Rabkin in Weekly Standard: Syria Policy Worse Than it Looks

In an article critical of the administration's handling of the crisis in Syria, Professor Jeremy Rabkin writes in the Weekly Standard that no international disarmament scheme can possibly work in today's Syria—and commitment to one could, in fact, unleash a greater threat.  

"If we do, nevertheless, commit to a disarmament scheme brokered by Russia, we'll find it hard to bomb Assad's military on the side or even give much help to rebels," says Rabkin. "American policy will be committed to an international scheme that depends on Assad's cooperation."

"The consequences won't be limited to Syria, however," Rabkin warns. "If we say a Russian arms control plan is adequate to control Assad's chemical weapons, how will we mobilize support for a confrontation with Iran?" 

Having settled for unverifiable controls in Syria, the president will find it harder to convince Americans and the rest of the world that it is worth taking great risks to stop Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons, says Rabkin, and he will also find it harder to persuade Iran that he is serious in demanding proof Iran's efforts in that area have ceased.

"As a practical matter, chemical weapons in Syria pose far less risk to the region or the world than nuclear weapons in Iranian hands," Rabkin argues. " The former can kill hundreds, the latter hundreds of thousands, potentially millions. If Iran does get nuclear weapons, everyone in the region will calculate on the basis of that difference."

"International norms are not much of a defense against the sectarian frenzies and murderous passions of today's Middle East," he concludes.

Worse Than It Looks, The Weekly Standard, September 23, 2013. By Jeremy Rabkin.

"The president's view would make the U.S military the world's policeman-literally. But a policeman acting with no courts to constrain it. The traditional view was that the absence of reliable international controls made it more important for powerful states to act with restraint. It certainly moved other states to distrust claims by great powers to be acting from disinterested, humanitarian motives.

"We don't want to encourage needless suspicion of American actions or demands for more serious international controls on our actions. So you might think the president would want to reassure the world that we respect limits on our right to intervene. But the president has cited no precedent from American history for unilateral military intervention to vindicate abstract international norms, when there was no direct element of threat to our country, our citizens, or our allies. I doubt such precedents can be found, even from the history of other nations (or, at least, other modern liberal states).

"It's not a legalistic point. It's one thing when we stretch accepted rationales for military intervention because we think our vital interests are at stake, as we have done at various times when deposing chaotic governments in our neighborhood-as in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989. Other countries can understand such actions, even if they disagree with our assessments. If we limit our actions to vital interests, we reassure the world that we are not claiming the right to intervene wherever we have the physical capacity to do so."

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