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Wed Aug 28, 2013, 10:37 AM


Syria Isnít Iraq. Everything Isnít Iraq [View all]

Yes, I know. It's Jonathan Chait.

Syria Isnít Iraq. Everything Isnít Iraq.
By Jonathan Chait

The generation that came of age during World War II famously ó and, in time, tragically ó came to apply the formative lessons to every foreign-policy event that followed it. The generation that came of age during the Vietnam War, and then, more recently, the Iraq War, was imprinted with the opposite lessons. Iím not immune: My formative experience in college was the Gulf War and, soon after that, the eventual, successful interventions in the Balkans. (I have a cousin who is married to a Kosovar, whose husband was murdered by Serbian militants, and who was saved by the United States military.)

The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as ďmajor wars.Ē ÖÖ Attacking the Syrian regime wonít stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.

Iím continually struck by the ideological cleavage between myself and the Iraq WarĖvintage smart center-left writers, who generally agree with me on domestic policy but sharply diverge with me on foreign policy. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, regularly makes arguments against any kind of military intervention that impress other Iraq WarĖera neoliberals but strike me as insanely reductive. The arguments Yglesias poses today against a military strike against Syria eerily echo the arguments conservatives and libertarians make against any kind of domestic government intervention.

The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians. Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened. But the narrow, humanitarian goal that drove the U.S. to act was unambiguously accomplished without the larger dangers of mission creep that foes warned against. Itís telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.
An even worse argument is that, if we want to prevent the deaths of people in Third World countries, we should use humanitarian aid for things like anti-malarial nets rather than military force against people who are massacring them.

snip As I said, it is not an easy call. But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.

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