The United States must respond urgently to address the growing bloodbath in Syria, where the asad regime has killed more than 6,000 of its own citizens and risks unleashing a sectarian war that would kill thousands and destabilize a critical region. However, the united States should not intervene with military force, which is unlikely to improve conditions in Syria and instead threatens to make them worse. Though advocates of military intervention claim it is the moral choice, it is not. Military intervention will allow americans to feel they are doing something. but unleashing even more violence without a realistic prospect of changing the regime’s behavior or improving security is neither just nor wise.
It seems almost self-evident that this is the case. But too many policymakers and analysts have been seduced by the siren call of intervention. The main reason why the U.S. must not intervene is that we already have two interventions on our plate in Iraq and Afghanistan and the possibility of a third in Iran. Do we really want to juggle four major military operations in the same region at the same time? It’s simply beyond our capacity either operationally or politically.
While I agree wholeheartedly with Lynch’s statement above, I’m afraid he doesn’t offer a tangible enough program for toppling the regime:
Instead, the United States and its international partners should engage in a sustained, intense and targeted campaign of pressure against the Asad regime. This campaign should have several elements.
First, the international community should present Asad with an ultimatum: Since Asad can no longer participate in a legitimate Syrian government, he, his vice president and a limited group of top regime officials must resign or be referred to the International Criminal Court for War Crimes (ICC). Second, the international community should continue to tighten the economic and financial sanctions against the Asad regime, its senior leaders and the most senior members of the Syrian military. Third, the international community should conduct a sustained and vigorous effort to isolate the Asad regime diplomatically. Fourth, the international community should strengthen the opposition and encourage it to develop a unified political voice. Finally, the United States and its partners should support a strategic communications campaign to publicize the regime’s atrocities, shame those who continue to support the regime and encourage regime members to defect. It should also reassure the Syrian public that abandoning its support for the Asad regime will not unleash the sort of sectarian war that killed hundreds of thousands of people in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.
If this is all we can offer the Syrian resistance, we have only ourselves to blame if calls by neocon interventionists like Michael Weiss for robust western military intervention resonate so strongly in the foreign policy arena. The Arab League and Muslim nations in the region must unite to develop a plan for Syrian transition. I have no problem if this program involves regime change as long as the regional players take the lead. As much as possible, the west should keep out of the affair unless specific assistance is requested by players in the region.
A Libya-style NATO intervention will not work here because Syria is far too important and there are far too many conflicting interests at work. Western intervention could work in Libya because it was not a central player either in the Arab world or even in North Africa. With Russia, Turkey, China, Israel, the U.S., Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and others having a vested interest in the outcome, a heavy-handed external campaign of regime change in Syria would likely turn into a disaster.
Assad’s regime will not, as Israel and the U.S. claim, fall overnight or even soon. But the longer it takes for this to happen the greater the chance that not only many thousands of Syrians will die, but the internal civil war will attract outside actors seeking to instigate trouble or worse. Deadly bombings claimed by Al Qaeda show the danger that could develop. We have more time than warmongers like Weiss would have us believe, but we have less time than Lynch offers.
The only assistance the west can offer is moral. But this is not a minor role. We should encourage Turkey and the Arab League to develop a robust, carefully thought out plan for intervention that minimizes long term, or heavy-handed actions and allows Syria to govern its own affairs as quickly as possible. When they implement their plan we should support it in any way we can and any way requested by the interested parties.
It is possible that Turkey would not agree to intervene or that if it did, that the intervention would turn much bloodier than anticipated. But I believe that if those who intervene are neighboring Arab-Muslim nations, that things will go much smoother and less violently than otherwise. While Syria has a viable military force, I don’t believe it would continue significant resistance for the sake of its patrons and paymasters when facing the superior force of a power like Turkey and the combined Arab world.
One of the attractions of regional action is that it would bypass international bodies like the Security Council, where the Syria regime maintains allies like Russia and China who’ve stymied serious efforts to make Assad pay a price for his crimes. If international action cannot work, then regional action can.
Unlike in Iraq, we should not criminalize Baathists or Alawites who served or supported the regime. We should amputate the top leaders and allow the nation to develop alternative political structures and leadership. Arab League peacekeepers should maintain the peace but try to stay out of internal politics.
Finally, I’m amused by the hypocritical moral indignation expressed by Israeli hasbarists who cry out about blood flowing through the streets of Homs when they anticipate doing roughly the same thing to Iran with an Israeli attack. Not to mention what they’re already doing on a daily basis to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. When Israel can renounce its own aggressive military posture toward its neighbors, then Israeli hawks can wax indignant about the moral depravities of neighboring Arab states like Syria.