A few on Syria Jerusalem Post, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, and Politico

DeM Banter:  Few good answers here… in a classic “damned if you do, damed if you don’t” scenario…a data burst of articles below, I know… but there is so much in ink (or digits) it is hard to parse through.  Is this another if you have a hammer–everything looks like a nail?  We can’t forget that about 30% of that hammer is grounded right now and sitting in chocks all over the globe–unable to fly due to the sequester.  It might appear as if our thoughts and desired deeds are disconnected.  

What is our end state? Best case and worst case?  Do we have any historic examples to point to where we have succeeded (what is success) in such a venture? Sometimes the best thing a leader can do is…. nothing.  Caution… Doing nothing has to be part of a greater plan or strategy…know when to stop doing nothing and jump in as well… The US needs a safety net… or a big stick, but we have to know how and when to use it (of course, one would have to fund that stick as well).  A national security strategy might help….Thoughts? 

Of course we could counter…SyriaPhotoGallery-1.rThe Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing –John F. Kennedy? Edmund Burke? R. Murray Hyslop? Charles F. Aked? John Stuart Mill?

Jerusalem Post
June 16, 2013
Pg. 2

Analysis

Syria Becomes Multi-National War

By Michael Wilner

WASHINGTON – The existing balance of power within the international community is at stake in Syria and thus requires active US intervention in the conflict, President Barack Obama decided this week, after hearing arguments from the leaders of multiple allied countries across Europe and the Sunni world.

The civil war has become as much about Syria as it has about nation states with significant interests in the outcome of the region. With the flow of arms from so many different countries, it has become a unique multi-national conflict, allying the West with the Sunni world against a Russian axis with the Shi’a, led by the ayatollah regime in Iran.

In fierce opposition to the expansion of Iranian power, Saudi Arabia has been providing arms to the rebels for months. Qatar has allegedly aided the extremist al-Nusra Front that is embedded within rebel ranks. Hezbollah from Lebanon is fully entrenched in fighting in support of Assad – as is Iran itself – their military guards have already orchestrated multiple offensives with notable success.

Turkey’s parliamentarians say their country is – with great misfortune – deeply invested in the conflict. Israeli politicians are nervous about the flow of arms, particularly the threat of a delivery by Russia of the S300 missile system that would threaten Israel’s abilility to surgically strike Hezbollah weapons transfers and would compromise any future consideration of a no-fly zone by Western powers. Jordan’s King Abdullah II presented the American president with a map of a potential future Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, divided into fiefdoms with desert lands transformed into new al-Qaida training grounds.

The port of Tartus in Syria represents Russia’s last significant naval facility in the region, and the Assad’s have been customers of Russian weapons for decades. For these reasons, and with an interest in bucking the West, Russia is expected to continue blocking resolutions against Assad’s government at the United Nations Security Council.

In its report, the Journal suggested the US will play “captain of the team” of players funneling arms to various groups, organizing efforts in the fight against Iran, Hezbollah and Assad, that are currently winning the war.

Chemical weapons may have contributed to Obama’s reassessment of US intervention in Syria, but experts and government sources both point to a more strategic reasoning as opposed to a more humanitarian one: the constriction of Iranian ambition, the counterbalancing of an increasingly cold Russian leadership and fears of extremists burrowing a new, permanent home in Syrian ground, with central access to what remains of a peaceful Middle East and the European continent.

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San Francisco Chronicle
June 15, 2013
Pg. 10

Obama Needs To Explain His Syrian Plan

We’ve seen this movie before. A dribble of military aid to an embattled ally turns into a torrent of weaponry and American troops. Think of Vietnam and Afghanistan as the recent examples of draining wars that cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

This week President Obama, a decidedly reluctant warrior, took his first major step in the Syrian conflict, where at least 93,000 have died in a twoyear civil war. He’s given ample diplomatic and rhetorical aid to the rebel coalition bent on dumping the autocratic Bashar Assad.

After swearing that the use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer,’’ he’s following through with military help, convinced that Assad’s troops killed from 100 to 150 people with sarin gas on several occasions.

His decision to ship small arms and ammunition is limited, to be sure. For now, it doesn’t call for more advanced weaponry, a no-fly zone that would severely hamper the Syrian military, or U.S. soldiers on the battlefield. But it’s a step toward a wider involvement.

The president needs to explain himself in a confusing situation. In repeated polls, the country doesn’t favor deeper involvement in Syria. Americans are war weary, unsure of the rebel coalition, and more interested in problems back home. Another war — even one with major political stakes and humanitarian demands — is a tough sell.

But as the White House knows, Assad’s forces are winning the battle right now, and outside help is crucial in reviving the rebels. The war has drawn in Iranian and Hezbollah forces on the government’s side, giving these two antiU.S. groups a chance to dominate the region and threaten Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

The White House’s outlook has been a muddle, a result that underscores how divided the Obama team is. While pouring on the speeches and denunciations, it’s resisted calls for stronger action until now, just as Bashar’s army heads toward Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and held by rebels.

Congress, left out of the decision-making so far, is getting impatient. Republican hawks led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona want a no-fly zone enforced by U.S. cruise missiles that could destroy runways and aircraft.

The weapons could be fired from offshore, meaning no risk to American armed forces, he argues.

But others see any escalation as unending and uncertain. The United States can’t get in part way without sending in troops or providing powerful weapons that could fall into Islamic radical hands.

Obama, who pledged to pull back from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to avoid another commitment. But he can’t ignore the storm brewing in Syria, plopped in the center of a wheel of Middle Eastern nations.

Before the stakes rise any higher, Obama needs to explain his latest move and where he wants to go next. A policy fog isn’t helping the White House and doesn’t answer the questions that many Americans have.

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New York Times
June 16, 2013
Pg. SR5

Bad Idea, Mr. President

By Ramzy Mardini

AMMAN, Jordan — ACCORDING to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama risks looking like a “fool” if he decides not to intervene militarily in Syria’s continuing civil war. Likening the situation to his decision to intervene in Kosovo in 1999, Mr. Clinton said Tuesday that if he hadn’t used force to stop Serbia’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, critics might have said: “You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?” Mr. Clinton believes that Mr. Obama could end up looking like a “total wuss” if he doesn’t intervene. And it seems he’s going act.

The recent recapture of the strategic town of Qusair by forces loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad and the White House’s public acknowledgment that chemical weapons have been employed by the Syrian regime — thereby crossing a “red line” — persuaded Mr. Obama to adopt the doctrine of intervention and provide arms to the rebels. He shouldn’t have.

Lacking a grand strategy, Mr. Obama has become a victim of rhetorical entrapment over the course of the Arab Spring — from calling on foreign leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged to fulfill the threat.

For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the Syrian regime as having “lost all legitimacy” and “clinging to power.” And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That’s because neither assertion is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians, including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important, it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a significant portion of the population.

Interventionists tend to detach their actions from longer-term consequences. This myopia is often coupled with a prevalent misunderstanding of the political and cultural context of where they want to intervene. Both problems are present in the current American approach to Syria.

The Syrian revolution isn’t democratic or secular; the more than 90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide — and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.

Moreover, the rebels don’t have the support or trust of a clear majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr. Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons’ falling into the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.

And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.

Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has American foreign policy experienced a strategic void so pervasive.

The responsible role of a lone superpower is not to pick sides in a civil war; it’s to help enable conflict resolution while maintaining a policy of neutrality. Instead, the United States came down on one side of a regional sectarian conflict, inadvertently fomenting Sunni hubris and Shiite fear — the same effects (but in reverse) caused by America’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the revolution in Syria involves upending a sectarian political order, and therefore it disrupts the fragile sectarian balance within the region. Absent “boots on the ground,” supplying rebels with arms or establishing a no-fly zone are half-measures that are unlikely to advance an endgame that serves American interests or alters Mr. Assad’s calculus to step aside — all the while, intensifying the lethality of the conflict without contributing toward a decisive end.

More important, by arming the rebels, Mr. Obama is not only placing the United States in an open proxy war with Russia and Iran, but also raising the stakes and consequently jeopardizing broader and more valuable American interests.

THERE is no doubt that weakening Mr. Assad’s allies, like Iran and Hezbollah, is in the United States’ interest. But intervening in Syria could also harm much more important American goals like securing Russia’s cooperation in addressing Iran’s nuclear program and maintaining stability in Iraq. There is also the risk that intervention will become counterproductive. Empowering American-favored rebel forces to confront the influence of the hard-line Islamist groups that are also fighting against Mr. Assad may backfire and intensify rivalries, causing the fault lines of the civil war to break down even further and turn the increasingly dominant hard-line Islamists against Western-backed rebels. Mr. Assad will then be fighting an insurgency that is fighting itself.

Strangely, despite having committed to arming the rebels, Mr. Obama has yet to exhaust diplomatic efforts, which were inadequate and poorly constructed from the start. The White House’s actions and rhetoric have deprived diplomacy of its most basic prerequisites. Once it called for Mr. Assad to step down in August 2011, the United States fully abdicated the role of a credible arbiter — the core ingredient for eventually moving civil wars toward power-sharing arrangements. Then Washington insisted that Mr. Assad’s departure was required for a political transition to begin. (Its position only recently evolved; now America believes negotiations must end with Mr. Assad’s departure.)

But what’s the point of negotiating a political settlement if the outcome is already predetermined? In order for diplomacy to gain traction, it is the United States, not Russia, that must make the greater compromise and rescind its demands about Mr. Assad’s stepping down as a predetermined outcome.

His current term as president will expire in May 2014, which could provide a face-saving mechanism for a political transition to take place while keeping the institutions of the state intact. If the United States and Russia could agree on that, negotiations could then expand to involve regional Sunni and Shiite powers, who could rein in their proxies in Syria, and finally to a local level, mediating between Assad loyalists and rebels.

Mr. Obama would have been wise to make a forceful diplomatic push first before succumbing to the naïveté of his pro-intervention critics. Intervention in Syria won’t end as Kosovo did for Mr. Clinton.

Syria is like Iraq, except worse.

Ramzy Mardini is an adjunct fellow at the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies. He served at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in 2006.

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Politico.com
June 14, 2013

DOD Brass Has Long Urged Caution On Syria

By Stephanie Gaskell

The White House’s plan to step up American involvement in Syria might be the very thing its top military commanders has been warning against for months — a foray into a long, messy war.

In hearings, speeches and interviews, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have been deeply skeptical every time they’ve been asked about potential U.S. involvement in Syria. What kind of weapons would the United States provide to the rebels and what happens if they fall into the wrong hands? Will the U.S. and its allies establish a no-fly zone and if so, how robust would it be? Would U.S. intervention just create a proxy war in the region?

Washington better know those answers before it acts, they’ve warned.

“We have an obligation and responsibility to think through the consequences of direct U.S. military action in Syria,” Hagel said on Capitol Hill in the spring.

Since the White House announced Thursday that the United States would begin providing lethal aid to the rebels but did not specify any details for military operations, military leaders remain in planning mode. Defense officials told POLITICO on Friday that they have a wide range of options for military action in Syria, and President Barack Obama has not asked the Pentagon for any specific plan yet.

But intervening in Syria isn’t just dependent on the U.S. military — the National Security Council, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency are all at the table, too, searching for a way to end the two-year conflict that threatens to destabilize the Middle East.

“Beyond Syria, this has always been an enduring feature of the civilian-military split over perceptions of what limited military force can achieve,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They advise the president, but the military planning process is really an iterative dialogue between combatant commanders and Joint Staff planners and the White House. The military is just loath to undertake limited interventions that have no clear strategic objective [and] are loaded with political and operational constraints.”

The bottom line, he said, is that although military commanders will always execute their orders, there’s a reason the top brass — from the O-6 colonels and captains to their generals and admirals — has been so reluctant to get involved.

“I’ve never spoken to any at the O-5 level or above who thinks intervening in Syria is a good idea,” Zenko said. “But, yes, they’ll develop options forever until the president authorizes them to execute one of them, and then they will, faithfully.”

The Pentagon has been planning for intervention in Syria for months. And there just happens to be a major military exercise happening in Jordan now, involving 19 countries and about 8,000 troops — including 5,000 U.S. troops.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said even limited military intervention could open the door for diplomacy.

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll proceed on two fronts — we’ll be trying to aim to help the rebels by giving them the weapons to resist more strongly, but also using Assad’s failure in this respect to really empower diplomacy and bring about the kind of negotiated diplomatic solution that’s needed to stop the bloodshed there,” Clark said on CNN on Friday.

But Hagel has said that the difficult questions aren’t about weapons shipments, air strikes or no-fly zones, but what would follow them.

“Military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian relief operations. It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment” and have “the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or proxy war,” he told a Senate panel this spring.

He continued: “You better be damn sure, as sure as you can be, before you get into something, because once you’re into it, there isn’t any backing out, whether it’s a no-fly zone, safe zone, protect these — whatever it is. Once you’re in, you can’t unwind it. You can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s not going as well as I thought it would go, so we’re going to get out.’”

The administration may be listening: The no-fly zone is one option the White House seems to be willing to discard — officials downplayed it both in briefings on Thursday and Friday.

“People need to understand that a no-fly zone is not some type of silver bullet,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters at a briefing. “We haven’t ruled out options, but I think people need to understand … they don’t solve the problem necessarily.”

Separately U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, set to become Obama’s national security adviser, also downplayed a no-fly zone to reporters at the United Nations.

But Dempsey has also warned about the option the U.S. says it most wants to pursue — adding American weapons to the arms the Syrian rebels have been receiving from their international allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He and other skeptics have pointed out that heavy weapons have a way of finding their way into the hands of those who could turn them upon the U.S. or its allies.

Maine Sen. Angus King observed, for one example, that when America armed Afghan insurgents in the 1980s to fight against their Soviet invaders, the Taliban later took up those same weapons against American troops after Sept. 11.

Dempsey agreed.

“This issue of arming, which on the surface of it seems to be pretty clean, is anything but,” he warned. “I mean, look, you have lighted on exactly the challenge we face in that issue in particular, arming the opposition.”

Dempsey also has said that the Syrian rebels already have plenty of weapons from their other sponsors, raising a question about how much a difference American assistance might make. In April, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed asked Dempsey specifically whether the rebels’ access to weapons had been a “decisive issue” in the civil war.

“No, not in my military judgment,” Dempsey answered. “There is no shortage of arms in Syria.”

And don’t expect the Syrians to take an intervention lying down, Dempsey warned.

“I have to assume, as the military member with responsibility for these kind of activities, that the potential adversary isn’t just going to sit back and allow us to impose our will on them, that they could in fact take exception … and act outside of their borders with long-range rockets and missiles and artillery and even asymmetrical threats,” he said.

In other words, Syria could lash out and escalate the war whether the U.S. was prepared or not.

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