t a mispeak by Obama. I’d like to think that is as much if not more important factor than using the phrase “this is a red line” in a speech.

  • pato

    I disagree that we should not choose sides. There are forces within the opposition that are fighting to bring a democratic republic to Syria. Arm them and empower them. Be the arsenal of democracy.

    But don’t do an airstrike without arming the rebels, without training them, without giving them intelligence on the ground. Libya is at least a partial success story there. Yes we lost an ambassador and some brave people in the aftermath and Libya is no certainty at becoming a functioning republic, but we at least helped them to have a chance and they still have one now.

    No symbolic airstrike to save face…. if we are going to hit Syria, and presumably take lives doing so, then make it count for more than symbolism. Do it to change the facts on the ground and the course of the civil war.

    What we have let happen in Egypt is sad. In the name of our worst most racist fears of Islam we let a nascent republic become a dictatorship again with our nation’s tacit support. We keep getting sold the same bill of goods by corrupt and malevolent dictators who tell us not to trust the will of the people because they are mostly Islamic and at the same time those dictators use Islamic law to justify subjugation of their people and our so called allies fund our enemies.

    What I am most afraid of is that we keep faltering in these situations because we don’t believe in our own democratic republic anymore or have forgotten its virtues. At some point you just have to go with those who say they are striving for democracy or a republic and then judge them by their actions. That’s all we can do here, so why would we hold others to a different standard?

    • X-Ray

      Any regime which replaces Assad, from any of the fighters in Syria, will be even more hostile to the U.S. than the present one. The U.S. will gain nothing from an intervention on our part, just more Sryia casualties.

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