What, you didn’t think we were a foreign policy blog?
That, considering just the U.S.-Syria system, the U.S. bombing Syria is a terrible idea isn’t news. Here are the rough contours: it’s illegal as a matter of international law, nobody wants to do it, we can’t destroy the stockpile of chemical weapons, even proponents of intervention admit it won’t achieve anything, and it is likely to increase government killings of civillians.
So why is it going to happen? My thinking on this is that the only reason the U.S. is considering getting involved, and the only reason it should consider getting involved, is signalling to Israel and Iran. The idea of a “red line” is prominent in the justification for bombing: the U.S. said there was a red line at the use of chemical weapons and Assad (most probably) used chemical weapons. Both Israel and Iran care very much about how the U.S. acts in this situation because of the possibility that Iran will cross the declared “red line” of nuclear weapons during Obama’s term. How the U.S. reacts to Syrian “red line”-crossing offers a clue, then, to how it would react to Iranian “red-line”-crossing.
From Israel’s perspective, the ideal would be if the U.S. dealt with a potential Iranian weapon quickly and decisively, without any intelligence verification or attempts to drum up allies or political approval procedures that could drag on. The prototype of that kind of behaviour already hasn’t happened on Syria. From Iran’s perspective, the ideal would be if it could develop nuclear weapons without being bombed. On the one hand, if the U.S. strikes Syria, that’s a pretty good indication that the U.S. is likely to act in case Iran comes close to getting a bomb. On the other, if Israel becomes convinced that the U.S. is unlikely to act in Iran, it is likely to be much more aggressive.
So where does that leave us? The outcome I would prefer is the one that doesn’t lead to nuclear weapons being used or a World War III type scenario. What I don’t know is whether bombing Syria (which otherwise is a very bad idea) simply in order to scare Iran and pacify Israel is helpful towards that goal.