Syria: A Clearer Case for Intervention

With American forces tied down providing air cover for rebels in al Qaeda-infested Benghazi, the United States has committed forces that it could have used to enforce a no-fly zone over its real enemy in Damascus.

So far, Syrian government forces have killed at least 61 people and the unrest appears to be widespread. Now, the Obama administration is strangely silent on matters that might actually intersect with American vital interests. After all, it was the Syrians that were covertly building a nuclear weapons program that Israel destroyed in 2007.

But when intervention makes no logical sense, the President commits American resources with wild abandon, apparently on behalf of the United Nations rather than on behalf of American interests.

To be fair, the case for taking action against Syria would be a very hard one to build, given that it would be very difficult to predict the outcome. That said, one could make a much firmer case here, than one can make for our ridiculous misadventure in Libya.

Now, protests are boiling in Jordan, a key U.S. regional ally. Why shouldn’t they? When the people can now reasonably expect the United States might intervene, it makes sense for them to react this way. After all, the administration has already abandoned former allies Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi. It is only logical for Jordanians to expect President Obama to turn on King Abdullah II as well.

The United States could strike a blow against its enemy in Tehran by supporting the enemies of Iran’s Syrian proxy. However, this option is unlikely because of current resource constraints in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Defense, Energy Security, International Security, Middle East, Nuclear proliferation, Policy, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Syria: A Clearer Case for Intervention

  1. Scott Erb says:

    Quick success in Libya (still possible – I talk about that in my blog) would make UN action against Syria more likely. If the US goes at it alone, it is committed to seeing it through. The cost of that is evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, two conflicts that divided the US public, cost trillions, and led to a war weariness that leads most dictators to no longer fear the US. Yet the logic of those wars — to spread democracy in a region of corrupt dictators and a massive youth population — made some sense. I think the only way intervention works is if the UN approves it, there is buy in even in the Arab world, the US speaks softly and carries a big stick (we avoid rhetorical excesses and let others do more of the talking, thereby making it harder to appeal to anti-American sentiment), and action is focused on helping rebels rather than conquering a country and shaping a new system.

    In a best case scenario, a quick success in Libya will make more interventions less likely as dictators will have to rethink their calculations of whether to do as Mubarak did (choose to leave) or Gaddafi (fight to the end). So I ask you to keep an open mind on this — it’s a new kind of intervention, one more in line with Bush 91 than Clinton 99 or Bush Jr. 03 — but it may work.

    • Quick success in Libya, I think is unlikely because the President has already ruled out ground troops. Remember, Saddam was in power for 11 years while the US enforced a no fly zone.

      Plus, the President already wasted a ton of political capital on this one (much like Bush did in Iraq.). Also, the biggest risk of opening something up in Syria is exposing the US to a third terrorist threat via Hizbullah. And these guys make al Qaeda look like amateurs.

      My argument is simply there is a better case here than in Libya, but that even Syria would be a tough sell.

      I’ll try to keeP an open mind and pray this thing ends soon. I am just not optimistic.

      • Scott Erb says:

        Hezbollah is definitely more of a threat than al qaeda. Al qaeda used spectacle to make itself seem more dangerous than it was, it really isn’t winning Arab hearts and minds at all. Hezbollah could disrupt the Mideast, and that is a far more serious matter. But the best counter to that is not to somehow defeat them, but (as President Bush had hoped to do) support internal dissent that will ultimately overthrow regimes not in step with their people.

        Obama’s approach has a chance to succeed because it more realistically recognizes the limits of US power. Part of that is recognition that an international response is more effective than a unilateral one. I hope that pressure is applied seriously to Syria — starting with sanctions and other non-military actions. Whether or not a military intervention of any sort is feasible depends on how events unfold. President Bush was right to recognize that only the spread of democracy in the region had the power to truly undercut the radical and violent movements that now get support from Iran and Syria. He just over estimated American capacity to engineer such a change.

        My hope would be that left and right could come together and realize that they aren’t as far apart as it seemed in 2004 — we share a need to try to help bring change to that region (change I think is coming whether we like it or not), but we haven’t hit on the best tactic yet. Gaddafi is far stronger than Saddam was, but he may be removed at a much cheaper cost — and in so doing reinvigorate US policy. I’m not saying it’s a certainty, but there is a logic to this that may get overlooked by both the anti-war left and the anti-Obama right. Still, I respect your pessimism (which is shared by many on the anti-war left). But I don’t think supporting or working with corrupt dictators is a good option any more — that’s a 20th century policy that might well be obsolete.

  2. Alan Scott says:

    Sean Patrick Hazlett ,

    The Obama doctrine of intervention is not that strange if you remember the law of the jungle , which liberals have selective memory on . The weak tend to get attacked . The strong tend to be left alone. It is really that simple .

    In Egypt we could 86 Mubarek because it cost us very little . No military intervention . It gave President Obama the opportunity to do what he does best , talk out of both sides of his mouth .

    Initially, Libya looked liked Obama would have to do nothing , but run his mouth, because the rebels were close to victory . Obama could have tipped the scales at that point and intervened then . As always he was indecisive and Quaddafi turned everything around . The President was indecisive for another two weeks until the situation was so desperate for the rebels that the British, the French, and Hillary convinced Obama that he had to do something to avoid a slaughter.

    Even with that, our military is so advanced that we could intervene with only a manageable risk to our military personnel. We are hoping that the French, the Arab League, or somebody will bail us out before Libya becomes another sand trap for us .

    We will not attack Syria or Iran, because under the Obama Doctrine, they simply are not weak enough .

  3. Alan Scott says:

    Sean Patrick Hazlett ,

    ” Plus, they never cooperated with us on WMD like Libya did. ”

    Quaddafi and Mubarek both helped us on battling Islamic terrorists . Quaddafi was a terrorist and I’m not sure how to classify Mubarek. Anyway, I argue that any Middle Eastern despot helping us against terrorism is doing it out of his own weakness. Therefore Obama by definition would attack that person in a crisis . Syria and Iran have not helped us against terrorists so they are not weak, and have nothing to fear from our fearless leader Obama .

  4. Scott,

    I respect your position, but I am not from the neocon wing of my party (nor am I assuming that you are a neocon, either ;-)). I believe, that by itself, spreading democracy is never a valid reason for violating a nation’s sovereignty.

    I actually think the weakest of Bush’s reasons to invade Iraq was to spread democracy. If we did not believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, Saudi Arabia did not need us to withdrawal our forces from the kingdom to retain stability, and Saddam had not fired on U.S. aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, I never would have supported that war.

    I noticed that you are a professor of Political Science, so my views come from the realist school of international relations (if that wasn’t already obvious. ;-))

    I am trying to remember these classifications from a course I took from Scott Sagan 13 years ago. Correct me if I am wrong, but would you consider your views from the “domestic-politics” wing? I also remember something about the rational choice model and how it was very controversial.

    Anyway, I am enjoying the discussion and look forward to continued engagement on this topic.

    Either way, I hope this conflict ends quickly because I fear there might be trouble brewing in North Korea, which will be triggered by higher energy and food prices. We will certainly need our forces to manage that if something happens.

    I think Obama’s policy is misguided. But if it works, and I hope it does, I will be the first to eat crow. 😉

    • Scott Erb says:

      By the way, if you want a neo-con in this argument, my seven year old son will do. He was calling for military action in Egypt! When it was announced that missiles were launched in Libya he said, “see, dad, they’re doing my idea of using the military against the bad guy.” When I tried to argue about considering the human costs of war, he gave me arguments that were reminiscent of the Iraq war (we’re helping the people, they’ll be glad). I think Star Wars affected his view on this — he’s into everything Star Wars from the lego sets to the Wii games and learning every weapon and character. I suspect he may end up a bit more hawkish than his father 🙂

      • Unfortunately, both my son and I come from what Malcolm Gladwell would call an “honor culture.” You could say we both sometimes have a bit of a temper.

        While we’re not southerners, we come from a Scots-Irish background/culture with a long tradition of “defending one’s honor.”

        As a result, we tend to be effusively polite (a cultural evolution that minimizes conflict), but tend to be more aggressive than the average male when challenged.

        I don’t know if Gladwell’s characterization of this phenomenon is accurate (see Outliers, I believe), but it is certainly interesting and I believe it explains a lot. 😉

  5. I hope Scott is right, but still fear that Sean may be. Again, given that we’re in we have to be successful.

  6. Scott Erb says:

    Sean, I think the realist school is usually right when it comes to American foreign policy. The Neocons (Woodrow Wilson with a machine gun) did push too far. In many ways George W. Bush was like JFK in Vietnam, believing US power could spread democracy (which I think was the real reason they went into Iraq). I opposed that war on primarily realist grounds.

    So I see your position and know there is a good chance you are right. Yet I look at Mideast demographics, I think about the backwards nature of dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, and wonder if our interests might be better served by being part of an international effort to empower the people. I admit that part of me is idealist — I liked George H.W. Bush’s idea of a “new world order,” and the neo-con arguments have their appeal. Also the global political economy is becoming more interdependent. I guess ultimately I hope this works with Libya, and it can help bring change to a region still scarred by 600 years of Ottoman military dictatorship.

    My intro to World Politics class is having a vigorous on line debate about the conflict. I told them that in this case I have to admit I’m not sure what is best. Hope can sometimes make one too optimistic. We live in interesting times!

    • Scott,

      It sounds like being a professor is a blast. Had I been able to afford my Stanford education without a five-year military commitment, I probably would have gone for a PhD in International Relations or Political Science right after undergrad.

      I decided to take a more practical path after that, but will encourage my children to do something more academic.

      But still, I can always write a book on this stuff (which I loosely am. I am two pages away from completely a very bad first draft).

      Maybe at some point, I can return to the Kennedy School as a guest lecturer. We’ll see…I can always dream…

      • Scott Erb says:

        My specialty is European politics (I’ve written a book about German foreign policy) and the most fun is when I travel with students to Europe — I’m taking 42 students to Italy in May (along with three other faculty members) for a travel course. It’s a bit different than a standard course — to augment the Art and Music historians I have to teach about politics in Renaissance Italy, the politics of the Catholic Church and reformation and of course I enjoy dealing with Machiavelli (who is misunderstood by many). We of course also talk about Berlusconi and the wild world of Italian politics. I just hope the dollar doesn’t collapse before May.

        I got my MA from Johns Hopkins SAIS and worked in DC for awhile for Senator Pressler of South Dakota. I was moving up the ranks, making connections and in a position a lot of young people yearn for — my foot in the door to the inside the beltway world — I decided to drop it. My dad thought I was crazy, especially when my next job was night manager at a pizzeria in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. But I decided that I didn’t have the heart to play the political games for a living, I was rather disgusted by it all. (Though having that experience really helps me as a teacher). It was hard to give up a position where you feel like you’re at the center of everything, but I’m so glad I did. Who knows where I’d be now if I’d stayed, but despite a lower income and less status, I find teaching and research to be very fulfilling.

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