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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Argument Against Military Intervention in Syria Needs Alternatives

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has made a fairly strong argument against U.S. military intervention in Syria. From his blog, via Reader Supported News:

Even if the President musters enough votes to strike Syria, at what political cost? Any president has a limited amount of political capital to mobilize support for his agenda, in Congress and, more fundamentally, with the American people. This is especially true of a president in his second term of office. Which makes President Obama’s campaign to strike Syria all the more mystifying.
President Obama’s domestic agenda is already precarious: implementing the Affordable Care Act, ensuring the Dodd-Frank Act adequately constrains Wall Street, raising the minimum wage, saving Social Security and Medicare from the Republican right as well as deficit hawks in the Democratic Party, ending the sequester and reviving programs critical to America’s poor, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and, above all, crafting a strong recovery.
Time and again we have seen domestic agendas succumb to military adventures abroad – both because the military-industrial-congressional complex drains money that might otherwise be used for domestic goals, and because the public’s attention is diverted from urgent problems at home to exigencies elsewhere around the globe.

Reich goes on to add, quite rightly that “a strike on Syria may well cause more havoc in that tinder-box region of the world by unleashing still more hatred for America, the West, and for Israel, and more recruits to terrorism. Strikes are never surgical; civilians are inevitably killed. Moreover, the anti-Assad forces have shown themselves to be every bit as ruthless as Assad, with closer ties to terrorist networks.”
Reich deplores Assad’s use of chemical weapons, but warns against the U.S. getting bogged down in a “slippery slope,” which almost always accompanies military action that purports to be limited.
Reich is a good writer, and his points are well-stated. Regarding his concern about squandering Obama’s “limited amount of political capital,” needed to advance his domestic agenda, however, Ed Kilgore has an instructive post on “Obama’s ‘Political Capital‘” up at Washington Monthly, in which he observes:

…Seriously, what sort of “political capital” does the president have with congressional Republicans? They committed to a policy of total obstruction from the day he became president and picked up right where they had left off the day he was re-elected. Obama’s only options in dealing with the GOP are to offer them cover for compromise when he must and hand them an anvil to speed their self-destruction when he can. But he has no “political capital” to spend.

A good point. Another problem with Reich’s argument is that he offers no suggestions for alternative action. Is doing nothing about atrocities with chemical weapons really our best option? Nothing?
Part of the argument against military intervention is well-stated by Reich and other writers. But, the anti-interventionist argument could use a little more heft. There may indeed be nonviolent alternatives, and perhaps some input by leading nonviolent strategists like Dr. Gene Sharp could open up the dialogue. Certainly the Syrian resistance to Assad could benefit by applying some of Sharp’s ideas, as did the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in 2010-11. In the future, at least, the U.S. could invest in training pro-democracy movements in nonviolent strategy and action.

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