The Syrian Failure
"War is killing as many of your enemies as you possibly can and making life insufferable. If you can't do that, you're not going to win. And [Assad] is trying to punish everybody, because if the opposition ever were to unify, setup a good government where they supplied government services -- everyone would trample over to the other side. [The rebels] haven't been able to do that, [and Assad's] best ally is the fact that they're dysfunctional."
That's a quote from Joshua Landis, the Syrian expert behind the blog Syria Comment (which has been around long before the Syrian Civil War started), in the podcast I posted from journalist Lara Setrakian. I think that quote illustrates just how fucked the situation in Syria is, but do yourself a favor and watch the whole podcast.
As I've mentioned previously on this blog, the intervention I wanted in Syria should have happened 18-24 months ago; because that's when it would have been effective. The question being debated now is whether the US should intervene now, but nobody is discussing what that intervention should entail, whether it can be effective, and what are the unintended consequences?
All of these topics are more important than simply asking whether we should intervene, because what the intervention entails will determine if the intervention is successful. I'm not your classic peacenik who applies the imperial thought framing to every US military move. Indeed, anyone who thinks that Obama actually wants to go to war with Syria hasn't paid attention to the situation for the past couple of years; and I doubt half of those people could even find Syria on a map. But I'm not a hawk either, and my bar for deciding when to commit the US military is pretty high. Intervention and military actions must be pragmatic, with goals clearly set and plans to achieve those goals laid out and able to be executed.
So, my first question regarding intervention in Syria -- and not to be crass -- but what the fuck is the goal? Seriously, what is it? Do we want to topple the Assad government, or just drop a few bombs? Are we going to take out chemical weapons stock piles, or Assad government buildings? Since those stock piles and government buildings are likely in densely populated areas, how can we avoid killing Syrian citizens? Or do we arm the rebels? If we arm the rebels, how do we make sure that we're not inadvertently arming al-Qa'ida and other extremists? What happens if we topple the Assad government, will we commit 400,000 - 500,000 troops needed to quell the chaos and looting that comes after a government has fallen?
In short, what are we going to do? Amazingly, I haven't heard anyone ask this yet, the question has only been should we do something. The answer to that question is "Yes, if the outcome is positive." Like in Libya -- NATO intervention early stopped their civil war from expanding to levels of Syrian brutality.
If the Obama administration isn't going to present to Congress answers to these questions, then I hope Congress votes down his attempts to intervene in Syria. It's not that I wish to see the utter brutality of the Syrian civil war to continue -- I just don't want to see it get worse.
Syria will go down as Obama's primary foreign policy failure. He didn't stand up to Russia or China in the UN to intervene early when success would have been more likely; then he ignored the Syrian situation until Assad used chemical weapons. Despite Assad's egregious actions, Obama lost the support of even our stalwart ally Britain in his efforts to put together a coalition to intervene. Obama hasn't displayed any forethought or ability to plan ahead while witnessing the crisis in Syria unfold. Any action Obama takes now, without a clear plan, would only make the situation more grave. Haphazard bombing could quickly lead into a need for ground troops in a war where Assad will launch a chemical weapons attack on us. At that point, if Obama doesn't have the resolve to fight a war, he's going to lose. This is a situation that we cannot get involved in. Syria isn't Iraq, but Bush's misguided/criminal actions resulted in too many needless deaths of Iraqis and Americans. Enough is enough.