The Corner

Moral Hazard

I am still very reluctantly in favor of giving Obama authorization to strike. My reluctance stems in part from the fact I don’t trust Obama and I think his handling of the Middle East in general and Syria in particular has been criminally incompetent (Yes, Obama defenders, I’ve heard the news that not everything Bush did went swimmingly and that Obama ordered the killing of Bin Laden. What else you got?). 

But there’s one argument I’m not sure is nearly as persuasive as the administration and other supporters of a strike think. Over and over we’re told that if Assad gets away with using chemical weapons it will encourage others to use their WMDs. This is often said alongside another damning assertion: Assad is only the third dictator to use chemical weapons since they were banned. The other two are Hitler and Saddam Hussein. The Hitler claim, as Fred discussed,  is a bit problematic. But what about Hussein? He definitely used them. But did his use of chemical weapons embolden or encourage others to use them? Hussein used chemical weapons in 1987 and 1988. No one else used them again until Assad did more than 20 years later. Is there any evidence that Hussein’s precedent encouraged Assad? If there is, I haven’t seen it. 

Now, I do think there are real risks in letting Assad get away with this mass murder, but most of those risks stem from the problem with leaving this guy in power at all. But the idea that letting Assad get away with using chemical weapons will all of a sudden result in their widespread use everywhere strikes me as a stretch. 


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