The Always Wrong Experts

Scott Lemieux

The Weekly Standard has an open letter explaining that blowing up lots of stuff in Syria is a great idea:

The signatories on the letter addressed to President Obama inlcude Senator Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, and many others.

The “other people” include Max Boot, Paul Berman, Dr. Clifford D. May, Marty Peretz, and Danielle Pletka.

If this crew is for it, it’s a bad idea. Need more be said?

Well, I’ll say some more, anyway. The always-wrong experts want the U.S. to arm the insurgents. My understanding is that there are several different insurgent groups, some of which are hard-core Islamists, although some are not. John Cole writes,

And then we get to look forward to the whole liberal hawk debate, and then the diehards who will support whatever intervention Obama engages in, should he, and call everyone else closet Republicans, someone will force me to read the fucking New Republic again, and then, the best part- if Obama does intervene, and the mostly secular Assad regime leaves, there will be elections in Syria, and a muslim government will be elected. We can then be treated to years of hearing how Obama and the Democrats lost Syria, just like they did Egypt, all of which will be more proof for the necessity to invade Iran.

The expectation is that the U.S. will drop a few bombs on Assad and then tell him to behave. Max Fisher writes,

What’s about to happen, if the United States and allies do go through with the strikes, is less of a war and more of a ritual. This isn’t about defeating Assad, it’s about punishing him. And that calls for being really precise about how much punishment the United States imposes.

If the U.S. military just fired off a bunch of missiles, it would probably cause more civilian causalities than with its current approach, and the amount of damage it caused would be tougher to predict. Maybe it causes less damage than the United States wants, and then Assad is not sufficiently deterred from future chemical weapons use. Maybe it causes more damage, and then Assad might feel compelled to respond, perhaps by striking Israel, and that’s how things spiral out of control.

No, what the Obama administration appears to want is a limited, finite series of strikes that will be carefully calibrated to send a message and cause the just-right amount of pain. It wants to set Assad back but it doesn’t want to cause death and mayhem. So the most likely option is probably to destroy a bunch of government or military infrastructure — much of which will probably be empty.

If it’s ritual that’s called for, I say equip Joe Lieberman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Leon Wieseltier, et al. with some drums and bagpipes and drop them into Damascus. That’ll learn ’em.

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