I am usually 50/50 on Tom Friedman’s views. Here I think Tom has it more right than wrong. Although I do not believe the U.S. should be the front guy in helping to clear up a centuries-old Muslim civil war, I do believe Mr.Friedman is right on the folly of a bombing approach.
[I]f we kill lots of Syrians, it enables Assad to divert attention from the 1,400 he has gassed to death to those we harmed. Also, who knows what else our bombing of Syria could set in motion. (Would Iran decide it must now rush through a nuclear bomb?)
But our response must not stop there.
We need to use every diplomatic tool we have to shame Assad, his wife, Asma, his murderous brother Maher and every member of his cabinet or military whom we can identify as being involved in this gas attack. We need to bring their names before the United Nations Security Council for condemnation. We need to haul them before the International Criminal Court. We need to make them famous. We need to metaphorically put their pictures up in every post office in the world as people wanted for crimes against humanity.
Yes, there’s little chance of them being brought to justice now, but do not underestimate how much of a deterrent it can be for the world community to put the mark of Cain on their foreheads so they know that they and their families can never again travel anywhere except to North Korea, Iran and Vladimir Putin’s dacha. It might even lead some of Assad’s supporters to want to get rid of him and seek a political deal.
When we alone just bomb Syria to defend “our” red line, we turn the rest of the world into spectators — many of whom will root against us. When we shame the people who perpetrated this poison gas attack, we can summon the rest of the world, maybe even inspire them, to join us in redrawing this red line, as a moral line and, therefore, a global line. It is easy for Putin, China and Iran to denounce American bombing, but much harder for them to defend Syrian use of weapons of mass destruction, so let’s force them to choose. Best of all, a moral response — a shaming — can be an unlimited response, not a limited one.
A limited, transactional cruise missile attack meets Obama’s need to preserve his credibility. But it also risks changing the subject from Assad’s behavior to ours and — rather than empowering the rebels to act and enlisting the world to act — could make us owners of this story in ways that we do not want. “Arm and shame” is how we best help the decent forces in Syria, deter further use of poison gas, isolate Assad and put real pressure on him or others around him to cut a deal. Is it perfect? No, but perfect is not on the menu in Syria.