How O Should Start Leading On Syria By Peter Brookes

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DeM Banter: agree? Disagree? Man, I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie before, thoughts?

New York Post
July 11, 2012

Here’s a novel notion: Considering what’s at stake in Syria for US interests, how about Team Obama leading for once from the front, rather than from “behind”?

After 16 months and nearly 20,000 deaths, it’s past time.

Sure, some don’t mind seeing Syrians spar with each other for nearly a year and a half; it keeps the roguish regime of strongman Bashar Assad from causing tons of trouble outside its borders.

But framing Syria’s future is pretty darn important for us. The country is strategically located in the Middle East’s Levant; that’s why plenty of world leaders have been fawning over the Assad regime for several decades now.

Plus, Washington designated Damascus a state sponsor of terrorism way back in 1979. It has supported Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (both in Gaza) with arms, funds and political backing at places like the UN.

And who can forget the terrorist “rat lines” that ran out of Syria into Iraq, causing some of the war’s darkest days for US troops?

In short, we’re not in the least indebted to this regime.

Syria is also a WMD problem. It’s believed to have a huge chemical weapons arsenal (e.g., nerve gases Sarin, Tabun and VX) and probably biological weapons, too. Making sure this stuff doesn’t go walking is another reason we need some skin in the regime-change game.

By the way, the Assads were also building a covert nuclear facility with Pyongyang’s assistance — and outside the IAEA’s supervision — until the Israeli air force bombed it in 2007. (Syria has been trying to hide the evidence of this nuclear site ever since.)

Not to mention that Syria is an ally of our enemy Iran, so removing the current regime would leave Tehran without an important regional pal at a time when it’s increasingly isolated due its nuclear naughtiness.

And, of course, Syria and our ally Israel have fought no less than four wars (1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982) as well as indirectly duking it out during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah some six summers ago.

Without question this is a regime that we’d like to see go — and soon.

But Team Obama is relying on nothing more than heated rhetoric about Assad’s days being numbered, economic sanctions and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Six-Point peace plan. These approaches are proving fruitless.

It’s time for us to amp it up a bit and take steps to try to mold the outcome of the Syrian “civil war” to favor US interests. Here are a few forward-leaning ideas:

First, end the outsourcing of our Syria policy to the UN. Instead, lead a limited group of like-minded states (e.g., Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, etc.) to work to oust the murderous Assad regime. Assad-enablers like Russia, China and Iran need not apply.

Second, finally help to organize the highly-fractured opposition — a situation the regime has widely exploited — into a cohesive political force that we can support, meaning one that’s as democratic, secular and pro-American as possible.

Third, look to support this opposition militarily with things like intelligence and secure communications gear — and, later on with arms — if we’re confident of who we’re dealing with and that these weapons will make a difference in the fight.

Lastly, work to tear away at the fabric of the regime using, for example, “psy-ops” — psychological operations such as radio broadcasts, texting and e-mails to recruit or demoralize loyalists, bumping up high-level defections.

Of course, any of these could backfire. We can just sit by, letting the meat grinder turn and hoping for the best. But doing next to nothing to shape post-Assad Syria probably poses a greater risk to US interests than boldly taking thoughtful action.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

4 Replies to “How O Should Start Leading On Syria By Peter Brookes”

  1. This is the narrow view. I wish things were this simplistic… Although, the banality of this argument isn’t surprising, considering who this guy used to work for. The unfortunate truth is that the US is no longer in a position where we can afford to force regime changes abroad when the “malignant regime” does not pose an existential threat to ourselves or our allies. Even if we found ourselves in that dire position in the near future, it would require a greater sacrifice from the American citizenry than this generation has ever been asked to provide. Mr. Brookes does not acknowledge this cost. I agree it is incredibly frustrating watching the body count in Syria rise in the face of the UN’s best efforts… but the cold hard math here is that we can’t afford it. It doesn’t look like our allies can right now either.

    I see Russia, China and Iran goating us into another expensive and protracted conflict. Defeating this is the only angle to play that I can see. Pursuing an effective strategy to help us avoid this pitfall AND help to alieviate the suffering of the Syrian people should be the focus for now… our hand may be forced by Israel in the next few weeks though.

    1. Great points Adam…there is a time to “take a knee and drink some water,” now might be a good time. Tough to watch…just not sure it is the time or the place to engage. Posted an article on FB and twitter…well a series of article, where SecState was threatening Syria and the Ambassador to Switzerland (State Dept) was telling people the US can’t afford another war…interesting times

  2. Bill,
    This one strikes me as a fire that is a little bit bigger than one of those brush fires that you let burn in order to prevent the whole forest from burning down. We’ve already seen a NATO jet downed and an incursion into other sovereign territories. While these are minor events (unless you are the one on the receiving end of that), they are nonetheless troublesome. This civil war is close to spilling outside the pot it is supposed to stay within. I am not advocating that we act unilaterally, but it might be a good idea to support others in the vicinity as a way to keep a lid on this one before the fire gets too big. Maybe if we publicly give some support to some others in the area that might a) give Assad something else to ponder regarding his future employment opportunities, and b) provide a venue for the opposition to coalesce into something with a bit more leverage and power.

    The original author mentions psy-ops as a way to chip away at the regime. I would suggest that some airborne connections to the internet and cell phones that don’t run through Syrian government controlled censors may turn out to be a great enabler for the opposition as well as a way to get word on current events out of the country.

    Cheers

    1. Ben: agree, something has to be done…but would seriously stop short of another intervention. The “lead from behind” in Libya was a bit of a joke…we were fully engaged regardless of what the sound bites implied, my gut is we would see the same in Syria.

      As we cut budgets, people, equipment, benefits, etc…and come off 2 simultaneous conflicts, add in Libya…we need other options. Or we need to plus up the military, hand them the budget, people…oh and strategy to get the job done.

      Think of what we have just done to the budget and what will happen in January with sequestration…. Our folks all see it and feel it…We talk of a pivot east…and then want more…sounds like the talk and the walk are no where near each other wouldn’t you say?

      So if our leaders deem this to be in our national interest…we should fund it…and of course the military will make it happen. This time we need to ponder all the implications, the 3rd thru the 10th order effects, have a plan, a strategy, and…. We will see what happens. I’m just not sure it will all come together like that…you think? Not sure we will see anything prior to the election.

      As I always say…what could possibly go wrong?

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