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Douthat: What to do about Syria

The following is an early, not-entirely-verified draft of remarks President Barack Obama was set to deliver announcing a strike in Syria. It was found in a rubbish bin outside the White House shortly after he changed course and decided to seek congressional approval first:

My fellow Americans, I'm speaking to you tonight because, at my orders, the United States has begun punitive strikes against the forces of President Bashar Assad of Syria.

There's a formula to this kind of address: some references to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding inside Syria's borders, some nods to the international community's support, some claims about the threat the Assad regime poses to U.S. interests and finally a stirring peroration about freedom, democracy and human rights.

But it's my second term, and I'm awfully tired of talking in clich?.

So let's be frank: Striking Syria isn't going to put an end to the killing there or plant democracy in Damascus, so it's hard to make the case that our values are really on the line.

Nor are our immediate interests: Assad's regime doesn't pose a direct threat to the United States or our allies, and given the kind of people leading the Syrian rebellion these days, we may be better off if the civil war drags out as long as possible without a winner.

Nor do we have much in the way of official international support — no Security Council, no Arab League, not even the British. We're down to the same "coalition of the willing" we started with in the 1770s: It's just us and the French.

Even at home, I don't have many cheerleaders. My base is naturally anti-war, half the Republican Party has turned anti-interventionist, and the hawks of the right and left see this kind of strike as too limited to be worthwhile.

No, this one's on me. And I owe you an explanation of what I'm thinking.

Basically, it comes down to America's role on the international stage, and how we can use our extraordinary military preponderance for our own good and the world's.


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