4 of the Most Awful Arguments for Attacking Syria Made So Far


There’s no stopping the U.S. now: the gears of war are grinding for an attack on Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack last week that killed at least hundreds of people.

President Obama will release his report on why the U.S. is justified in striking at Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry upped the rhetorical ante yesterday, calling the alleged chemical weapons attack a “moral obscenity” and stating that “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” And NBC News reports that a strike on Syria could occur as early as Thursday.

Media figures are now racing to opine on what America’s response should be. And there’s no shortage of commentators itching for a U.S. attack, consequences be damned. Here’s 4 bad media justifications for an attack on Syria.

1. Eugene Robinson

The Washington Post’s liberal columnist made the case for an attack in a column published yesterday. Robinson wrote that Obama has to “punish” Assad for the attack because the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated and because “this is a case in which somebody has to be the world’s policeman.”

Robinson takes the Obama administration’s claim that the Assad regime carried out the attack at face value. It’s clear that an attack took place. Less clear is who, exactly, carried it out. While the evidence certainly leans towards Assad being the perpetrator, the U.N. still has to do its ground work, and cruise missile strikes can wait.

There’s also other avenues for punishment if it becomes clear Assad did carry out a chemical weapons attack: the International Criminal Court and economic sanctions.

2. New York Times

Here’s another group of liberals providing cover for an Obama attack on Syria. The New York Times editorial board states that “the arguments against deep American involvement remain as compelling as ever.” But the Times also says that “Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through.”

So the main argument the Times is using to justify an attack is that Obama must prove his “red line” on chemical weapons cannot be crossed. But what if the cost of proving that is deeper U.S. involvement in a brutal civil war?

The Times states “the aim is to punish Mr. Assad for slaughtering his people with chemical arms, not to be drawn into another civil war.” But once the U.S. dives into war, the pressure for even greater intervention to tip the balance of the civil war towards the rebels becomes greater.

3. Washington Post’s Editorial Board

It’s not a shock that the hawkish editorial board at the Washington Post favors intervention in Syria. But the board wants the U.S. to go even further than the few pointless and futile cruise missile strikes that the Times and Robinson seem to want. “The military measures could include destroying forces involved in chemical weapons use and elements of the Syrian air force that have been used to target civilians, as well as helping to carve out a safe zone for rebels and the civilian populations they are seeking to protect,” the board writes.

There’s a risk that limited cruise missile strikes on the Syrian regime will raise the pressure for greater U.S. involvement down the road. But the Post wants the U.S. to go all in and throw our military weight on the side of a mixed and divided bag of rebel forces. That nearly guarantees U.S. blood and treasure going to wither on the Syrian battlefield. 

4. Bret Stephens

The most hawkish--and easily derided--case yet comes from Bret Stephens, a neoconservative writer at the Wall Street Journal. Stephens writes that Obama’s “main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad.” He goes on to compare the situation to the 1930s, and argues that a Tomahawk missile aimed at Assad’s head could “hit and hasten the end of the civil war...What's at stake now is the future of civilization, and whether the word still has any meaning.”

The hyperbole is all too easy to spot. And Stephens seems to think killing Assad will end the civil war. But the death of Assad is unlikely to bring about an end to civil war. It could lead to further ethnic cleansing. And the rebels could then turn the guns on themselves and jockey for power. Killing Assad may feel good, but it would hardly mean an end to the bloodletting.

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