New York Times op-ed on Syria is wrong about the Obama doctrine

Michael Doran and Max Boot have an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now” that is about as unpersuasive as that important argument can be.  It starts off on the wrong foot:

Whether you agree or disagree with President Obama, there is no doubt that he has formulated a coherent approach to the use of American power. The Obama Doctrine involves getting into a conflict zone and getting out fast without ground wars or extended military occupations. This approach proved its effectiveness in Libya last year. But the president is not applying his own doctrine where it would benefit the United States the most — in Syria.

That’s not a doctrine; those are tactics.  A doctrine lays out the conditions for action.  There seems to be some confusion about this: Charles Krauthammer tried to pin a “Cairo Doctrine” on Obama too, based on his speech in Cairo a few years ago, in a shallow and unconvincing polemic even by Krauthammer standards that similarly failed to enunciate what the triggers were and what action would result.  A true Obama doctrine would be something more like: act when US interests and professed values are at stake, where American power can be effective, where there has been a large-scale local revolt that was met with violent repression.  If there are four conditions in that doctrine, the situation in Syria ticks off three — the outlier is the question of whether US intervention would be effective.  Doran and Boot never address this.

Oddly, four and a half of the five reasons Doran and Boot offer in support of intervening in Syria are not directly related to the Syrians: they say it will thwart Iran, block Al Qaeda, help Lebanon and Iraq, and improve relations with Turkey.  The Syrians only appear in the “and, finally” category: which is that American intervention could end a terrible human-rights disaster within Syria, though even this comes with the coda “and stop the exodus of refugees, which is creating a burden on neighboring states.”

What a waste of space on the world’s pre-eminent op-ed page.  The argument that should have been made is that Syria matters to American interests in its own right and some sort of path laid out for how US intervention, direct or indirect, would be effective.  Make that case and you can count me in.

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Click here to read about the CIA’s involvement in the coups in Syria that brought the Assad clan to power, or here for all my posts on Syria and the Middle East.

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