By Daniel Larison
April 6, 2017
The American Conservative
The destruction of Syria: made in America? (Volodymyr Borodin / Shutterstock.com)
The case for attacking the Syrian government remains as weak and unpersuasive as ever, and the reasons not to do it make much more sense. Regardless, Trump appears to be seriously considering launching an illegal attack on the Syrian government on the dubious grounds that “something should happen.” I have talked about the potential dangers of such an attack for years, so regular readers will already be very familiar with what I’m going to say, but I will offer a quick summary of why the attack shouldn’t happen.
The U.S. has no authority or right to strike at the Syrian government without U.N. authorization, and that authorization won’t be forthcoming. Despite the conceit that the U.S. is the world’s “policeman,” our government has no right to launch a war against another government because of its alleged war crimes. Possible strikes are being described as a punitive measure, but our government is not the world’s appointed executioner and our military should not be used for that purpose. Put simply, attacking the Syrian government would be illegal, which would be all the more ridiculous when the attack is being carried out ostensibly in the name of upholding international order.
The U.S. cannot pretend that it is enforcing any U.N. resolutions, and it is not acting in self-defense or the defense of a treaty ally. An attack on the Syrian government would also be difficult to justify in other terms. There is little likelihood that an attack would deter further use of chemical weapons, and it is more likely to help drag out and intensify the current conflict rather than hasten its end. If the ultimate goal is or becomes regime change, that will produce even greater evils than the ones the attack is supposed to prevent. Even if regime change is not the goal, it is difficult to see how killing more Syrians makes anything better. Joining in the carnage in Syria will not help the civilian population, but will most likely subject them to additional suffering. Insofar as an attack significantly weakens the regime, it would benefit only jihadists and their allies, and doing that makes no sense.