Michael Gerson says he wants regime change in Syria in his latest Washington Post column:
Hitting a few sites with perhaps 100 missiles may reduce Assad’s capability to make more sophisticated chemical weapons. But the chemical attack on Douma was fairly primitive. The coalition strike probably did not deprive Assad of the ability to repeat this kind of tactic. And Assad still has a powerful incentive to do so, since news reports indicate that it was the chemical attack that finally broke the spirit of resisters in Douma.
Trump’s standard — that a dictator can indiscriminately kill his people as long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons — is nearly lost in the overarching lesson of the Syrian conflict. Assad has established his own international norm: If you make war on your own people — if you kill enough of them, brutalize enough of them and displace enough of them — the world will let you stay in power.
Here is the norm that America might have defended: Mass atrocities against civilians as a method of warfare won’t be allowed to succeed. This would involve not only punishing the use of chemical weapons as a tactic, but also making sure that the use of chemical weapons and other violence directed at civilians fails as a strategy.
The last two administrations have placed their main emphasis on two goals — defeating the Islamic State and opposing the use of chemical weapons — for a reason. In the chaos that once was Syria, Obama and Trump have wanted to define the U.S. mission in ways that are discrete, limited and achievable. Both men can claim credit in the campaign against the Islamic State — not a trivial matter. One of them has, at least, maintained the pretense of an international norm on chemical weapons.
In the real world, however, battles are not won by limiting your objectives. The outcome in Syria that would have best served U.S. values and interests? A well-armed coalition of moderate rebels forcing the regime to the negotiating table, resulting in a coalition government that includes some regime elements but not Assad. After several wasted years of indecision and indifference, this is a distant, perhaps impossible, dream. But it is the only result that would have reestablished the norm that murdering innocents as part of a military strategy won’t be allowed to prevail. This mission was never even attempted.
This, no doubt, because of our towering successes in setting up coalition governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
Mr. Gerson like the U. S. government needs to get his head around the reality that there are no moderate rebels in Syria, at least not enough to base a government on. What there actually are are radical Islamist Sunni rebels, Al Qaeda, DAESH, and the like, who are “murdering innocents” and using chemical weapons themselves. If they ever were to gain control of Syria, they would begin a genocide of the Alawite minority, basically a return to the status quo ante. Assad and his regime are awful but they are also the only prospect Syria has for a secular, multi-confessional, multi-ethnic Syria.
I do have a question. If the yardstick for overthrowing governments is that they’re slaughtering their own people, why isn’t Mr. Gerson calling for us to overthrow the governments of South Sudan, Burma, Russia, and China?