Our Role In Saving Syria By Charles Dunne, David J. Kramer and William H. Taft IV

DeM Banter:  Not sure there is much of a stomach for this (not to mention funding).  Also…note the authors’ comments, “Lessons of things not to do when we intervene have been learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  What would we have been done differently?  I understand the banter, but really…what would the US do in Syria that would be so different from Iraq or Libya?  Last I read, Libya is not doing so well…although not covered much in the US media. What are the options? What are the tools? Oh and we also would very much like to cut military funding, acquisitions, and personnel….not sure State Dept and USAID are ready for such a venture either.  Any thoughts or options? 

Washington Post
July 15, 2012
Pg. 21

United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan decried Friday the massacre of more than 200 people in Tremseh, Syria, thought to be the worst single incident since the demonstrations began in the spring of 2011. But what else will be done? Many arguments have been advanced against a more robust U.S. response to the crisis, including:

*We do not know enough about the Syrian opposition and military insurgency;

*What follows might be worse;

*Past interventions didn’t go well; and

*We can’t intervene everywhere.

Not one of these arguments stands up to moral or geopolitical scrutiny.

So far, more than 17,000 people have been killed, many of them in indiscriminate attacks on towns by the Syrian army or in massacres of civilians by Syrian security forces and their allied “shabiha” militias. Syria is rapidly descending into a civil war that could lead to ethnic cleansing along the lines of Iraq in 2006. That would have serious consequences for regional stability. Iran and Russia are already militarily involved, whether through boots on the ground (Iran) or major arms sales (Russia). China, worried about interference in human rights abusers’ internal affairs, has joined Russia in protecting Damascus in the U.N. Security Council.

On the other side, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming and financing the military opposition, primarily to eliminate another Shiite regime allied with Tehran and help shape a Sunni fundamentalist follow-on government. Syria’s military opposition is increasingly gaining ground, the Institute for the Study of War has found. The Annan plan for Syria’s future — which advocates, among other things, a “national unity government” that neither side will accept — was dead even before it was not adopted at recent international meetings. Both sides know their survival is at stake and will not yield.

With Syria’s future already taking shape, the question is: Will the United States play a role in shaping it? Or will it stand aside and let those less committed to democratic principles do it?

The United States can’t afford to stay on the sidelines. A failed state in Syria is likely to spill over into Iraq and Lebanon and spur debilitating refugee flows to Turkey and other neighbors. It will intensify a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies and Iran. A Syrian collapse would create a fundamentalist threat to Israel’s sense of security and heighten the danger of miscalculation or conflict.

But this crisis also presents opportunities. The destruction of the Assad regime — which may be weakening, as military defections, including that of Gen. Manaf Tlas, son of the regime’s former defense minister, increase — would raise the prospect of another country moving toward democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Removing a key ally from Iran’s grasp could tip the balance of power in Lebanon and weaken the Iranian leadership. And breaking the Tehran-Damascus alliance on Iraq’s east and west borders might assist Iraq in its struggle toward democracy.

The Obama administration should throw in its lot more firmly with the opposition, both civilian and military. It needs to stop talking about what it won’t do and start discussing what it might do differently to end the bloodshed. This will make the regime’s downfall — and a transition to a stable, more democratic country — more likely.

First, the administration should dispense with its informal contacts with the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Congress, and formally recognize and work with the SNC as the transitional authority. This would boost the SNC’s capacity to speak effectively to the outside world and plan for Syria’s future. In exchange, the administration should insist that the SNC build bridges to minorities such as Syria’s Christians and Alawites, who, fearing what might follow Assad’s Alawite regime, have continued to support the government.

Similarly, Washington should publicly help the Free Syrian Army, the Turkey-based military opposition organization, coordinate with military elements in Syria, particularly the regional military councils. The administration must play a more active role in coordinating arms deliveries from third countries to ensure they reach secular elements of the opposition who will not turn on us after they win. The United States should also provide its own arms, training and intelligence, helping to ensure that we become a sought-after partner, with commensurate influence.

The White House should publicly consider enforcing humanitarian corridors (“no drive” zones) as well as no-fly zones to counter the regime’s increasing use of helicopter gunships. It should launch formal discussions of such measures with NATO allies. Merely planning for serious military options would have an important psychological effect on the regime and its military forces, possibly prodding more defections.

Lessons of things not to do when we intervene have been learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Srebrenica and Rwanda have provided their own hard lessons — most important, the cost in lives and U.S. moral standing — for failing to intervene. The United States must summon its leadership skills and, as it did in Libya, put an end to a disastrous conflict that challenges our sense of ourselves as Americans as well as our national interests.

Charles Dunne is director of Middle East programs at Freedom House. David J. Kramer is president of the group, and William H. Taft IV is chairman of its board.

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6 thoughts on “Our Role In Saving Syria By Charles Dunne, David J. Kramer and William H. Taft IV

  1. Well, the only option is to do nothing overtly unless 1) it is timed/orchestrated to help the incumbent win the election or 2) the election has passed.

    But in the end, the US needs a clear cogent view of itself in the world. If we want to see ourselves as unique from all others in the world, this American exceptionalism needs to be backed by foreign policy applied consistently with regard to ideology over profit. This may give us the moral authority to act where others may not, but any appearance of deviation to this evangelized ideology creates a feeling of betrayal internationally, and does much greater damage. If we want to be held to the same (lower) standard that the rest of the world holds themselves to, then we must stop holding ourselves exceptional to their rules.

    A clear course of action in Syria will not be evident until we decide which calculus to use in our decision making. Are we acting out of profit (is it even profitable), or the common good? Does our stated motivation match our implicit motivation? Are we following the rules or are we not?

    Before we ask if an intervention in Syria will help the United States, we need to figure out if this is more or less important in our policy decision making than the thousands dying at the will of Assad. Only then will we be able to create a cogent foreign policy.

    • Amen brother! Strategy…that would be nice, but your thoughts sum it up much better…bring back what has made America great… Do you see that happening soon?

      • I was just thinking about this. I think we got away with exceptionalism for so long because we defined ourselves in opposition to the Soviets. We were the lone power able to stay the mighty iron curtain, so our rules were different than everyone else’s. We rhetorically justified this in terms of the inherent good in the democratic free market versus the Soviet oligarchic communism. But now there is no stark alternative with which to juxtapose our ideological credentials. While in the western mindset, the US compares well against the Soviet Union, but against modern Germany this may be debateable.

        What made America great I believe is that 3 times- WWI (ish), WWII and the Cold War, America asserted itself against an existential threat to liberal western society at its own expense. The gravity of these threats and the inability for the world sans America to counter these threats put America on a pedestal. But in the status quo, the western world does not see Islamic terror as an existential threat, and will not afford the us the same flexibility as we’ve enjoyed earlier this century.

        If greatness is what America wants, then I think we should pull back our tentacles until the world once again feels threatened for its existence. America has been labeled global policemen. This we are not- we’re the global Army. Just as if you had a domestic dispute you wouldn’t call in the Army to solve your problems, America will only hurt itself meddling with other regions’ domestic affairs.

        I still need to think about this quite a bit more, but that’s where I’m at right now at least.

      • I think you have some very strong points… and it is something I have been pondering probably since the 1990s…when/where/how do we chose where we engage and to what end. There was a great article, and I wish I would have grabbed it a while back that spoke of why (historically) countries have engaged… land and money. There is no land we need or want and no money to be had as we do not occupy anyplace outside our borders…so how in the world do we fund such efforts?
        Global Police… is fine, but somebody pays for those policemen no? We are broke.. so if this is a business we look to get into… we might need a more realist approach. Right now we have the personnel and the equipment to do such things… I still wonder what we will look like in a decade.
        Where are we choosing to expense our national treasure? It is in venues that are probably not within the realm of the Federal Government, but still there is a big bill to be paid… not sure anyone has the stomach to pay it.
        Anyhow… long winded answer to your comment… but I think you are spot on Brian.

      • I think you are spot on regarding land and money. I think the cynical observer would point to money (as in special interests) as the rationale for intervening in Libya versus Syria. The change in governments may be seen to facilitate greater exclusivity in Western access to Libyan oil. I think this is a much more compelling argument when looked at in the context of France/Britain. Syria doesn’t have near the oil that Libya has (in quantity or quality), but what they do have are oil pipelines. I think the tension with Turkey recently may be affecting oil flow, but not sure… need to look that one up again. It would be interesting to track the interests involved in the oil pipelines traversing Syria and the loudest advocates for intervention/nonintervention.

        On another random note- I seem to remember reading that all governments overthrown in the “Arab Spring” have been more hostile to the US than their predecessors with the exception of the Libyans. Again, need to fact check… but food for thought.

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