Here Daniel Larison excoriates war-dog Senator John McCain over his scolding of Air Force General Paul Selva at a Senate Armed Servces Committee hearing. Larison chastises McCain for his willingness to spend American blood on any and all military engagements, and for risking a broader war with Russia in Syria that could lead to perilous consequences for all.
Dana Milbank reproduces a notable exchange from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Syria:
“We have the military capacity to impose a no-fly zone,” Selva said without hesitation. But he was concerned about the Syrian and Russian reaction. “The potential for miscalculation and loss of American life in the air,” he said, “do not warrant the no-fly zone.”
Sen. John McCain, the panel’s chairman, shook his head. “It is one of the more embarrassing statements I have ever heard from a uniformed military officer,” the Arizona Republican said, “that we are worried about Syria and Russia’s reaction to saving the lives of thousands and thousands of Syrians being barrel-bombed and massacred.”
McCain is the one who should be embarrassed by this exchange, but it doesn’t surprise me that he wasn’t. There is no military option so reckless or dangerous that McCain wouldn’t support it, and it is fortunate that our military leaders are not quite so cavalier about risking American lives and possibly provoking major wars. Thinking through how potential adversaries might react to a course of action is the responsible and sane thing for anyone in the government to do whether he is a military officer or a civilian. Gen. Selva is doing what he ought to be doing under the circumstances, and McCain ought to be ashamed for upbraiding him for offering a sober reckoning of the potential costs and benefits of his preferred policy. In this case, it is also absolutely right to be cautious when talking about an aggressive measure that puts the U.S. on a collision course with another nuclear-armed state. McCain’s characteristic disregard for the consequences of military action is what Milbank should be condemning here rather than faulting Pentagon officials for being responsible.
It also needs to be emphasized here that starting a war with the Syrian government and risking war with Russia wouldn’t guarantee the protection of any civilians in Syria. No only would a “no-fly zone” fail to offer any protection for civilians from ground attacks from the regime or ISIS, but it would risk escalating the war to the detriment of civilians in all parts of Syria. If a “no-fly zone” were to trigger a wider war, the consequences could be even more severe for all parties to the conflict. As hawks typically do, McCain dismisses the possibility that an aggressive policy might backfire or cost more than it gains the U.S. He is the one ignoring the perils and pitfalls of deeper intervention, and it is simply deplorable.