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Syria war drumbeat builds, but where is it leading?

Pundits from John Bolton to Nick Kristof are issuing calls to arms. But there's little regard for national interest, or the law of unintended consequences, in the urgings to act now.

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In the US, there are surprising signs of support for a US intervention. A Monitor/TIPP poll conducted from June 1 to June 8 found that 15 percent of Americans think the US should "take the lead" in a military intervention in Syria and that 19 percent think the US should "lead from behind encouraging and bolstering military action by many countries but not driving it." The poll's margin of error was plus/minus 3.3 percentage points.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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While the most popular answers were the US should not get involved militarily (29 percent) or only if "no ground campaign is involved" (27 percent), it's surprising that 34 percent of Americans are willing to consider a direct military engagement in another Middle Eastern country when the war in Iraq just ended and the war in Afghanistan continues. More atrocities in Syria will surely tip the needle closer to public support.

Many opinion makers are pushing for a US-initiated invasion as soon as possible, from the neocon John Bolton to the influential columnist and liberal interventionist Nick Kristof. Mr. Kristof offers an emotion-laden, moralistic call to arms over Syria (and Sudan) while ignoring the uncomfortable question of whether that really serves American interests.

The reliably hawkish Mr. Bolton at least tries to make the case. He argues in a piece for the National Review this week that President Barack Obama should ignore the concerns of some that unilateral action could put the US at loggerheads with Russia, and undermine whatever slim hopes that negotiations with Iran (another key backer of Mr. Assad) over its nuclear program could succeed. In fact, he seems to relish the prospect.

First, he regrets that President George W. Bush didn't extend the war in Iraq to Syria in 2003. He writes: "In the days just after Saddam’s ouster in 2003, conditions were optimal (if nonetheless imperfect) for overthrowing Assad and replacing his regime with something compatible with American interests."

Then he asserts that since Syria is close to Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah in Lebanon that "regime change in Syria is prima facie in America’s interest, as well as the interests of Israel and our Arab friends in the region."

Then he suggest a broader conflict might be a good idea: "Significantly, US intervention could not be confined to Syria and would inevitably entail confronting Iran and possibly Russia," he writes. "This the Obama administration is unwilling to do, although it should."

Does he remember what happened the last time he successfully led the charge for a US-led war in the Middle East?

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