SYRIA: THE ALTERNATIVES
"Let's be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and helping arms supplied by the Gulf get to the rebels. This will change the balance of power in favor of the revolution. It is also the most the United States can and should do. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene directly in Syria for obvious reasons, and he is right to be cautious. The United States has failed at nation-building twice before in the Middle East. The Libyan example of limited intervention by using air power alone could suck the United States into a protracted and open-ended engagement. One cannot compare Libya to Syria. The former is a relatively small, homogeneous, and wealthy society. Syria has a population four times larger, which is poor and wracked by an increasingly violent civil war across religious lines. Moreover, the chance that the United States can end the killing in Syria by airpower alone is small. The argument that the United States could have avoided radicalization and civil war in Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 is unconvincing. Similar arguments are now being offered to talk Americans into jumping into Syria. Iraq was not a mature nation-state and was likely to fall apart. The fact that it imploded into civil war when the United States roto-rootered Saddam's regime should have been expected. U.S. intervention in Syria will likely lead to something similar: civil war and radicalization. Syrians have never agreed on basic questions of identity and policy, and it is unlikely that they will decide these issues peacefully today....If anyone tells you they are going to build democracy in Syria, don't buy it. Democracy is unlikely to succeed there anytime soon. The two social indicators that predict the success of democratization with any accuracy are median population age and per capita gross domestic product. According to a recent study, autocracies with a median population age of over 30 years old are most likely to transition to liberal democracies -- Syria has a median age of 21. This is the same as Iraq's and just slightly older than Gaza's and Yemen's. Because of its poverty and youth, political scientists give it small chances of becoming democratic and stable any time soon. Beware of drinking the democratization Kool-Aid.... If the United States becomes militarily involved -- destroying the presidential palace in Damascus and military installations -- it will own Syria. Will it discipline the dozens of militias that have sprung up to represent the revolutionary forces? If the death toll rises after the Assad regime is taken out, will the United States continue to dedicate itself to stopping the killing?"Joshua Landis, "Stay out of Syria." Foreign Policy. 5 June 2012, in www.foreignpolicy.com.
"Speaking Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly, just one day after the latest massacre of civilians by government-affiliated forces, Kofi Annan warned that the crisis in Syria was on a disastrous course. “If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war,” he said. “All Syrians will lose.” Annan, of course, is not the first to evoke the term “civil war” in reference to the crisis in Syria, which has already resulted in more than 10,000 dead and 50,000 missing. The term has become a favorite of opponents of intervention in Syria, who use it to conjure up the image of a human swamp of chaos, destruction and mayhem that is bloodier than what Syria has suffered over the past sixteen months, less tractable to resolution, and violently inhospitable to outsiders. The unspoken assumption is that while such a scenario may be horrible for Syrian civilians, it would not rise to the level of an international crisis -- at least not one that would have much impact on the United States. But if commentators have mostly been justified in raising the specter of civil war, they have mostly been wrong in assessing its consequences. If Syria descends into the chaos of all-out civil war, it's not only Syrians who will lose out, as Annan suggests. Very clear American interests are also at stake.... The threat of loose chemical and biological weapons tops the agenda of American and Israeli military planners. In late May, the PKK took responsibility for a suicide bombing attack by a cell that crossed the Syrian border and killed a Turkish policeman and wounded 18 others. A senior Jordanian intelligence official alerted me recently to his abiding fear of Assad using Palestinian refugees as political pawns. Already two Lebanese have been killed and many wounded by Syrian troops shooting across the border or hunting down escaping refugees on Lebanese territory. And although only a few hundred al-Qaeda-type militants have joined the Syrian opposition movement so far, the jihadization of the Syrian uprising has been on everyone's mind for more than a year.... Preventing these calamitous outcomes should be a high priority. But it is reasonable to ask whether prevention -- in the form of outside intervention -- will itself trigger some of these scenarios. Might it be better to let the current fighting take its course and not stir up the hornet's nest even more? The answer is no. Left to its own, the Syrian rebellion may eventually succeed in bringing down the Assad regime, but the key to preventing these negative outcomes is speeding up the pace of change. A slow, grinding conflict in which the regime continues its merciless but ultimately futile whack-a-mole strategy is the most likely backdrop for these nightmare scenarios. In contrast, swift and decisive action to hasten Assad's departure is the best way to immunize against this set of terrifying outcomes. While Assad may unleash some of his fury in the face of assertive international action, chances are more likely that a clear display of resolve in support of the opposition is the key ingredient to fracturing his surprisingly resilient governing coalition and bringing the regime tumbling down".<blockquote> Robert Satloff, "Why a Syrian Civil War would be a disaster for U.S. National Security." The Washington Institute. 8 June 2012, in www.washingtoninstitute.org.
"Assuming the undue dependence on the Arab and Iranian [Persian] oil to have been removed, would the United States have any vital interest in the Near East? (Please bear in mind that this question contains the word 'vital', which ought not to be used lightly.) I cannot see that the United States could be said to have any such interest."George Frost Kennan. The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy. (1977), p. 80. In two very opposing ways, Professor Landis and Dr. Satloff pieces outlined in acute form the possible, albeit extreme stances that may be taken on the problem of Syria. A problem which appears to becoming worse by the day 1. With that being the case, how does one evaluate possible courses of action by the Western powers in this most unfortunate situation? It would appear to me, that notwithstanding the cri de coeur issued by Dr. Satloff, and others of his (neo-conservative / neo-liberal) ilk `a la Elliott Abrams, id est., those who brought us the Iraqi debacle of very recent memory, that at the present time, a studied 'wait and see' attitude is perhaps the very best that can be done by the Western powers at present 2. The perhaps 'unheroic cunctation' , would be the very best characterization of this policy. It however is perhaps the very best insofar as it absolves the West of the moral responsibility (by virtue of actively intervening in the conflict) of ensuring that the problem of Syria is resolved in such a fashion that does not involve the persecution and exile of the mass of the Christian and non-Sunni population. And it is without a doubt, the response which most truly adheres to the fundamental question wich George Kennan's above referenced statment raises. That being: are there for the Western powers, any fundamental interests involved in this conflict? Which is not to gainsay the fact that au fond, a peaceful overthrow of the Assad Fils regime and the installation of a non-sectarian, non-Muslim Brotherhood government, would indeed be very much in the interests of the Western powers. Especially since such a regime, would at the very least be anti-Persian and anti-Hezbollah. The question which follows such an assertion is: at what cost is this plus ultra result to be purchased? That is the essential problem. This optimum possible result, is not, when one tabulates the variables, so important that an active, American-Western military involvement, is called for. An involvement which would by necessity have to be both on the ground and in the air. As far as I can see, there is not much in the way of any real enthusiasm or even much active concern in Western public opinion for overtly intervening in this admittedly horrid conflict. Now, if it were in fact the case, that a successful military involvement by the West could be staged managed `a la the Libyan intervention, then I for one would be reluctantly in favor. However, at the present time, there is absolutely no chance of any such type of intervention working. Not to speak of the fact that the United Nations Security Council would not approve of any such intervention. This fact may of course, change over the next several months and if so, then perhaps Western military intervention might indeed be both sensible and plausible. At present it is neither. To conclude, 'unheroic cunctation', may perhaps be a less than pleasant place to be situated diplomatically speaking, but faite de mieux, it is certainly better than being actively involved in the ongoing Syrian quagmire. 1.David Gardner, "Syria Savagery suggests regime in despair." The Financial Times. 12 June 2012, in www.ft.com. 2. See: Elliott Abrams, "The Syrian Charade turns ghastly." The Council on Foreign Relations. 7 June 2012, in www.cfr.org. And: John Bolton, "What to to about Syria." The National Review. 11 June 2012, in www.nationalreview.com. The tenor of this article, has the mots 'van banque' written all over it.