First Published: 2012-06-11

 

Neocons Press for Syrian Action

 

Led by the neocons, a growing chorus of Washington pols and pundits are clamoring for President Obama to “do something” militarily to remove the Assad regime from power in war-torn Syria. But the real-life options remain fraught with risk, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

 

Middle East Online

International anguish over bloodletting in Syria has come close to the point at which urges to “do something” about the situation there (something more forceful, that is, than supporting Kofi Annan’s diplomacy) may outweigh any sober consideration of whether there is something useful to do.

The grisly events at Houla have provided the most recent boost to the urges. Leaders in Europe, and not just politicians and pundits in the United States, have lately been talking increasingly about external intervention.

Having political support to do something, or anything, forceful or risky in Syria does not mean that there is indeed something to be done that would have a good chance of either stemming the bloodshed or ushering in a more agreeable regime in Damascus. There still are no good options on Syria.

The same sorts of questions that could be asked months ago remain important and unanswered today. The fact that the Free Syrian Army is not really an army but an unorganized collection of local fighting groups poses a host of uncertainties about the consequences of facilitating the shipment of arms to those groups.

Additional questions concern the likely calculations and responses of the Assad regime and those most dependent on its continuation if they see no alternative but a fight to the death. Still more questions concern the nature of any successor to that regime.

As unsatisfying as it may sound, White House spokesman Jay Carney’s observation that “militarization of the situation in Syria at this point . . . would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage” is probably the best starting point for formulating policy toward that situation.

A recent urging, with a twist, for a substantial arming of Syrian oppositionists comes from Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute — the twist being that Pletka argues that such a move would not only be good policy but also “good politics for Obama the candidate.”

One is entitled to ask whether this is intended as some kind of setup, laying the groundwork for later accusations that a more forceful turn in Obama’s policies was only a desperation move in the midst of a reelection campaign.

Setting aside such suspicions, Pletka probably is correct that more forceful actions on Syria, by responding to the strengthening urges to do something, would be politically popular at least in the short term, before we saw additional chaos and carnage in Syria. But short-term political advantage would of course be an entirely unjustifiable reason to make such a move.

Pletka’s elaboration of her argument about political advantage reveals how weak the part of her contention is that injecting more arms into Syria would make strategic sense. She says the move ought to appeal to Obama as an “un-Bush” way of “allowing others to fight a war that America wishes won” — presumably a contrast with the Bush way of committing a large American force to fight a long and costly war, as in Iraq.

But the rest of her argument is a continuation of the same patterns of neoconservative thinking that led to Bush’s war. There is the same wishful thinking substituting for careful analysis about consequences, such as in talk about how shipments of arms “may finally give the edge to the opposition” and “coax more significant defections” from the regime’s forces.

There is the same assumption that the United States can stage-manage political change in the Middle East, as in references to how the administration “could work more closely with the Syrian political opposition to develop a blueprint for a transition.”

There is the same assumption that the direction of US-fomented political change always will be monotonically in a direction consistent with American values, as in talk about “the prospect of a US-assisted democratic transition” and about how an arms-injection scheme would somehow “ensure” that moderate forces would take the helm in Syria.

After seeing how false such assumptions turned out to be even with the commitment of large American army, it is a wonder to see them applied to the kind of “un-Bush” intervention being recommended.

Bloody situations such as Syria give rise to humanitarian impulses that tend to be contrasted with cold realpolitik. (Pletka gives a nod to this kind of thinking by asserting that Syria presents a “rare confluence of strategic and moral imperatives.”) We would do well to heed a recent statement about Syria by someone often seen (unfairly) as the dark prince of heartless realpolitik, Henry Kissinger:

“Military intervention, humanitarian or strategic, has two prerequisites: First, a consensus on governance after the overthrow of the status quo is critical. If the objective is confined to deposing a specific ruler, a new civil war could follow in the resulting vacuum, as armed groups contest the succession, and outside countries choose different sides.

“Second, the political objective must be explicit and achievable in a domestically sustainable time period. I doubt that the Syrian issue meets these tests.”

Particularly against the backdrop of some situations, such as Syria or Libya, that have arisen in the Middle East, some people divide policy analysts into those who are willing to do tough things to stand up to despicable, bloody-handed regimes and those who are not willing to do such things.

A more illuminating and accurate division is between those who carefully think through consequences before acting on urges and those who do not carefully think through the consequences. The nation’s interests, on Syria or on anything else, are better served by the careful-thinking approach.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Consortiumnews

 

Libya loses control of Tripoli to Islamist-led militias

Iraq presses fightback against jihadist-led militants

Thousands of Huthis defy UN in new show of strength

Britain to go tougher on jihadist suspects

Saudi religious police at heart of new scandal

Algeria hosts new round of Mali peace talks

US launches new round of air strikes around Iraq dam

Turkey summons US charge d'affaires over Snowden claims

Turkey new PM promises peace with Kurds

Will UN Human Rights Council investigate IS abuses?

Iran convicts Ahmadinejad's vice president for embezzlement

Fierce clashes shatter uneasy calm near armistice line in Golan Heights

Turkey detains dozens of police in new nationwide raids

Wounded Gazans need long-term care

Libyan Islamist militiamen control US embassy compound

Israel shoots down drone over occupied Golan Heights

Yemen army suffers heavy losses in new wave of Qaeda attacks

Turkish army breaks silence on Kurdish peace talks

Islamic State offers grim inspiration to African extremists

Shebab target intelligence HQ in Somalia

Israel expropriates 988 acres of Palestinian land in West Bank

Iraq recaptures Amerli from Islamic State in biggest success so far

Saudi King calls for ‘strong and rapid action’ against jihadists

Jihadists distribute Yazidi women as spoils of war to fighters

Gulf countries resolve six-month dispute with Qatar

Egypt reduces Badie death sentence to life in prison

AU forces liberate former Shebab stronghold in Somalia

Philippines enters war in Syria!

Kurds put aside old rivalries to battle jihadists in Iraq

Iran says new sanctions cast doubt on US sincerity

US imposes new sanctions on Iran

US supplies arms to Lebanon to fight jihadists

Britain terror threat level raised to ‘severe’

Libya conflict takes its toll on migrants

UN chief lashes out at 'brutal' IS killings in Iraq

Over three million Syrian refugees have fled war

Libya's troubled interim government steps down

Obama admits 'no strategy yet' to fight IS

Israel counts losses and gains in Gaza: Heavy cost for 50 days of war

Saudi Crown Prince flies to France next week: Jihadist threat tops agenda

UN confirms capture of UN peacekeepers in Syria Golan

Islamic State executes dozens of Syria soldiers in new atrocity

'Jihad recruiters' arrested in Netherlands, Germany

Saudi Grand Mufti warns youth against ‘perverted’ calls for jihad

Neo-Ottomanism scores new victory in Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan