Against Military Intervention in Syria

John Glaser, February 22, 2012

At his Foreign Policy blog, George Washington University professor Marc Lynch points to a report he wrote for the Center for  a New American Century arguing forcefully and persuasively against any kind of military intervention in Syria, including arming the opposition. He summarizes:

The first half of the report assesses in some depth each of the major military options which have been put on the table:  No Fly Zones, Tactical Air Strikes, Safe Areas, Armed Observers, and Arming the Opposition.  For each of the first four, I argue that the military means would not respond effectively to the violence, would be far more complicated than advocates acknowledge, and would likely soon pave the way to further escalation upon failure.

I spend the most time arguing against the currently fashionable idea of arming the Syrian opposition (about whom, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey noted this weekend, little is really known). It is unlikely that arms from the outside would come close to evening the balance of power, and would only invite escalations from Syrian regime forces.  While advocates assume that a better-armed opposition would encourage a wave of defections from the Syrian army, it is just as plausible that growing militarization will harden the polarization in Syrian society and the resolve of Syrian troops.   Those currently on the fence, disgusted with Assad but afraid of the future, could well be frightened back onto the side of the regime and move even further away from any kind of realistic political solution.

Lynch also argues for sustained economic sanctions and “enhanced diplomacy” which includes “constructing such a narrative – of endless isolation and economic disaster with Asad, or a rapid return to international society with economic revival and political guarantees without him” in order to end the crisis. I can’t endorse Lynch’s take fully, but his arguments against military intervention are insightful.

The link he provided in the above excerpt directs the reader to his previous post which focused fully on why not to arm the opposition. Not only would arming the opposition escalate overall violence, it would also further fragment the already disorganized local militias and its ultimate failure would merely be an invitation for full scale military intervention and even regime change. Also, as we saw in Libya, “fighting groups will rise in political power, while those who have advocated nonviolence or who advance political strategies will be marginalized.” Lastly, both sides are committing serious crimes, albeit disproportionately, and for god’s sake American taxpayers do not need to be supporting any more human rights abusers.

To me, the broader regional implications of intervening in Syria are enough to invalidate such proposals completely. For those rabid interventionists in Washington, acting against the Assad regime is really just an opportunity to eliminate Iran’s closest strategic ally. Again, war for hegemony in the Middle East would have the deceitful pretext of humanitarian intervention.