If you haven’t read Lowell’s take on Syria, please do so here! Of course, this is the Soapbox Guild, so we don’t really agree on everything, so here is my view on the matter:
It is sad that we have come to recognize the war drum process so well now, but it was unmistakable these past few weeks. We are probably going to bomb Syria. I don’t think there is much good that we can do, but for reasons I am going to explain, I argue that we ought to bomb them. And bomb them in such a way that the Syrian government is crippled and US soldiers or marines can be inserted.
This may come as a surprise to those who know me, I have argued that the time to act in Syria is long passed and that anything we do can only make the situation worse. I am even conflicted that the Assad regime is really the worst case scenario here, are we even on the right side?
But all of that has changed because of a statement issued by the President. It was a mistake to draw the “red line” as it has been called now, but the President indicated last year that if chemical weapons were deployed we would have to do something.
This unfortunate pledge puts the US in a difficult position. Other nations are calling for intervention but more importantly, the President has put the US’ credibility on the line. On the other side, however, the US public is solidly against intervention and many nations, including our most dependable ally, will not give assistance.
So what is the United States going to do? Unfortunately, pledging to attack and then balking under international pressure would simply feed the narrative that the US is politically weak. This is a bad message to send to Iran, North Korea, and an opportunistic Vladimir Putin. So we have to do something. But what are our options?
We could give a token strike. We could use a few cruise missiles to destroy some of Assad’s military bases. But the weakness of this approach is that Assad is clearly winning the war If the US intervenes, but the side that we support loses, this would be worse for our image than not participating at all! So we can’t afford to do a token strike.
This is the easy option. They also cost around $1.4 million. War is expensive. Image:Wikimedia.org
We could give Libya-style air support to the rebels, giving the rebels tactical and strategic advantages over the government forces. But the weakness of this approach is that the rebels are slowly becoming exactly the type of militant group that we have been fighting all over the world. There are even Al-Qaeda military units currently fighting for the rebels. This was dangerous enough in Libya, but remember why Syria is such a pressing concern for the West: chemical weapons. If the rebels win through our support, and then go on to acquire Syrian military hardware, they would have access to Assad’s large and sophisticated chemical weapons stockpiles. But that isn’t all. Assad possesses many Russian weapons, including a sophisticated anti-air missile system. This is bad enough in Assad’s hands, but imagine this in the hands of Al Qaeda. Finally, this is all merely from the perspective of US interests. The carnage for Syria’s non-Sunni population will be devastating should the rebels be victorious. Already there are reports of massacres with alarming frequency and although he was a brutal ruler and a supporter of terrorism, Assad was a defender of minority groups in Syria. Life post-Assad will be brutal for the Syrian people.
So what option remains? Assad cannot win, but the rebels cannot have free reign in Syria. Thus the US must intervene in such a way that gives us influence over the nation’s future. The US must intervene in such a way that secures portions of Syria for foreign troops. We must have a say in which rebels win and how. Either we have airstrikes against both the government and Islamist groups (a risky option, but who knows, maybe we can pull it off?) or we have to have US military present in the country. This means an extremely expensive, dangerous operation that may end up costing US lives, but I can think of no palatable alternative. This is the only option that preserves both US interests and the Syrian people.
I am no military expert, maybe US special forces can have a role in leading moderate rebel divisions. Maybe there is a way to coordinate very carefully with moderate commanders to ensure that they win their battles but the Islamists do not. If such things are options, they would certainly be superior to establishing US bases in Syria, but we have to do something significant or else the situation becomes much worse.