The Corner

A Dissent on Syria

NR today editorializes that “President Obama is about to launch one of the most reluctant military strikes in U.S. history,” and then reluctantly endorses it. The editors would prefer a medium-sized hit: less than a full-scale campaign for regime change in Syria but more than “a minimal, Bill Clinton–style attack from the air.” But they say, for no obvious reason, that the minimal option would be “better than nothing.” On this point, Max Boot, also an advocate of military action, is more persuasive: “A few days of cruise missile strikes. . . will only make the U.S. appear to be a weak, posturing giant.”

To some extent the editors are responding to a problem that the president’s incautious rhetoric created. “The president can’t repeatedly make threats that prove utterly empty without inviting every bad actor in the world to laugh off whatever we say in the future, in potentially much more dire and important circumstances.” Is that really a good enough reason for taking action that we otherwise would not? And wouldn’t strikes that leave the regime in place — that are not designed to topple it — also make those threats empty?

There is also the constitutional point. This is not a military action that we are undertaking to defend ourselves from attack or to protect a core interest. The congressional power to declare war, if it is not to be a dead letter, has to apply here. And it seems to me exceedingly unlikely that Congress would vote to commit us in Syria, because the public manifestly opposes it. This is a war with no clear objective, thus no strategy to attain it, no legal basis, and no public support. I dissent.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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