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Things That Don't Matter When Deciding on Syria

3. Isolationism

Republicans who oppose intervention in Syria are being tagged as isolationists. (My friend Ying Ma has an excellent discussion of this in Forbes.) Bret Stephens — a smart, moral writer whom I admire — has compared them to the Robert Taft Republicans who didn't want to enter World War II. In the case of Rand Paul, the isolationist tag may be appropriate. But what difference does it make? On average, an isolationist is going to be right more often than an interventionist (like John bomb-bomb-Iran McCain). Calling names is fine for politicians. For the rest of us, the right and wrong of the individual instance is all that counts.

Having set these irrelevancies aside, my own opinion is we should stay out of this. The Syrian regime has been awful and the use of poisoned gas is as unforgivable here as it was when Saddam Hussein did it and Obama and the left looked the other way. But the poet W. B. Yeats once wrote of a war's effects on a soldier's homeland: "No likely end could bring them loss./Or leave them happier than before." So it is in Syria. We cannot do anything that will improve the situation there for the U.S. And without a full-scale invasion, we're unlikely to do anything that will improve the situation in Syria itself.

We can do no essential good in this place and prevent no future evil. That's what matters -- to me anyway. And those are good reasons — great reasons — not to commit acts war.