In Syria, A Problem of Intervention

06 Jun

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.

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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