Prominent foreign policy hawks warned against military action in Syria on Wednesday, arguing that a half-hearted and ineffective intervention could be more damaging to America’s credibility than not acting at all.
The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to launch a targeted missile campaign in Syria, following reports that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have crossed President Barack Obama’s declared “red line” for the second time by using chemical weapons against opposition forces.
While it has been two years since Obama first demanded that Assad step down, reports indicate that the intervention will be limited and is not aimed at removing Assad from power.
National security hawks said a tepid intervention would likely embolden Iran and fail to end the carnage in the region, during a discussion hosted by the Endowment for Middle East Truth on Wednesday.
“The worst outcome is that we do something [in Syria] and it has no real effect,” said Dr. Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “That will demonstrate to the whole world that you have nothing to fear from the United States.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said he is opposed to military action in Syria, but said a large display of force is preferable to a weak showing.
“I don’t believe it is in America’s interest to use force here,” said Bolton. “But if we were going to respond, why respond proportionately? Why not respond disproportionately? … I think [Iranian President Hassan] Rowhani will see this if it plays out that way as an act of weakness by the Obama administration.”
Bolton added that America’s credibility could be badly damaged by an ineffective intervention.
“The president’s credibility is already shredded, and it’s had an adverse effect on America’s credibility,” said Bolton. “A ‘tank plinking’ kind of raid will remove whatever credibility the president still has. And this time, because it’s American military power, it will have a more measurable negative effect on our country’s credibility too.”
While national security hawks are divided on whether to intervene in Syria, they largely agree that if force is used, more is better.
A group of over 60 foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Obama on Tuesday supporting military action and calling for a robust response aimed at crippling the Assad regime, the Weekly Standard reported.
“The United States and other willing nations should consider direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime,” wrote the group of signatories, which included former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.), Bill Kristol, Elliott Abrams, Max Boot, and Robert Kagan. “The objectives should be not only to ensure that Assad’s chemical weapons no longer threaten America, our allies in the region or the Syrian people, but also to deter or destroy the Assad regime’s airpower and other conventional military means of committing atrocities against civilian non-combatants.”
The group added that it was time “to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria that you have said is inevitable.”
Ledeen echoed this sentiment on Thursday, saying that if the administration decides to take action against Assad, it will “have to act decisively.”
“I always thought proportional response was a doctrine for little countries, and that the whole point of being a superpower was that people had to know that if they messed with us, we were going to over-respond—that it was going to be devastating,” said Ledeen. “That’s what deterrence is all about. That’s what being a superpower is all about. Otherwise, why be a superpower?”