I've been paying close attention to the debate over Syria, and how the United States should respond to the revelation that Assad used chemical weapons to kill over 1,500 of his people, including hundreds of children.
And here's what I've figured out:
(1) We should bomb in retaliation because this is a clear violation of the Geneva convention and it crosses a line that only Hitler and Saddam have crossed.
(2) We should bomb in retaliation if only to establish our moral outrage and this immoral act.
(3) We should bomb in retaliation because to do nothing would show Assad that he can get away with it, and he will continue to do it on his own people and maybe even us in the western world. If we are to remain a world leader, we must act like one.
(4) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because we're not even sure it happened. Let the UN inspectors finish their investigation.
(5) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because 100,000 Syrian citizens have been killed since the outbreak of civil war there in March 2011… and we're supposed to say that Assad crossed a "moral line" when he suddenly uses chemical weapons to kill several hundred?
(6) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because it'll just get Assad mad and you know, 9/11.
(7) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because it's only symbolic. If isn't going to oust Assad, then why do it?
(8) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because Assad's opposition in Libya ain't no angels themselves, and probably have used chemical weapons too.
(9) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because of the law of unintended consequences, i.e., we don't know what happens next.
(10) We shouldn't bomb in retaliation because we shouldn't be the worlds' policemen.
The political fault lines are interesting on this. You have a lot of Republicans voting against retaliation, but they're only voting that way because they want to see Obama fail. What really ticks me off are the Republicans who wanted to invade Iraq, but are now calling Obama a warmonger over Syria.
The Democrats are at least more consistent on this. Those who opposed Iraq (and are still in Congress) are against retaliation (except, notably, Obama himself).
Where do I stand?
It's clear that the limited bombing strike proposed by Obama is the only military option, and therefore the only response, that there is. But it's entirely symbolic. Obama wants to punish Assad for violating the abstract norms of war even as he leaves Assad capable of continuing his massacre by more conventional means.
That's why I can't get enthused about intervening in Syria: Making the decision to punish Assad means explicitly making the decision not to stop him.
And so what's the point? Bomb just to show we're pissed? Really?