, Salem, MA


September 10, 2013

Crisp: Old warriors McCain and Graham push old strategies for Syria

While our nation wonders whether to do anything at all about Syria, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham propose to do much more than the limited strikes that President Barack Obama wants to inflict on Syria’s President Bashar Assad as punishment for and deterrence against the use of chemical weapons.

Both Republican senators support a military response stout enough to make a difference in how the Syrian civil war turns out, including robust missile strikes against Assad and weapons for the Free Syrian Army, whom McCain and Graham believe to be moderates.

This plan sounds risky, but among the limited range of options, including doing nothing, the arguments in favor of it sound about as reliable as those supporting any other plan.

Still, it’s presumptuous of the senators to imply, as they have done frequently, that we wouldn’t have this problem today if only Obama had taken these actions two years ago, when the unrest was just beginning.

Perhaps. But this feels like 20/20 hindsight, which, in the Middle East, is just about the only kind of sight that can be employed with any clarity and certainty. You’ll never go broke by betting on unpredictable consequences of our policies in that troubled region.

In fact, the only two Middle Eastern policies of the last six or seven decades that have been reasonably successful are our support for Israel and our diligent courting of the House of Saud, which has served as a dependable source of the petroleum that we depend on.

But neither of these policies is an indisputable success. The 9/11 hijackers — virtually all of them Saudis — were largely motivated by the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia and our undiscriminating support for the Saudi monarchy.

This history of doubtful policies should induce caution, which may explain some of Obama’s tentativeness in the Middle East. But it doesn’t explain his willingness — and McCain’s and Graham’s — to resort to measures that have done little to improve matters in the past. High-tech missiles fired at Muslims from a safe distance have ordinarily created as much chaos as they’ve resolved.

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