War with Syria: At the Intersection of Interests and Ideology

When the dogs of war start howling, it’s worth noting what pack they run in. For the better part of two years, hawkish interventionists like Senators John McCain, R-Az., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been agitating for the United States to throw its military weight behind the Syrian rebels as they attempted to free their necks from the boot-heal of Bashar al-Assad. No surprise there. By ideology and instinct, neoconservatives always side with the freedom fighter over the tyrant, even when often the United States doesn’t have, well, an obvious dog in the fight.

Their problem has been that President Barack Obama fits most comfortably into the realist foreign policy camp most associated with Bush the Elder, which explains why a number of former Republican luminaries such as former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and George Schultz and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft have at various times backed Obama’s foreign policy plays. In that more pragmatic worldview, vital U.S. national interests must be at stake before America even contemplates direct military action. And the U.S. interest Obama has been most vitally interested in promoting is an avoidance of more entangling foreign conflicts.

At the other ends of the foreign policy spectrum are the liberal humanists like Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and libertarian isolationists like Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky, who, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan, find common ground in opposing almost any military adventure save in response to a direct attack on the homeland. “The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States,” Paul said this week.

As he listens to the distant baying outside his palace gates, however, Bashar al-Assad should take little comfort in the fact that he has managed to unify so many disparate foreign policy packs, many of which have now picked up his scent. He may yet escape, but it takes a particular kind of strategic myopia to drag the United States to the very brink of a war its leader has tried assiduously to avoid. In the realm of foreign affairs it’s also rare that a cause with such profound stakes unites hawkish interventionists and neoconservatives, realists and liberal internationalists like the French, but Bashar al-Assad has finally turned the trick. And by their enemies shall you know them.

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