In Reason, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Chris Preble takes proponents of intervention in Syria like Hillary Clinton to task. Clinton criticizes Obama’s failure to intervene more in Syria as the catalyst for bringing ISIS to power in the Eastern regions of the country. Preble wonders who Clinton would have allied with.
And who, exactly, we were supposed to arm was never clear. When former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford praised recent gains by Syrian moderates, he mentioned only one group by name: “the Army of Islam, led by an ambitious Islamist commander named Zahran Alloush.” But the University of Oklahoma’s Joshua Landis has shown that Alloush might not be so moderate after all.
The debate over what we should have done with the Syrian rebels back in 2012 also largely ignores the fact that the United States and its allies apparently did offer a good bit of training, resources, and weapons to purportedly moderate Syrian fighters who were vetted for their supposed democratic leanings.
But, somewhere along the line, the screening process failed. “Washington and its allies,” concludes Souad Mekhennet in The Washington Post, “empowered groups whose members had either begun with anti-American or anti-Western views or found themselves lured to those ideas in the process of fighting.”
The advocates for U.S. military intervention have an additional hurdle to clear. Having shown that the threat merits attention, they must also show that it can not be handled by others, or by non-military means. As David Boaz explains in his seminal book, Libertarianism: A Primer, “War cannot be avoided at all costs, but it should be avoided wherever possible,” thus, “Proposals to involve the United States—or any government—in foreign conflict should be treated with great skepticism.”
Sadly, such skepticism is not much in evidence in Washington. Beltway insiders continue to call for more intervention, dismiss evidence that might undermine their case, and condemn those who advocate prudence and restraint. So long as the interventionists continue to dictate the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, we can be certain that we will remain embroiled in costly and counterproductive wars. And we will consistently miss opportunities to advance U.S. security through other means.
Perhaps even the small amount of support given to the Syrian rebels was too much. Remember the first photos of ISIS’s advance on Iraq? As they rolled down the highway, ISIS fighters were being carried by what appeared to be the Toyota trucks given to the Syrian rebels by the State Department.