Why Air Strikes Against Syria Probably Won’t Work

A mother and father weep over their child's body who was killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, 2013.Erbin News/ZUMA

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Over at WorldViews, Max Fisher provides the nickel arguments for and against air strikes against Syria. The case against is pretty straightforward: Air strikes won’t change much of anything; there will be civilian casualties; and it’s almost certain to lead to escalation. That’s a pretty good case! So what’s the case for strikes? Here it is:

1) A “punishment” strike against Assad’s forces for this month’s suspected chemical weapons attack would make him think twice before doing it again….2) The international norm against chemical weapons matters for more than just Syria….When the next civilian or military leader locked in a difficult war looks back on what happened in Syria, we want him to conclude that using chemical weapons would not be worth the risk. 3) Even just the (apparently earnest) threat of U.S. strikes could change Assad’s behavior.

This is basically a single argument dressed up three different ways: air strikes will deter future chemical attacks. The problem is that I don’t believe it unless the strikes are absolutely devastating. Assad is plainly in a fight for his existence, and under circumstances like that nothing is likely to stop him except the certain knowledge that US retaliation would make his position worse than if he had done nothing in the first place. Air strikes might be defensible if we’re willing to act on a scale that large, but make no mistake: we’d basically be committing ourselves to full-scale war against Assad.

It’s possible that enforcing international norms against chemical attacks is important enough to make that worth it. But that’s the question we should be asking ourselves. A “punishment” air strike is a joke, little more than a symbol of helplessness to be laughed off as the nuisance it is. If we want to change Assad’s behavior, we’ll have to declare war against him.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate