‘Limited Intervention’ in Syria Won’t Work Either

John Glaser, May 27, 2013

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Advocates of U.S. military action in Syria have grown fond of responding to opponents of intervention with what they seem to think is a ‘gotcha.’ Opponents of intervention keep warning of the potential catastrophe of getting involved in another Middle Eastern conflict that could draw us in to another lengthy quagmire like Iraq and Syria. Advocates cleverly retort: “But we don’t want boots on the ground!!”

A fine example of this was reported today at The Daily Beast by Josh Rogin. Apparently, John McCain – perhaps the most prominent and vocal advocate of “limited intervention” in Syria, actually went inside Syria just recently in an unannounced visit to the rebel leader Gen. Salem Idris. A coordinated act of propaganda no doubt, the rebels told McCain that what they want is the U.S. to arm the rebels, impose a no-fly zone, and bomb the Assad regime and Hezbollah.

Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy have written a policy brief for the European Council on Foreign Relations that reviews the so-called “limited” options of directly arming the Syrian rebels and imposing no-fly zones. It it well worth a read. Here are some sample excerpts:

No-Fly Zones

  • …it is unclear how much killing would be prevented. According to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, only 10 percent of opposition casualties result from air strikes. Moreover, safe zones could cement the collapse of the central state, and, given existing intra-rebel fighting, competing groups are likely to seek local control through violent means. As demonstrated by developments in some opposition-held areas in parts of northern Syria, this could render them anything but safe for the civilian population. As noted by António Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees: “Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas.”
  • Syria’s collapse accelerated by the establishment of safe zones would also pose a danger to the territorial unity of neighbouring states, fuelling, for instance, existing tendencies towards militia-run zones in Lebanon and Iraq, and thereby potentially feeding a series of regional civil wars. Additionally, the act of establishing safe zones would be an act of war against Syria, with the obvious dangers of escalation and mission creep.

Arming the Opposition

  • First, it is unrealistic to expect that weapons can be guaranteed to end up in the hands of pro-Western actors. The US and its allies were unable to achieve the micro-management of weapons control in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a massive physical presence there, so it is unlikely that they will fare better doing this with a light footprint. The apparent Western conduit, the Supreme Military Council under General Salim Idris, has a limited remit over battlefield groups. This will be particularly challenging given that Jubhat al-Nusra – an organisation with declared ideological links to al-Qaeda – is now considered the strongest and most effective rebel fighting force.
  • …There is a real danger that these weapons could find their way into sectarian tensions in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, supplying oxygen for the outbreak of an arc of sectarian conflict across the Levant. The other neighbouring countries – Jordan, Turkey, and Israel – are all also feeling the ripple effects in different ways.
  • …Moreover, increased foreign support to predominantly Sunni rebels feeds Assad’s longstanding claim that Syria faces a foreign-backed Islamist plot, enabling him to further mobilize his domestic and international support base. Pro-opposition escalation is therefore likely to be met with escalation by the regime.
  • Rebels currently unwilling to engage in negotiations with the regime (distinct from accepting the regime’s political surrender, which they are prepared to do) are even less likely to do so once they receive Western armed support.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry, with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, announced an impending diplomatic convention at which negotiations between all sides in Syria could take place. This is an attempt to get going on some sort of political transition that would hopefully make discussions of military options obsolete. But Washington is making two major mistakes going into the negotiations, write Levy and Barnes-Dacey, that sets up the diplomatic push for ultimate doom.

First, the U.S. has stuck to its initial demand that ‘Assad must go.’But this essentially ensures continued fighting and bloody stalemate. ”Insisting on Assad’s removal and a full transfer of power may represent a morally appealing position for the main trans-Atlantic protagonists but it amounts to dictating terms of surrender and is antithetical to pursuing a diplomatic track with the Syrian regime or its backers,” says their policy brief.

Second, the U.S. has rejected the inclusion of Iran in the negotiations. This type of approach reinforces the tendency toward proxy war that has been the hallmark of the international fight in Syria from the beginning. If, as demanded by the U.S., one side of  negotiations has Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and the rebel opposition, and the other side has simply Russia, it will signal to the Assad regime and its backers that the point of the negotiations is to impose regime change, to the automatic detriment of their interests. Clearly, both Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah will see aiding the Assad regime in a continuing proxy war as a better option – and thus the negotiations will collapse.




3 Responses to “‘Limited Intervention’ in Syria Won’t Work Either”

  1. which they are prepared to do) are even less likely to do so once they receive Western armed support.

  2. I think USA and EU are heading full speed ahead for facing either the Russian military or the Iranian army or both…, the reason I am saying this is because of several reasons.., but most importantly the fact that Russia is going to deliver the S300 air defense system to Syria.., this system is paid for and there is no ilegal international law prohibiting the Russians government not to deliver.

    second: Hezbollah has intered the Syrian war and promised a victory for the Syrian people and Palestinians, so is the others who don't agree with Iran nor Assad but they are against the Saudi Arabia, Qatari, USA and EU hegemony in the region.

    Third: EU, in particular England and French going to arm what is called "rebels", who do not have the Syrian people support nor there are many of their friend left or willing to help anymore.., for example Turkey is so very quite lately.., these "rebels" also rejecting some of their friends like Saudi Arabia having more influence wanting to implement their system on a "feature " Syrian government.., that is to say if.., if these rebels can create or effectively produce such unified government.

    Fourth: by senators McCain "two hour" secret visit to Syria and Obama asking pentagon for preparation of a "no fly zone" plan for Syria.., and senate voting to arm the Syrian "rebels" , and all other "talks" about the peace perocesses in Geneva is yet another political tricks coming out of the Obama manipulative politics warning that he, as Bush, following the Paul Wolfowitz path wanting to conquer and occupy the entire Middle East and Central Asia.., even if that would cause facing the Russian, later China or any other army in this world.., after all Middle East and central asia is where the world economy = power is located.., that is why for US and EU conquering the entire area militerizing it is vital as the empire existence and its syestem in vulture capitalism.

    Fifth: Russian have the upper hand in exporting oil and gas to Europe from Caspian Sea via Kosovo to Germany and Italy.., for the Europeans to arm the Syrian "rebels" is a risky matter, in the other hand for Syrian war to continue losing the tyrants = kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and others is also a risky business not only for EU but also for USA economic and its economic and political domination as well.., so for USA is to continue its support to all and every kind of who what or whoever, yet looking for a compromise.., if not then for this war is to continue "hopping" (hope is the favorite word of Obama) for something good to come out of it.., hence all the miseries brought upon the Syrian people.., hope becomes a empty word, as delusional "hope" is, you can not create, structure, build or even have a idea with only hope.., hope functionality is limited to that empitenss of the word; therefor, a functioning democracy lacking that principals which therefore everything is based on hope in Obama governing the hope, blaming every broken promises on his senators while the empire rules.

  3. Last year, Vahlos also wrote a touching tribute (“Carl Prine’s Line of Departure”) to another iconoclastic blogger/reporter who has been sidelined by migraines he got from IED hits in Anbar.
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