While I was writing about the fundamental disjuncture between the means and ends proposed by advocates for an attack on Syria, I didn’t know that Nick Kristof had written a column providing an excellent illustration of the bait-and-switch. Repeated invocations of thousands of deaths a month lead to advocacy for a bombing campaign that “might, at the margins, make a modest difference.” (In other words, even if things go well blowing stuff and people up will not stop the thousands of killings a month or substantially alter the power relations in Syria.) Kristof’s argument isn’t quite as bad as Kerry’s embarrassing neoconnish invocations of Munich, but the problems with his line of reasoning are manifest:
At bottom, as James Fallows notes, the case for action against Syria is based on the same logical error as too many foreign-policy disasters past: we have to “do something,” and military action is … something. Kristof’s column is a classic example of the fallacy. But no matter how many times proponents discuss the death toll of the Assad regime, it doesn’t change the fact that attacking Syria has almost no upside and any number of downsides. Proponents of attacks focus so much on Assad’s bad actions precisely because they would prefer to avoid the question of what precisely a military strike would accomplish other than making the proponents feel better about themselves.
I also argue that given the attempt to turn Assad into the Hitler-of-the-month it’s hard not to see a real risk of escalation when the first strikes fail to accomplish anything commensurate with the alleged ends.
…you will be surprised to know that Michael Gerson’s arguments are even worse.