I annoyed several people today on Twitter when I mused as to whether those who were touting our responsibility to protect (so glibly abbreviated by people who want this to be a "thing" as R2P) the people of Syria were going to be heading down to recruiting offices to join in the effort. This was a rhetorical jab and one that some took umbrage to, saying that people who aren't in the military have a right to an opinion, as well, and that such questions are too important to be left to generals. The sensitivity of these Ivy Tower champions of the utility of force to such jabs drives me to distraction, but it also misses my point.Sure, it was rhetoric and it distracted folks (namely me--I was the one who said "too important to be left to the generals). But I spewed on twitter directly at this line because I don't have a problem with the argument that intervening in Syria would be problematic with second and third order consequences, just as I oppose striking Iran these days or invading Iraq in 2003. I supported the Libyan effort because consistency is the Hobgoblin of little minds. I am not a Realist in terms of IR theory, but I am realistic--I prefer to support stuff that is less complicated and has a high probability of success (even if it means that a linebacker might intercept the ball on the 10 yard line).
But the idea that only folks with military experience should be able to advocate the use of military force is a very dangerous one. One of the best things about post-World War II democracies is the rise of alternative sources of information about security issues. It used to be that only the militaries, with some rare exceptions, seriously studied war, strategy and the rest. Having more folks study it, even those who do not have any military experience is very much a net good.
The argument is also, well, fallacious. The idea that someone who has seen combat has a better idea of what is effective at the strategic level than someone who has no combat experience is like a baseball player feeling as if an observer with heaps of knowledge cannot really know baseball (no, I have not yet seen Moneyball, but I did read the book).
To give the best example I can think of, Obama has no military experience, but clearly takes great care about putting folks in harm's way and certainly appears to feel that burden. But as President, he has to be willing to deploy military force for the national interest (whatever that is), even if combat is incredibly messy on the ground.
Scholars can make claims from their Ivory Towers, based on their research and analysis, about what might work and what the effects might be, even if they have not smelled napalm in the morning. They may be wrong, but so often are the generals and colonels and the retired ones. Policy must be the product of informed analysis. Some information and judgment come from those who have been in harm's way, but some must come from elsewhere.
There are many ways to serve one's country. Fighting for it is one. Providing the best advice one can is another. Limiting input to only those willing to fight is foolish at best, dangerous at worst.
Yes, it was a rhetorical point, but a lousy one that plays to the wrong instincts. We already have enough presidential candidates saying that they will do whatever the generals recommend, as if the generals speak with one voice and think with one mind.
Again, I agree with Munson on the larger point--intervention in Syria is way more complicated than Libya (and Libya has not ended sweetly and easily either). I just disagree with him about the relevance of rhetoric. Arguments matter. Lousy ones tend to get wider play (Huntington, Ferguson, Friedman). Better to make a stronger argument so we do not get distracted.