Friday, September 6, 2013

The U.S. Comes Away With Nothing on Syria

Here is the bottom line on Syria.  Try making the bullish case for an international intervention to express outrage for the killing of 1,500 people using sarin gas outside Damascus. If there were a surgical strike, or limited military action against Bashar's regime, what would be the best possible outcome?  There isn't even a good outcome.

Syria can easily become the theater for yet another Sunni-Shia conflict which could eventually change national maps in the region. Were events to go down this path, the already intolerable civilian displacement and migrations would intensify into something which the international community would really find appalling.

Damascus is the crown jewel for Bashar al-Assad and his family history; he will not be driven out or displaced easily.  Striking at the air force on ground with cruise missiles, for example, wouldn't touch any stockpiles of chemical weapons, since those are probably hidden in civilian areas of Damascus itself. Shia militia in Iraq have already spilled over into Syria to reinforce the government troops.

The Syrian rebel forces, whom we might regard as the aggrieved parties, are not democracy-loving, secular humanists seeking to establish a modern state. There is no more compelling evidence of this than the video published in the New York Times of seven captured government soldiers being slaughtered in cold blood by their rebel captors as the rebels talk to the cameras. Western nations should be just as outraged by this behavior as they were by that of President Assad's troops using nerve gas.  Brutality and wanton killing are against our mores, no matter what the weapon used.

Saudi Arabia, which signed the eleven nation document today calling for action in Syria, knows that their monarchy will ultimately be at risk if a wider Shia-Sunni conflict were to expand around them.  There see no cost in throwing a bone to President Obama by signing today's document.  They have no skin in our political game, and they are looking elsewhere to put their money to work for their own preservation.

If there is some face-saving way for the Syrian regime to transition out of power, it would have to be driven by the United States, its European allies, and by Russia and its clients.  This is what they call "an international solution."  If China were to buy in also, then no permanent member of the Security Council would cast a veto against an appropriate resolution.  This is a long road with low odds, but that's called diplomacy. While the talking is going on, increased humanitarian aid  would be welcome by the suffering civilian populations.

The inept briefing by Ambassador Samantha Power today shows that nobody in the Obama administration really believes what they are forced to be saying.  Listen to her Freudian slip about the Security Council.  We have, at the President's whimsy, been forced down a road to taking senseless, military action.  It's time to take this off the table.  Like in Egypt and Libya, we have no idea how the aftershock of a military intervention would hit the fragile fault lines in the region.

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