In Syria, A Problem of Intervention

John Glaser, June 05, 2012

Via Marc Lynch, “a useful addition to the growing body of analysis and argument” in opposition to any direct intervention in Syria from Prof. Eva Bellin and Prof. Peter Krause in the Middle East Brief from Brandeis University (PDF).

Here’s their takedown of why a direct military intervention is a bad idea (this reiterates arguments I’ve made repeatedly):

The Syrian military, while no match for the fullfirepower of the U.S. or NATO, is nevertheless not an insignificant force—and,more critically, it is enmeshed in densely populated civilian centers. To disarmit without inflicting huge human casualties would require not simply an aircampaign, as was the case in Libya, but rather, by some estimates, two to threehundred thousand boots on the ground. Such force would be crucial to fullydefeat the regime’s security forces, enforce civil peace, and prevent the subsequentunleashing of retaliatory massacres by opposition groups. Furthermore, to havelasting impact, such an intervention would have to be prolonged and would require extensive investment in state-building, at great cost.

They also argue that limited intervention, like aiding and arming the Syrian opposition fighters, is likely to exacerbate the conflict, increasing and prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people (and they are sure to point out that the Obama administration is misguidedly aiding the opposition with both lethal and non-lethal aid):

The distillation of historical experience with civil war and insurgency, along with a sober reckoning of conditions on the ground in Syria, make clear that limited intervention of this sort will not serve the moral impulse that animates it. To the contrary, it is more likely to amplify the harm that it seeks to eliminate by prolonging a hurting stalemate.

The paper covers many other points, like the disorganized and fractured state of the opposition and the fact that elements of al Qaeda could exploit Western aid for their benefit.

They also reason that the best way to try to resolve the conflict is to pressure the Russians to drop their support for Assad. As I mentioned in today’s news section (and in previous months), the only way I can see the Russians agreeing to do that is if they have some assurances that Washington won’t swoop into the middle of the political transition and try to replace the Russian client Assad with some American client dictator that better serves their interests. In this sense, what we have here is really a problem of intervention: foreign powers are meddling in Syria on behalf of all sides and this is prolonging the conflict. Such outside support (namely Russian) for internal forces (namely Assad) could stop and so end the violence, but it persists because Russia doesn’t trust that the U.S. will stay out of it. And the U.S. probably wouldn’t stay out of it. So the Syrian people continue to suffer, stuck in the middle of a violent insurgency and a brutal dictatorship.




13 Responses to “In Syria, A Problem of Intervention”

  1. If NATO and the US are sincerely concerned about the freedom and safety of the Syrian people (what a joke), then it is only fair that the Russians and Chinese solve the problem in Syria and similar problems of other countries in the region. It would be difficult to match our record of human destruction and therefore there would be less suffering for the local citizens. After all, Russia and China are also on the Security Council, so obligations of interventions should naturally be shared, right?

  2. Evident by the "Free Syrian Army's" contempt for the recent proposed 'ceasefire', it seems clear the 'FSA' is not interested in "peace" at this time…so ending the 'violence' obviously doesn't seem to be something 'Assad' even has full control over. Observing this 'situation' objectively and dispassionately, I'm not entirely sure what the Assad regime is expected to do here. Perhaps Assad should order his military to "stop, drop, and roll" if, and when, they are shot at? I'm not entirely sure this advice would 'go over well', much less be wise.

    US military intervention in Syria would be nothing less than "choosing sides", and I haven't quite heard a compelling argument 'why' the US should side with the FSA to begin with. Has anyone?

    If OWS protesters took up arms against the NYPD, I guarantee it would result in dead OWS 'protesters'–"peaceful" or otherwise. Additionally: OWS 'protesters' taking up arms against the NYPD would not be justified; regardless of whether their claims of "injustice" in society were valid or not.

    This is not something 'we' (the US) should get 'our' hands dirty with and get involved in. This is something the "Syrian people" (not the US, not Russia, not anyone else) needs to work out. I don't think this "situation" is any more complicated than that when it comes to the question of US military 'intervention'.

  3. Negotiations ….? Its like policeman telling you a criminal had raped your daughter, go negotiate with him!
    Unarmed protesters shot at… "defectors with or without weapons" deserters go back to their communities SLAPDASH they only interfere by shooting at government thugs or army which is shooting their relatives and neighbors in a demonstration or in their own houses – in addition to shelling from heavily armed ground troops or by air – those defectors "slapdash army" count their ammunition!
    Your comparison of civilized New York is funny – If Syria's government reaches a 1 percent of that civilization in how to deal with demonstration – Most Syrians will be contended …

  4. slapdash army = is the so called Free Syrian Army, they do not even know each other … SLAPDASH that's exactly what they are SLAPDASH

  5. Why do they want regime change actually? Assad is loved by the majority of Syrian as those Pro-Assad-demonstrations in any town in Syria are showing clearly:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt9A5rMqEDM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYlgDXP411w http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYQkUl-xwH0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSb0lxFcMn0

    The western educated Assad and his british wife are a symbol of peaceful co-existance of the many religions and ethnic groups – even one million refugees from Iraq in Syria:
    Assad interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8P6860vIiA
    His british wife Asma Assad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc4ZZ-yXaOQ

    USA should realize that the time window to cash in the former soviet client states without Russian reaction (and Chinas) is over.
    US General Wesley Clark about the US government plan 2001 to cash a huge list of arab countries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TY2DKzastu8&fe

    Russia did in various statements says it will not tolerate a war against Syria and their southern neighbour Iran, but NATO media did not publish them in any case – which only can mean: they want to ignore it and make a world war 3.

  6. they are tools of CIA and other secret agencies. If they do not know and accept each other, they after successful terror war in Syria, can be hunted against each other.

    See how they did this in Libya ! e.g. at http://mathaba.net/news/libya/

  7. Furthermore, to havelasting impact, such an intervention would have to be prolonged and would require extensive investment in state-building, at great cost.

  8. Furthermore, to havelasting impact, such an intervention would have to be prolonged and would require extensive investment in state-building, at great cost.

  9. [...] to the Syrian opposition fighters. See here and here for some of why this aid is problematic and likely to exacerbate the conflict. Partly making up the rebels are elements of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists and UN reports [...]

  10. [...] of the international politics of the conflict in Syria is and has been what I’ve called a problem of intervention. The only way Russia would agree to drop its support of Assad and oversee any kind of partial [...]

  11. what we have here is really a problem of intervention: foreign powers are meddling in Syria on behalf of all sides and this is prolonging the conflict.

  12. Additionally: OWS 'protesters' taking up arms against the NYPD would not be justified; regardless of whether their claims of "injustice" in society were valid or not.

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