The Chat Room

What Would Be the Long-Term Impact of Striking Syria?

Nothing much.

Aleppo, Syria
Men help evacuate civilians at a site hit by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2013. Would U.S. airstrikes do much to improve this situation?

Photo by Zaid Rev/Reuters

Joshua Keating, staff writer and author of Slate’s blog The World, answered questions about foreign policy and the Syrian conflict during an “Ask me Anything” on Reddit. A transcript of his answers is below, edited for clarity.

CaptainRedBeerd: In your opinion, is Obama’s stance on Syria politically motivated due to his arbitrary chemical-weapons line in the sand or are there legitimate national security interests at stake?

Joshua Keating: I agree with my colleague John Dickerson that Obama boxed himself in with the “red line” comment, but I do think the administration’s view of chemical weapons as beyond the pale compared with a mass-casualty conventional weapons attack is genuine. This isn’t to say the strike being considered will actually be an effective deterrent for Assad or other states considering chemical weapons use.


kittiesandbeers: What do you think the long-term benefits and/or repercussions will be if President Obama’s request to take action on Syria is approved by Congress? What do you think the short-term and long-term impact will be for Syria if we decide to take action?

Joshua Keating: I think that given the administration’s isolation on this—no U.N. resolution, no NATO, little public support, traditional allies dropping like flies out of the coalition—going to Congress was a good move to give this some sense of legitimacy or, alternatively, to get the GOP to share some of the responsibility for either intervening, or not intervening. But the measures currently being discussed don’t really seem as though they would profoundly alter the outcome of the conflict, especially as Assad’s military has now had over a week to prepare.


secret_targaryen: Do you believe that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people will alter in any way the relationship between Iran and Syria?

Iran often invokes the Iran-Iraq War as source of pride, inspiration, and nationalism. Given the use of chemical weapons by Iraq during this time and the harsh effects it had on Iranian soldiers, does Iran’s relationship with Syria (or more specifically Assad) change? Or is the relationship between Iran and Syria too deeply intertwined (sole regional ally, Hezbollah, Shiite movement in Lebanon) at this point for Iran to change course with Syria/Assad?

Joshua Keating: Iranian leaders have been walking a very thin rhetorical line—condemning the use of chemical weapons but avoiding laying the blame for them with anybody. From what I’ve read, supporting Assad isn’t the most popular policy with the Iranian public, but I don’t see any indications that it’s changing the government’s priorities.

Homs, Syria
A man walks inside the damaged historical old souk of Homs on Aug. 19, 2013.

Photo by Yazan Homsy/Reuters

Salacious-: What do you think the most “unknown” world issue is? Not something like Syria or Egypt that gets a lot of attention, but something important nonetheless.

Joshua Keating: As far as regions go, I’m always a little shocked by how little attention is paid in the U.S. conversation to Latin American politics. Given the geographical and cultural proximity, the stark ideological divides, the economic transformations we’ve seen in some countries, and how great an impact U.S. policy has there—the drug war in Central America, for instance—it’s always a little baffling to me that the region gets short shrift compared with the Middle East and Asia, at least in the post-Cold War period.


Free2b728: Those who supported the Iraq War usually felt “duped” by the false evidence of WMDs. Shouldn’t the evidence that Assad conducted chemical weapon attacks be the primary object of scrutiny? Evidence to date suggests that the primary source of intelligence is Mossad intercepts. Can we really rely on that? For that matter, can we really rely on our own intelligence community to have America’s best interests in mind? Can you blame an informed American for being skeptical?

Joshua Keating: I don’t blame you at all for being skeptical, but there are some critical differences between the two situations. In this case we have an attack that took places just weeks ago rather than years earlier. It also certainly doesn’t seem like this administration has been desperately looking for pretexts for a war. All claims certainly warrant scrutiny, but I wouldn’t dismiss compelling evidence just because of superficial similarities between the two situations.


enderisnotmyrealname: Why is the media so reluctant to discuss the reality of climate change, which is one of the primary forces behind many current events, and over the next few decades, is certain to become the issue affecting humanity? I’ve heard that it’s “too political,” but the media’s responsibility is to address those complex topics and make sure that the general public is aware of the important issues.

Joshua Keating: That’s definitely something I want to focus on with the new blog: how climate change (as well as related issues like food security and water access) are transforming global politics in unexpected ways. It’s an important and fascinating story.


Gujer: What is your favorite “Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week” from Foreign Policy? Here’s mine.

Joshua Keating: “War Dog of the Week” is a national treasure, and I can’t wait for Becky’s forthcoming book on the subject. I prefer the historical ones. Chips the Brave, for instance.


Underabridge: Slate has a well-deserved reputation for being contrarian. How often do you guys hold your noises and write devil’s advocacy pieces that don’t completely align with your true opinions on a matter?

Joshua Keating: First of all, I don’t think anyone here is writing pieces they don’t really agree with. The #slatepitch isn’t just trolling. We really do have those weird opinions! I was a fan of the contrarian take before I got to Slate. As I wrote in a post last March, “Another way of saying something is counterintuitive is to say that it challenges the way a reader understands a given topic.” Another word for that is “news.”