Listen to the podcast "Airstrikes on Syria" from the April 14, 2018 episode
The United States, France, and the UK launched airstrikes last night against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria, in retaliation for the use of those weapons against Syrian civilians.
A few bullet points on the good, the not-so-good, and the serious unanswered questions.
- We diminished chemical-weapons capability in the hands of a regime using them against civilians
- We acted with allies (France and UK)
- We avoided allied casualties
- We sent a message to Syria and Russia
- If the President really thinks it's "mission accomplished" when it definitely is not (the situation in Syria wasn't resolved by one missile strike last April, and it won't be solved by one set of airstrikes this year)
- If we think this ends the Gordian knot of what's happening in Syria
- If we aren't taking in Syrian refugees
- If we don't have a clear declaration of war
- If we don't have a valid set of strategic objectives
- If we aren't consistent about what constitutes a "red line" for action
Serious unanswered questions:
- We don't have a coherent way of dealing with "what's next", even though the matter of dealing with a nation ruined by a bad government is a problem at least as old as WWII. Dwight Eisenhower wrote: "In the long run American concepts and traditions would be best served by the State Department's assuming overall responsibility in Germany, using the American Army there merely as an adjunct and supporter of civil authority and policy." We have been consistently awful about looking to the "what's next" part of military action.
- It's one thing to win a war. The military is excellent at that. But reconstruction and rebuilding are mandatory if we want successful outcomes, and the military isn't assembled to do that. What was WWII without the Marshall Plan and the occupation of Japan (that, ultimately, was relieved by the Korean War)?
- The whole reason a door opened for ISIS was the vacuum of capable civil government and local security in Iraq and Syria. We shouldn't get in if we don't have a commitment to fixing it before we get out. The moral case is basically irrefutable for "getting in" -- probably at some level more involved than just airstrikes -- so let's see the plan for what's on the other side.