I wrote recently against intervening in Syria. Meanwhile a whole host of notables have come out in favor or intervention, including Hilary Clinton and even retired four-star General and former CIA Chief David Petraeus. But most of the arguments tend to boil down to the notion of American credibility, i.e. Obama said he was going to do it so he must do it; otherwise, the world will run amok! More cynically, Mr. Obama must now follow through or personally lose face. Billions of dollars are a lot to spend to save face, I should add.
At any rate, the Economist recently summed up its argument in favor of intervention as follows:
The arguments for intervening in Syria are narrower and less Utopian than they were in Iraq. First is the calculation of American interests. The international arena is inherently anarchic. Only laws and treaties that are enforced impose any order. By being the world’s policeman, America can shape the rules according to its own interests and tastes. The more America steps back, the more other powers will step in. If it is unwilling to act as enforcer, its own norms will fray. If it is even thought to be reluctant, then they will be tested. China already prods at America; Vladimir Putin’s Russia has begun to confront it—and not only over Syria. Whether Syria was a vital American interest before this attack was debatable, but not after Mr Assad’s direct challenge to Mr Obama’s authority.
Second is a reaffirmation of Western values. America’s potency comes not just from its capacity to project force, but also from the enduring appeal of the values invoked by its founders. Those are stronger than Mr Obama seems to think. With China’s economy slowing and its political corruption evident, the Beijing consensus will seem ever less enticing to citizens of the emerging world. Mr Bush tainted America’s values with inept invasion, prisoner abuse and imperial overstretch. Meeting Mr Assad’s atrocities with appropriate force will help to rebuild American moral authority in the world. If Congress must be involved, it should send that message just as loud and clear as it can—and so should Mr Obama’s allies.
I don’t find this argument particularly compelling, but I’m not a retired four-star general either.