So far the best report I’ve found on the mess that is Syria comes from, surprisingly, an opinion piece at CNN. In it Peter Bergen reminds us that
Whoever ultimately prevails in this fight is hardly going to be an ally of the U.S. It’s an ungodly mess that makes even Iraq in 2006 look good. It is, in short, a problem from hell.
Bergen also discusses the complex legal issues of America entering the fight in Syria and the fact that we’re essentially guaranteed to enter at this point.
Another piece from The Independent brings in the fact that we’ll be fighting against al-Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan, but with them in Syria. It doesn’t even mention that fact that we took out al-Qaeda’s leader just two years ago. It will be interesting to see if the we were on the same side but didn’t directly give weapons controversy will play out again.
11 thoughts on “The problem from hell: Syria”
“The fact that we’re essentially guaranteed to enter at this point” reminded me of The Onion’s article on the topic yesterday: Obama Weighing His Syria Option
Wow. The Onion is starting to skirt the line of satire and reality. They are really good at it and the world is crazy.
Drat. I fouled up the HTML on that one. Sorry. Ro or Nathaniel, can either of you delete that previous comment so I could put up something that looks like less of a mess?
I don’t really follow The Onion, but I can understand the uncomfortable position of wanting to do something about genocide and human rights violations and not wanting to get into a war that you can’t win and every side hates you.
You are good to go, my comment may not make as much sense now, but maybe it didn’t really work because I hadn’t seen the link.
(Thanks for the delete, Ro. For those just tuning in, my examples of The Onion’s turnaround on this issue are here: Before and After.)
You’re certainly right, Ro. God forbid that I (or anyone) should fail to understand that. My irritation (and again, I realize that I’m probably being unreasonable here) came from two sources. First, the tone of their previous articles seemed to suggest that the President should do an ill-defined “something” to stop it, but never bothered to do the minimal amount of reading necessary to conclude that there aren’t any good options here. Second, they suggested that the reason that the U.S. had not already done this “something,” whatever it was, was that the people responsible were cruel, heartless, and without regard for human life.
God knows it’s terrible to watch horrors like this happening around the world. God knows it’s only reasonable to be filled with a desire to help. But the awful truth is that sometimes there’s nothing you can do that won’t just end up making things worse. In those cases, acting anyway isn’t doing a service to the people who are suffering. It’s just self-serving; trying to assuage Americans’ consciences or to assert U.S. power or relevance in the global community. These may not be bad things to do in themselves, but they’re not worth killing for.
Harsh, but absolutely true.
It is indeed the situation from hell. Intervention now will be extremely messy, but that is what one gets for postponing it for 2 years.
At the end of the day, I don’t think the calculus was much different two years ago than it is now. At no point would U.S. intervention in Syria have been a net positive.
The thing is, that intervening two years ago might have provided the following advantages.
1) Avoiding a prolonged bloodbath.
2) Significantly reducing al-Qaida’s influence.
3) Ensuring some future for religious/ethnical minorites.
4) Finding a group that would actually be able to form a more or less stable government.
I don’t think any of those outcomes of a U.S. intervention would have been particularly likely even at the beginning of the uprising. Firstly, Syria isn’t Libya. Assad has much more support than Qaddafi ever did, both among his own people (see here, for example) and internationally. Furthermore, Assad’s army is far better trained and better equipped than Qaddafi’s was, with much better anti-aircraft capabilities. A few airstrikes here and there would never have been anything like enough to remove him from office. Indeed, if the U.S. were committed to defeating Assad’s forces and ending his career, I don’t see how that could be accomplished short of sending in ground troops. The other three objectives you mention are similar in that respect, I think: the U.S. can’t very well micromanage what happens on the ground in Syria without being physically present there. And once we’ve turned this into a land war between U.S. “crusaders” and a homegrown leader, we get Iraq all over again, with a lengthy, bloody counterinsurgency campaign and a politically dicey nation-building component. Assad and his political successors would be able to turn themselves into martyrs to imperialist aggression, and gain regional and international credibility they could never have otherwise. Just see how the Turkish government and people are reacting to the possibility of U.S. intervention. No, I stand by what I said earlier: a U.S. strike on Syria could only do more harm than good, whether it takes place in 2011 or 2013.
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