A U.S. air strike against Syria that hits only a few targets and is of limited duration may be the worst of all options, writes Daniel Byman in Foreign Policy. Mr. Byman concludes, “To make a difference in the long term, the United States needs to do more, particularly with the opposition. And if it won’t do more, than staying out altogether may be the be the best option.”
The question of credibility should also be prominent in the debate. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry raised expectations that America would strike Syria. Is there a price to backing down? It is easy to doomsay and claim that every American enemy will become emboldened. But hyperbole aside, escalating the rhetoric and backing down in the face of, well, nothing suggests to U.S. foes that Washington has little stomach for future fights.
Finally, though I am skeptical U.S. strikes will change the military balance, Congress should also explore whether we are prepared for “success.” Jihadists are running amok in Syria, and the U.S.-backed moderate opposition is weak. American programs to strengthen the jihadists militarily, which received only lukewarm administration support and (ahem, ahem) stalled in Congress until July, are barely off the ground. Should Assad fall, Syria would probably collapse into chaos and radicals would control much of the country.
The debate in the weeks to come should be broad. Legislators and the administration should discuss the strategic and military implications of a congressional role and think about the long-term effects of any U.S. military action. In the end, a healthy debate might find that a middle ground — a strike that hits only a few targets and is of limited duration — may be the worst of all options. To make a difference in the long-term, the United States needs to do more, particularly with the opposition. And if it won’t do more, then staying out altogether may be the best option.