Another Set of Questions About Syria

So that Errol Morris does not have to follow his documentaries on McNamara and Rumsfeld with one on the Obama team.

A few minutes ago I posted the six-step pattern of pro-escalation rhetoric that Eric Martin laid out two years ago. That followed William Polk's lengthy and important 13-question examination of a strike on Syria. 

Now on the Foreign Policy site, Tom Mahnken has listed six more questions about the administration's rationale and plans. Here's the importance of his list:

Before Congress approves an attack, it should be sure the administration has a clear answer on each of these points. The public should expect comprehensible answers from the administration too. Not perfect or irrebuttable answers: especially in combat, things develop in unforeseeable ways. But the president should show that at a minimum he and his team have thought through, and can explain, each of these aspects. Mahnken's list:

  1. What objectives does the administration seek to achieve in Syria?
  2. How does it anticipate that the use of force will lead to the fulfillment of those objectives?
  3. What is the administration's theory of victory?  That is, what are the assumptions that link the use of military force to the achievement of victory?
  4. How does the administration believe that Syria will respond to the U.S. use of force?
  5. What does the administration believe could go wrong?  What unexpected things could happen?
  6. And finally, how does the administration anticipate that this will end?

Now a related note, with bonus Donald Rumsfeld clip, from a reader who until recently worked at a DC organization that is generally pro-intervention in the Middle East. He raises a longer-term concern about what Rumsfeld used to call the "known unknowns":

Assuming we do decide to intervene in Syria, and we do not destabilize Assad--the White House has explicitly ruled out regime change as a goal of intervention--the best we can hope for is a situation similar to Iraq from 1991-2003. In such a scenario--heavy sanction, regular weapons inspections (which ended in Iraq in 1998), and a no-fly zone--we'd probably have a tenuous 'peace' thru the end of the Obama administration, but there's no guarantee that the next president would support a system that leaves in place a brutal dictator who has shown himself unafraid to use chemical weapons on his own people and has been known to pursue nuclear weapons. The temptation to 'finish the job' might prove too much to resist, particularly if Assad decides to do something like take a shot at one of our jets patrolling the no-fly zone.

It might sound far-fetched, but mission creep should be a very real concern. I encourage you to take a look at this clip from Errol Morris's new documentary to see how speculation, distrust, and misinformation turned the Iraq sanctions into the Iraq War. It's not hard to see how it could easily happen again.  


Again, it's good for the country, and for the president himself, that he is taking this case to the Congress. Let's hear him answer questions like these, so that Errol Morris does not have to follow his "how did we get this so wrong?" documentaries about Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld with one on Obama and his team.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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