Questions for Hawks

Daniel Drezner:

When hawks talk about taking action in Syria, they tend to focus on their desired outcomes: checking Russian and Iranian power, ousting Assad, defeating the Islamic State and ending the slow-motion humanitarian disaster. These are attractive goals that the current administration is not pursuing. Hawks sound very good when they talk about foreign policy outcomes in Syria.

The question is how the foreign policy output of greater military intervention in Syria will achieve those desired outcomes. That’s why Zakaria’s question is important, and that’s why Stephens’s failure to offer a credible answer matters. There is a strong and bipartisan 21st-century record of U.S. administrations applying military force in the Middle East with the most noble of intentions and then making the extant situation much, much worse. So any hawk who makes the case for more action has to marry that to a detailed argument for why this time would be different. Simply put, why would the foreign policy output of a more aggressive U.S. posture in Syria lead to a better outcome than the status quo?

Stephens’s counter is that just because the United States has messed this up in the past is not a reason for not trying again. But all else being equal, most Americans and most policymakers probably would prefer a Syrian mess without heavy American investments to one where the United States expends significant blood and treasure for an altogether different Syrian mess.

I propose there are two kinds of hawks. One kind is the sort who refuses to accept that America can’t “fix” everything to our liking, and unless we apply massive military force, we aren’t trying hard enough. The other kind of hawk just likes war, as long as it’s somewhere else and he doesn’t have to fight it. Or maybe hawks take both positions.

Do read all of Drezner’s column, and then go to Daniel Larison at The American Conservative, who has an even better question.

The principal hawkish error in Syria is in assuming that the U.S. should be involved in the conflict at all. Drezner describes the outcomes that the hawks seek as “attractive goals,” but it hasn’t ever been clear why they should be attractive for the U.S. The most important question that hawks can’t answer, and which they are almost never asked: “How are American interests protected and advanced by taking sides in Syria’s civil war?” There has never been a remotely persuasive answer to that question, and I suspect that there never will be because no vital U.S. interests were ever at stake there.

Larison may be a bit myopic here, but if he is, I don’t see anyone really addressing this question of why except on humanitarian grounds. Larison also makes some good points about the hawks never being held accountable for their “outcomes.”

Speaking of humanitarian grounds, Larison writes,

There has always been a glaring contradiction at the heart of the hawkish argument on Syria that they never address. They cite the destabilizing effects of the Syrian civil war as a reason to intervene, and they frequently dress up their interventionist arguments in humanitarian rhetoric, but at the same time they want the U.S. to carry out policies that will kill and displace more Syrians, create more refugees, and make the country even less stable than it currently is. They frame the problem in Syria as one of continued conflict and instability, but their so-called “remedy” promises much more of the same. It’s as if they see a country mostly on fire and ask, “What can our government do to burn the rest of it?”

Both Drezner and Larison are worth reading in full, and then see Kevin Drum, who has some questions for Drezner.

9 thoughts on “Questions for Hawks

  1. I wound up having the conversation with my wife. Who is wrong – Putin or Obama? IMO, it’s very much the same situation as Ukraine. Moscow & DC like to have ‘puppet’ governments who will respond to those capitols.

    Syria & Ukraine are sovereign countries. The people of those countries should decide – the people of those countries should be free to change their mind – adopt or change whatever form of government they like – and select and/or reject those leaders without consulting the global superpowers.

    We’ve re-entered the era of proxy wars, like Nam and Korea. If the inhabitants of DC or Moscow had to suffer as the citizens in these lesser countries do, then we’d see a lot more compromise, negotiation and peace talks. But were mangling the lives of poor strangers, so it doesn’t matter, does it.

  2. Obama’s been very shrewd on Syria. McCain and the neocons would have had us arming rebel factions indiscriminately. Many weapons, no doubt, would have ended up in the hands of creepy Islamists. Better to use a measured approach, as we have.

  3. Being “conservative” means, what
    Being “conservative,” whether internationally or intranationally, means being ready to make things worse by always having plenty of gasoline to add to the smallest of fires – and plenty of matcthes to start one!

    And it also means never having to feel or say that you’re sorry about the always horrendous results…

  4. It’s as if they see a country mostly on fire and ask, “What can our government do to burn the rest of it?”

    Well at least they’re consistent…they’re doing that here at home too.

  5. “What has Obama done wrong in Syria?”

    Obviously, keeping us out of a war is almost as unacceptable to a human hawk as being a democrat .

    Hawks don’t deserve this kind of insult. I don’t think it is in the nature of a real hawk to look around for suffering and try to make it worse. It seems to be a real human trait.

  6. “I don’t think it is in the nature of a real hawk to look around for suffering and try to make it worse”

    No it is worse than that they look at the suffering and try to figure out how the defense contractors that own them can make a profit. Many in the democratic party are just as guilty as GOP. Given the current environment the teabaggers have created in domestic cost cutting ask yourself why nobody ever suggests a real cut to the pentagons budget?

  7. Talking about birds, uncle. Sorry I was unclear.

    Generally I am offended by our tendency to denigrate other people by comparing them to wild animals.

  8. I’m dreading another Republican presidency. Reagan and Bush got us Al Qaeda. W got us ISIS, which is actually less of a threat to us, but more of a threat to the region. What new horror will our next Republican president come up with?

  9. “Talking about birds, uncle. Sorry I was unclear”

    My mistake went right over me head! Though I think it is the animals that are denigrated when compared to the opportunistic scoundrels we call hawks!

Comments are closed.