Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
April 30, 2012
Yes: Our strategic goals depend on it; No: Negotiations are the best hope
By Lawrence J. Haas; John B. Quigley
Editor’s note: Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune news service to give readers a broad view of issues.
Yes: Our strategic goals depend on it
By Lawrence J. Haas
As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad continues his slaughter, the issue is not whether more forceful U.S. action to stop him is risk-free.
The issue, instead, is how the risks and potential rewards of more forceful U.S. action to stop Assad stack up against those of a continued U.S. reliance on sanctions and diplomacy that offer few prospects of success.
On its current path, Washington is increasingly likely to blow a major opportunity to advance its interests and, worse, to suffer a major strategic defeat that could have serious repercussions in the region and elsewhere for some time.
The case for a more forceful U.S. response is compelling.
Assad remains a committed U.S. adversary – despite the hopes of all to many “experts” over the years to make him an ally – who works closely with Iran’s radical regime to fund and arm the terrorists who have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghani-stan and attacked U.S. interests in the region.
Washington’s refusal so far to step up – such as by working with its European or Arab allies to arm the opposition, establish havens to protect Syria’s people and enable opposition forces to regroup, impose a no-fly zone, and even, if necessary, conduct airstrikes on Syria’s military – raises prospects that Assad will survive.
His survival will mark a major victory for Washington’s key adversaries – the autocrats of Beijing, Moscow and Tehran who fear that the Arab Spring and other democratic uprisings will incite unrest in their own countries.
In the context of U.S. passivity and Chinese, Russian and Iranian aggressiveness, Assad’s survival would diminish U.S. influence in a region where America’s Arab allies are looking for stronger U.S. leadership and action, boost the influence of its adversaries and send a disheartening signal to dissidents across the world about U.S. interest in supporting their democratic aspirations.
Yes, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups could try to exploit the aftermath of a U.S. effort to stop the slaughter – especially if Assad does not survive it – by seizing power and making life difficult for Washington.
But the terrorists will try to do that no matter what we do – or don’t do. They will more likely succeed if Washington maintains its current course than if it tries to build stronger ties to Assad’s opposition and more forcefully help them succeed.
Only a U.S.-led effort can stop the slaughter and alter the outcome of this horrific disaster.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the American Foreign Policy Council.
No: Negotiations are the best hope
By John B. Quigley
Nothing done to date by the international community in Syria seems to be working. The Kofi Annan plan for a cease-fire showed some initial success, but fighting continues. Even were the government of Syria inclined to pull its army back from the cities, the cease-fire is only a short-term solution to stop the killing. For closure to the situation, one needs a plan whereby either Bashar Assad’s government would resign or some accommodation would be worked out with the opposition.
But Assad is not inclined to communicate with the opposition, and the opposition is not inclined to communicate with him.
This impasse opens the door to an argument that the international community should intervene militarily in some fashion. The Western powers are already pressuring the government through diplomatic and economic means, but to date to little effect.
The fact that nothing has worked does not necessarily mean that more should be done. The concept of “responsibility to protect” – the idea of recent origin that the international community should protect a population from its own government – was invoked in Libya. But that concept includes one critical criterion. Any proposed action holds the prospect of bringing more good than the harm that inevitably accompanies military action.
What, then, is feasible in Syria?
“Safe zones” are being suggested along the borders of Syria but involve major risks. The international forces would have to defend them to protect fleeing civilians. Internationally defended lines would be tempting grounds for resistance fighters to retreat behind after their attacks, and that would increase the risk to civilians sheltering there.
A recent assessment by the Obama administration concluded that the United States would have to be at the center of any military action, because of the technological capacity it could bring to bear.
The resistance is not unified. Its goals apart from overthrowing Assad are unclear. Giving them the wherewithal to fight better may just turn what we now see into full-scale civil war in which the resistance elements might still be at a disadvantage militarily. Overthrowing a government based in a minority population may open the way to ethnic reprisals.
The U.N. Security Council has called for negotiations. Disunity on the rebel side will complicate this effort. Difficult as it may be to bring the parties together, negotiations for a political transition offer the best hope. Once everyone realizes that the standoff will not end to anyone’s advantage, they may, however reluctantly, be willing to talk.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.