Sunday, August 25, 2013

Intervention in Syria: Cui Prodest?

As is our wont, upon political matters, where opinions may legitimately differ, and where no-one convinces any else in any event, we shall refrain from opinion, and merely analyze.
In our post below,

we observed that, while a case can be made out for intervening militarily in Syria (on any of various sides, in fact), a comparably compelling case could be made out for such intervention in a host of countries from Nigeria to North Korea.   (And France, indeed, did recently carry out one such Excellent Adventure, in People’s Azawad.)  Our point was not political, but purely logical:  What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.
Yet, now, as a Gedankenexperiment, let us premise (call this Assumption A) that a clear moral case can be made for wading into the midst of the ongoing Syrian civil war;  that is, we shall assume, simply for the sake of logical argument, that such an invasion is one of those things that we Really Ought to Do -- along with ending world hunger, mitigating global climate change, and obeying posted speed-limits.  Yet, as with those, Americans will be chary of such a commitment, after having got our fingers burned (along with other sensitive body-parts) in George Dubya Bush’s nation-building adventures:  first in Afghanistan, and next in Iraq.   The 9/11 attacks that made violent intervention against al-Qaeda’s Afghan safe-haven  imperative (while not requiring the subsequent war on the Taliban, who hadn’t actually done anything to us) has no counterpart in the Syrian case;  moreover, while Dubya had the Clinton Surplus to fritter away, the nation is still trying painfully to climb out of the Bush Recession and Bush Deficit, so there is no fat piggybank to fund a new martial quagmire.

Yet some, such as Maverick “John” McCain, have been vociferously calling for such an armed intervention.   Why?
Well, first off, by hypothesis (see Assumption A), such intervention would be morally laudable -- as would a great many other things, some of which McCain opposes.   So why pick this, despite the new cost to this shaken country, in blood and treasure?
Two calculations come to mind.
First, the éminence grise behind Bashar al-Assad at this point  is Iran, along with its Lebanese affiliate Hizbollah.  There have indeed been articles in the Arabic press labeling al-Assad as Iran’s “puppet” (dumya).    So, a thrust into Syria -- which at this point is no more than a fire that could be left to burn itself out -- would in effect be an attack on Iran:  which is something that McCain and a number of neo-cons  (“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb-bomb Iran”)  have been thirsting for all along.
(Careful though -- Here Iran is backed by Russia, which certainly didn't back the Taliban when we went after them.   So we'd be biting off three crunchy countries at once.)
Second -- watch closely now:   The Republican Party is saddled with having lured us into a couple of major fiascos, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.   My hunch is, if McCain or one of his mind-mates were President right now, he would not intervene military in Syria, in any substantial way.   Oh, he might fire off a Tomahawk or two, from the safety of the Persian Gulf;  but no boots on the ground.   Yet he is perfectly happy for Obama to commit himself to exactly that.  Why?  It’s obvious …  No longer would any voter remember how Cheney at alia snookered us into Iraq with phony stories of Saddam’s connection to 9/11, aluminum tubing, and caches of WMDs.   Now Obama would be tarred with the same brush (especially if these chemical weapons -- today’s stand-in for the WMDs -- turn out to have been used, not exclusively by al-Assad, but by both sides, or even the rebels alone).

Again, a tale of madness --
yet now, ’tis not the man,
but the planet that has gone insane :
Murphy Makes a Mitzvah
(the tale of the Magic Pawnshop)
Available for Nook or for Kindle,
for less than the price
of a side of fries
[Kindle]   [Nook]
This morning’s New York Times features an op-ed on the question of armed intervention in Syria, by the ever-present Edward Luttwak.  Since he can be relied upon to examine any international matter in the light of, How does it affect Israel (and, in case of conflict between Israeli interests and our own, to favor those of that plucky Mideast nation),  we were intrigued to see if he would line up behind McCain.  (After all, the anti-Iran vendetta has largely been fueled by partisans of that persuasion.)   Yet -- Not a bit of it.   And the reason, as he explicitly reveals, is that a victory by either side would be bad for Israel.   His conclusion is a model of logic, though it is not the sort of thing that one is really permitted to say in public:

There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw.
By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.
Maintaining a stalemate should be America’s objective. And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.
This strategy actually approximates the Obama administration’s policy so far. Those who condemn the president’s prudent restraint as cynical passivity must come clean with the only possible alternative: a full-scale American invasion to defeat both Mr. Assad and the extremists fighting against his regime.

1 comment:

  1. We may not be able to make Syria better, we may not be able to make the middle east civilized, but if we can enforce a rule that leaders in the middle east can't limitlessly slaughter other sects or ethnic groups then we will have done some good.

    Saddam used gas on the Kurds and Iranians, we had him killed.
    Gaddafi had gunships open file on protesters, we had him killed.
    Assad has killed 100,000 Sunis and used gas on populations - it's time we had him killed.

    Maybe we can't prevent terror and state terror and endless vendetta, but if we make middle eastern leaders hesitate to commit genocide and massacre then we've done some good.

    It's the best we can do, and we should do it.