Intervention in Syria? Better Not Think First.

Is intervention in Syria political, humanitarian, or just unwise?

Now, despite the double veto by Russia and China, folks are beginning to debate the possibility of intervening in Syria to stop the bloodshed. Certainly, stopping Assad would be great, but I cannot think of a worse option. Undoubtedly, Russia and China would also block UN authorization of such an intervention while the geographical scope of the country would make Syria far more dangerous than Libya. The complex demographics, on the other hand, would make a post-Assad Syria better resemble a post-Saddam Iraq than a post-Qaddafi Libya. Yet the discussion continues.

Michael Collins Dunn remarks that such a move would lead to a regional war, Emre Uslo contemplates whether Turkey would intervene, and Nicolas Noe suggests dialogue over intervention. Jasmin Ramsey has a nice overview of the intervention debate, including the humorous thoughts of Michael Weiss. Weiss is strongly in favor of the West gearing up and jumping into Syria. Certainly, his heart is in the right place, but his ideas for how to end the bloodshed seemingly appeared without any thought at all:

• Humanitarian “safe areas” to provide food, aid and medical supplies to the civilian population and give the various opposition groups a headquarters inside their own country
• Advanced weapons and communication devices for the Syrian rebels
• A no-fly zone to stop the regime from using its aircraft to conduct reconnaissance, offload security personnel and – yes – strafe rebel strongholds from the sky.

First of all, if the west took control of Syrian land from the Syrian government (forget for a moment that this would require a major military presence) and allowed, say, the Free Syrian Army to use it as a base, one cannot realistically call it a humanitarian area. If opposition groups were not allowed to use the area for political or military activities, then perhaps it is a humanitarian area, but giving access to opposition groups makes such a move more political than humanitarian. It is an attempt to openly choose sides in a civil war and define it as humanitarian. In addition to the billions of dollars and millions of military personnel needed to secure an area, how would such a move not be seen as colonialist, even if it is meant to displace Assad?

Secondly – and Daniel Larison has a nice post about this – arming the FSA would be (once again) a conflation of political and humanitarian goals. Does Weiss want to help the Syrian people (I would give serious thought to Noe’s suggestions,) or does he want to topple Assad (in which case how can we blame Russia and China for the vetoes)? Arming the FSA would inevitably prolong the suffering in Syria, increase the violence and completely eliminate any type of negotiation. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the west would commit to supporting the FSA enough to guarantee a quick victory, meaning that Syria’s civil war would likely look more like Lebanon’s than anything else. From Larison:

Indeed, the reason why some interventionists are proposing military aid for the FSA is that the armed rebels will most likely fail without that aid. The danger that interventionists see is not really that there will be a “disastrous stalemate,” but that the opposition will lose. Interventionists are invoking the specter of the Lebanese civil war as a warning of what might happen if there is no support for the opposition, but what they propose seems more likely to put Syria through an experience very much like Lebanon’s. Even if it is a more limited, indirect intervention in support of Syrian rebels, that seems guaranteed to deepen the conflict and risk the fragmentation of the country into enclaves, which could in turn hasten the beginning of forced expulsions and massacres of populations.

Finally, a no fly zone (NFZ) over Syria would be far more costly and logistically complicated than in Libya (where the NFZ and major activity was limited to the coastal region). Instead of getting into details, I’ll link to a couple of articles that were written during the Libya NFZ debate, showing that a NFZ by itself is ineffective, costly and illegal. Pursuing this strategy in Syria – particularly in conjunction with Weiss’ other suggestions would clearly be an open act of war that would inevitably be rejected by Russia and China (if not others.)

Intervention in Syria is a bad idea. Supporting intervention with poorly thought-out strategies may be even worse.

Photo from Laaska


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