Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton, given her track record as secretary of state, would seem to agree with this line of criticism. In July, her campaign released a statement promising a “full review” of US policy regarding Syria, raising the hopes of Beltway hawks that, in the words of one former high-ranking Pentagon official, “a Clinton administration will not shrink from making clear to the world exactly what the Assad regime is.” Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, have repeatedly endorsed the idea of implementing a no-fly zone over northern Syria. Experience should tell us that no-fly zones serve as a prelude to wider war, as they did in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya.
One aspect of the new OPCW report, little noted by war-party partisans: It also found evidence that Islamic State militants have “used sulfur mustard gas” during the course of the conflict. This is in keeping with their strategy to minimize, at every turn, the crimes of the so-called “moderate opposition,” which is aided and funded by the United States in conjunction with our Gulf State “allies.”
Meanwhile, hawkish critics of the administration’s policy remain unable to answer the question: What better alternative was available to Obama in 2013? Those who bemoan the president’s alleged lack of resolve can hardly deny that even the administration’s limited intervention—in the form of the ill-fated “train and equip” programs run out of the CIA and Pentagon—has made things demonstrably worse. Furthermore, while Assad may indeed have committed a horrendous crime in deploying chemical weapons, it is unclear how the war party’s preferred policy response—American military action—would dissuade him from doing so again.
And so the United States, by tacitly joining forces with exporters of radical Salafist ideology like Saudi Arabia and Qatar in seeking to overthrow a secular (and yes, brutal) dictator, has only prolonged the disaster that is the Syrian conflict, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and has immiserated millions.