KoW Readers: Should America’s strategic calculus on intervention in Syria change?

In March 2012, I wrote a blog post for Security Center, the blog of my former home – the Center for National Policy.  In it, I criticize “loose talk on intervention in Syria” as represented by Anne Marie Slaughter, Stephen Hadley, and Max Boot – all of whom were calling for some sort of American intervention on behalf of the armed Syrian opposition.

What has changed in the last 13 months? The death toll went from less than 10,000 to over 70,000.  The number of Syrian refugees went from about 34,000 to about 1 million.  As predicted by many, the jihadist faction of the armed opposition has increased enormously in size and power.  The Assad regime has lost control over much of Syria, but remains entrenched and committed to survival.

What is America doing? The Obama Administration has called Assad’s fall inevitable and has sought to work with the Syrian political opposition.  Various American intelligence and military assets are said to be coordinating with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia – all of whom are arming and financing the Syrian resistance – while not conducting (to the best of my knowledge) any military operations on Syrian soil or over Syrian airspace with or in support the Free Syrian Army.  In the words of a White House spokesman, there is no U.S. “lethal aid” going to the Syrian opposition, but there are rumors (denied by the Pentagon) of Syrian rebels being trained by U.S. military personnel in Jordan. The U.S. is supplying humanitarian aid – covertly and overtly – in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and perhaps elsewhere.

But what has changed strategically?  Should those who – like me – professed intervention skepticism on realist grounds change their assessment?  Has the rising human cost in and of itself over-powered realist arguments?  Should Europe and the U.S. join Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia and openly arm the rebels?  Should we get on “the right side of history” (if there is such a thing)? Should Western states intervene militarily?  Should the United States lead such an intervention?  I have no easy answer for you, loyal KoW readers.  I know what I think, but I am more interested in what you think and why.  I especially encourage current War Studies M.A. students to chime in, immersed as they (surely) are in the literature.  Maybe some of them are even writing their dissertations on the Syrian civil war.

So, I ask you to read my 13-month old blog post, see how it holds up, consider the hard questions it asks (from a U.S. perspective if possible), and tell us in the comments section what you think.

Loose Talk on Intervention in Syria

13 March 2012

There is a lot of loose talk on intervention in Syria. Various commentators, government officials – former and current, and analysts are calling for some sort of US military involvement in the blooming civil war between the Alawite Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Recommendations range from arming the opposition to providing special operations and air support. Many of their arguments make a compelling moral case for intervention. Some even provide an operational framework for what military support for the FSA might look like. The trouble is, very few advocates of intervention have taken the time to:

(a) Provide a strategic rationale for intervention based on US interests,
(b) Identify what circumstances would merit a commitment that would place American military lives at risk,
(c) Explain the criteria for disengagement if the conflict endures beyond our expectations,
(d) Explain how the likely alternatives to Assad will be better for the United States.
(e) Explain what success looks like and what comes next .

Important questions like these were laid out in 1995 when Col. John Collins (ret.) penned a useful tool for policymakers and military planners for Parameters called “Military Intervention: A Checklist of Key Considerations.” It proposes a list of key considerations and questions for whether, where, when, and how the US should or should not intervene militarily. My proposition is it would be irresponsible to commit American blood and treasure without ticking every box on Col. Collins’ checklist.

The gauntlet has been thrown.

There have been three prominent advocates of military intervention: Anne Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for President Obama’s US State Department; Stephen Hadley, President Bush’s National Security Advisor; and Max Boot, a well-regarded commentator and military analyst.

Dr. Slaughter, the champion of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, focuses on the “how” and not the “why.” She argues, “Foreign military intervention in Syria offers the best hope for curtailing a long, bloody and destabilizing civil war.” Due to Syria’s strategic significance due to its location, a long civil war would be dangerous to American interests. This is an important point and one that Dr. Slaughter should have spent a few more convincing sentences on. She goes on to advocate arming the opposition, but notes that doing this alone runs the risk of fueling “a proxy war that would spill into Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan and fracture Syria along sectarian lines.” In order to avoid this, she proposes the supplementary measures of establishing “no-kill zones” with the FSA near the Turkish, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders, as well as sending in special forces from Qatar, Turkey, and possibly Britain and France. Collectively, these efforts will somehow keep this war contained and force the Assad regime into a truce.

Aside from the minefields involved in building the coalition, implementing this campaign, and creating the safe zones (among other things, how would we protect these safe zones without soldiers on the ground?), the biggest weakness of Dr. Slaughter’s argument is its lack of a defined end-state, or some criteria that would merit either further U.S. involvement or a withdrawal. This truce is entirely aspirational. What if it does not happen and the war drags on? It is also far from clear how Dr. Slaughter’s proposals would forestall a larger sectarian war.

Mr. Hadley rests his argument firmly on moral grounds: The Syrian non-violent protestors and armed rebels are displaying remarkable courage in their quest for freedom. The US must provide support, in the form of arms, in order to create “a stable, democratic Syria in which all sectarian communities feel secure and strive together to build a common future.” America should take the lead in rallying the international community to provide political and support and a concrete plan for the reconstruction of a post-Assad Syria. If the US waits too long, al Qaeda will be more likely to subvert the rebellion and thrive on chaos and violence in Syria.

Of all people, a former US National Security Advisor should be able to present a cogent case for intervention based on strategy and American interests. Instead, Mr. Hadley does not stray far from a morality play and playing on familiar themes that failed to translate into an effective foreign policy during the Bush Administration. When dreaming of a democratic Syria with inter-sectarian harmony, he betrays amnesia of the last nine years of conflict in Iraq. During his most recent time in the White House, Hadley and his colleagues expressed the same dreams – dreams that evaporated in the face of poor planning and sectarian death squads. If Iraq and the Balkans have taught us anything, it is that while dictatorships are intolerably repressive, morally repugnant systems, they tend to keep a lid on simmering sectarian tensions. And when that lid is lifted, the stability of the dictator doesn’t look quite so terrible by comparison.

Mr. Boot accuses President Obama of making a “strategic blunder” for refusing to order air strikes in Syria and arm the FSA. He is clearly an advocate of military operations, but does not explain how this would serve American interests, what the targeting criteria should be for airstrikes, how and under what circumstances the US should end military operations if a brutal civil war continues without a decisive end, etc. According to recent intelligence assessments, the Syrian regime is more resilient than many observers have argued.

Boot does, however, provide one strategic explanation: toppling the Assad regime would cut off Iran’s primary avenue for projecting its malign influence into the Levant. Perhaps, but Iran does not only give arms to Hizballah through and over Syria. There are sea and air routes that avoid Syria. Moreover, Hizballah has a strong base of support in Southern Lebanon and is already flush with arms. And is it worth risking enduring civil war, instability, or an unpredictable future government to possibly weaken Hizballah? Would removing Iran’s only ally in the region strengthen or weaken their resolve to get a nuclear weapon?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that all of these advocates of military intervention are right: we should take active military steps to topple Assad and we should do it now. But what happens if we succeed? The U.S. military estimates that it would take 75,000 troops just to secure Syrian chemical weapons facilities. How many would it take to stabilize the country?

We need to think this through.

The people of Syria have my strongest sympathies, but the United States remains over-stretched and completely uncertain as to how the “Arab Spring” is transforming the Middle East and America’s place in it. When examining who is likely to take control of Syria if Assad is overthrown, I cannot help but worry that a democratic and stable Syria is just a dream. A nice one, but still a dream.

Until advocates of intervention are able to provide cogent answers to Col. Collins’ questions, I remain unconvinced.

Now sound off in the comments section.

 

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25 thoughts on “KoW Readers: Should America’s strategic calculus on intervention in Syria change?

  1. b says:

    “Should America’s strategic calculus on intervention in Syria change?”

    Yes. The U.S. should intervene non-militarily on the side of the Assad regime.

    If Assad falls Syria will become a failed state and the Jihadists, which are currently gaining experience in Syria, will pop back up in many countries where they will endanger core “western” interests.

    U.S. support should include pressing Turkey, Jordan, the Saudis and Qatar to cease any support for the insurgents.

    • TrT says:

      “U.S. support should include pressing Turkey, Jordan, the Saudis and Qatar to cease any support for the insurgents.”

      Why?
      Let the Saudis who so wish blow their fortunes on a failed Syria uprising, they cant fund another 9/11 then.

      But apart from that, yeah, break Assad out of Irans SoI and give him the support he needs to draw the FSA into open engagements.

      What suits US interest more than ten years from now, international jihadists are still dieing in huge numbers against Assads forces.

  2. Ryan Evans says:

    Thanks to both of you for chiming in. Interesting if provocative and perhaps unrealistic ideas, but what about the hard, first-principle questions?

  3. Jill says:

    On what planet does anyone think we can do a better job intervening in Syria than we did in Iraq or Afghanistan. Regime change is a bear.

    The French could manage it in the Revolutionary War because it was an outright act against their competitor, Great Britain, and because the Colonies were at a safe distance from Europe and would be in too much disarray after independence to cause much of a problem in our own neighborhood. There were some initial bumps, but for the most part it was a pretty sound investment. I am having trouble thinking of many other successful (short, med, long term) interventions into the civil strife of others.

    We may know that the Assad regime is breathtakingly awful and must go. We may feel terrific sympathy for the civilians who are suffering as a result. (And here is where we all should act more – money to support the refugees, to assist the neighboring countries cope, etc. — So, hello, oil rich regional powers, here’s where you need to pony up.) But until we come up with some entirely new model of intervention (from providing arms up to troop deployment) or some other watershed change in the calculus emerges, I’m sticking with the argument against intervention that I made here back in September.

    (http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/09/exploring-the-space-between-that-is-diplomacy-syria-and-us-foreign-policy/)

  4. davidbfpo says:

    Ryan,

    I see no US political will to intervene beyond the very limited steps taken to date, nor any current US capability to use force.

    Who has the responsibility to act? The UN and Arab League very quickly showed their weaknesses, in effect withdrawing. Maybe I will be called an idealist, the Arab nations should have acted – truly “paper tigers” despite all their spending on fancy aircraft for example. The ‘Arab Spring’ became the ‘Arab Winter’, something I expect the Arab peoples know all to well.

    Yes a massive use of chemical weapons by the regime should cause a re-think by outsiders.

    The ONLY event that would cause the USA to act would be if Israel’s security was threatened, which is very unlikely. When the Assad regime loses national power, as distinct from sectarian power, what will happen to the unused arsenals?

    Personally I think Syria will become like Bosnia and Lebanon, an unpleasant place to be, where factions fight each other, with no apparent care for what outsiders think. If a seething mass of extremists intent on carrying the Jihad to Jerusalem emerge it is very hard to conceive of a situation where the USA would not act.

  5. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    If we restrict ourselves to the question you posed, Ryan, I think we enter an interesting discussion.

    By using the term calculus you invoke a particular set of ideas. Clearly there is no actual mathematical calculus involved in determining a particular foreign policy response (not that readers of most top-flight American IR journals would be able to tell, from all the maths involved in getting through any given article). But, if we hold the metaphor constant, we can see what would need to change in order to get a different ‘solution’.

    There are two main elements to look at within a calculus model:

    1. The equation or formula.
    2. The values assigned to the variables within a given formula.

    The first aspect (the formula) seems simple enough, but given that we are talking about politics and not mechanics, there is a great deal of leeway as to which formula we might chose. What do we want to achieve? Stability? Justice? Help a friend? Annoy an enemy? Some of all of it? Depending on what we decide, we then have to chose a certain formula to use in order to get there. Trying to get a particular outcome by using the ‘wrong’ formula is not likely to work.

    Once we decide on the formula, we need to assign values to the variables within it. If we have decided on a formula that takes ‘human suffering’ into account, we need to calibrate the level of human suffering. How much is truly ‘intolerable’? Where are the real ‘red lines’ (maximum values) in our equations?

    And there’s the rub. Who determines the formula? Who assigns the values? What matters and what doesn’t? The crux of any ‘issue’ debate centers on these questions. Depending on where a particular observer stands, they ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ certain formulae. These choices tend to, over time, associate people into particular schools of thought, be they ‘Realist’ or ‘Idealist’; or ‘Democrat’ and ‘Republican’.

    So…should US calculus change? Is it even possible to simply ‘re-run’ the same formula from 12 months ago? Are we happy with the formula? Are we all commenting on the same formula? Have the values of the variables changed? Asking a divided audience is going to give you a lot of debate, but not necessarily clarity.

    Again metaphors and semantics can be limiting. But in this case, the choice of calculus as a model is instructive. It is, after all, the mathematics of ‘change’.

  6. Ryan Evans says:

    TFB: Thanks for chiming in. Thoughtful as always.

    I’ve been trying to get people to reason through what U.S. interests actually are in Syria, the region, and the world and to try to make the case for intervention on that basis. A realist endeavor and perhaps a futile one because most of the people making the case for intervention aren’t realists. Even some of the comments here, among KoW’s thoughtful readership, we see a dearth of ‘first principles.’ Putting the cart before the horse. The solution before an understanding of the problem from the sole superpower’s perspective.

    I understand that many interventionists reject the basic premises of realist thought, but one would think that if they were interested enough in pushing the debate forward, they would at least try to engage on that ground, but they don’t. I want to see an interventionist reason through COL Collins’ checklist.

  7. Madhu says:

    Regarding the suggestion by a previous commenter:

    From a pure realist point of view, if supporting Assad were in US interests, why intervene at all, whether military or non-military? Why not simply step aside as Russia or others do the work? No outcome can be guaranteed with the sorts of help that is being suggested. It’s too marginal to make much difference. I suppose that could be the argument, it’s not much to begin with but one can get dragged in this way. Slippery slopes don’t so much exist as sometimes it is a kind of entrapment.

    People on the ground have a life-and-death stake in the matter while the US has only balance of power interests in the realist tradition (I got that general idea- stakes versus balance of power- from the Richard K. Betts book that I am reading) and therefore, what we do may not be decisive in any way and only prolong the conflict. If, in coldly realist fashion, prolonging the conflict is in American interests, then, well, again why get involved? The work is being done for us.

    From a realist point of view, I cannot make the case for any sort of American intervention, given the traditions of American statecraft in the region; the flow of oil to markets and the security of Israel. How do the potential enormous costs mark against that? Oil will still get through. Israel might face a threat either way.

    The fall of the Assad regime will be a blow for Iran but we cannot know what kind of regime will emerge, obviously, or if the regime will be stuck with an intractable insurgency or if there will be a de facto partion.

    If the regime falls and the United States is involved in some way, it may be difficult to avoid getting caught up in an occupation, however multilateral. Expensive either in blood or treasure for what tangible benefit?

    From a humanitarian point of view, helping the refugees and trying to channel humanitarian aid through international relief organizations will ease a great deal of suffering, so I don’t understand the humanitarian case for military intervention before banging the drum on raising more money for the UN or helping relief agencies.

    I don’t like these kinds of calculations although I realize they are necessary. I just can’t see a good case from the American point of view. The economy still worries, we are drawing down in Afghanistan, North Korea is acting up, other local concerns closer to home…. The only way I can see a case is if European allies make the case because of disorder to their diaspora communities, but, here again, the changing nature of global power arrangements and the lack of an existential threat to the US makes Europe a less prominent concern for American security interests. And even if it were, would this argue for intervention?

    I am horrified at the suffering, wish very much humanitarian aid were prioritized, and don’t wish to sound too cold or uncaring.

    I’m not. This is a terrible field in some ways, isn’t it?

    Is this more of what you wanted for discussion?

  8. Madhu says:

    The other question I wanted to ask, how does aid to a civil war decrease humanitarian suffering? Doesn’t this just make the conflict more deadly because all aid is essentially fungible, military or non-military? I mean aid to fighters, not to non-combatants. This is an intellectual game interventionists play, non-military aid to fighters is still military aid, isn’t it?

    As to things like no-fly zones as humanitarian cover, it’s still intervening in a civil war isn’t it? Is it possible that suffering can increase outside the no-fly zone? And then the people involved are now involved until there is some conclusion to the conflict and are also usually involved in the rebuilding in some way.

    ? How to think about this

  9. Madhu says:

    Wait, there is one realist reason to get involved and that is that the US’s traditional support for Israeli security has not endeared us to other populations in the Mid East. The only realist case I can make is the “Eisenhower” case, a little intervention, carefully controlled, to make the case that we care about other people in the region too.

    But garnering public affection is risky business, no matter how we help, we may not get the benefit postulated. It would take more consistency than simply helping in Syria.

    Many Syrians I know tell me they don’t like Assad but don’t want the US to get involved either. Lack of trust. Anecdotes are not data, I know, but fwiw.

    • Quintin says:

      Madhu is not soliloquizing (I assure you, hehehe). However, I intend to. To that effect, let us take it from the top. Our primitive options are:

      Do nothing: as David Betz argued in the post preceding this one, doing nothing is sometimes a good idea. Nowhere is it prescribed that we should act – except perhaps for our own moral monkey-on-my-back. But once we’ve muscled our way past that OMG, we must help them now (Kony-2012 style) reflex, it is plain sailing. That is, right up to the point of the outcome becoming apparent – as we can assume it eventually will. The downside of this Door A prize is that we have to accept that outcome, whether we like it or not. There is of course the possibility that the ball may land on red when we were really hoping for black – but that is the essence of this approach… it is based on hope and hope alone. One thing is guaranteed though – as much as the eventual victor may dis/please us – the methods employed by that victor in order to emerge as the survivor here, will most definitely displease our western moral palate. The final thought on this option: we have friends in the region (although they sometimes wipe their backsides with our hopes for peace and stability in the greater region). These friends are between the Devil and the deep blue sea on this one: if Assad emerges as the victor, it is business as usual up in the Golan (and business was never really any good). If the FSA is the sole survivor, the gradual inclusion of fundamentalists within the FSA makes it unlikely that the result will be a happy ending either. Doing nothing means never having regrets, yet regrets being almost guaranteed.

      Do something: ah, we’ve now placed our hand on the tiller, contributing to the course of the good ship Titanic. We are now influencing events towards a desired future that we may have for Syria and perhaps even neighbouring Israel. As for the ‘why’? Take your pick – the moral monkey-on-my-back has a bag full of answers. But ours will not be the only hand on the tiller – unless we plan to fight ‘all of them’, we should really pick a partner from the existing bunch of combatants (and I suspect that it is not exactly as Boolean as Assad or the FSA as we are led to believe). This choice of partner will be a critical step: if we do not choose wisely, the other hand may steer us all into that iceberg field and we all know how that story ends (Give me a Karzai! Give me a Diem!) Of course, it is vital that we have a clear understanding of our desired future, (lest it is us who end up steering this thing into the iceberg field), as well as that this desired future should be realistic – we cannot all live in Unicorn-land and poop candyfloss all of the time, you know (please, for the love of all that is holy; no more nation-building…). Of course, when we do choose a side, (and hey, why don’t we try to pick a side that likes us for a change… it makes that whole Hearts and Minds thingy so much easier than our more recent urinating-in-the-wind in the Hindu Kush), there is a distinct possibility that the ‘other side’ will have friends. These friends are bound to maintain desired futures for the region as well, and unless something had gone horribly wrong with our designs, it is guaranteed to be one that we won’t share. So the agenda will widen, and as it does, the cracks in the logic of the existing players will become our problem. Consider for a minute: Saudi Arabia and others seem to be very keen for this particular instance of the Arab Spring to play out in favour of regime change… but should they be? Are they not offering hope to their own internal body of dissenters – just waiting in the wings for their own instance of the Arab Spring? What is the idiomatic equivalent of the Sword of Damocles in Arabic? What would happen if we intervene, and the Saudi elite wake up the next morning in cold sweat, crying; ‘what the Hell are we doing? Have we lost our senses?’ That would be awkward, no?

      Of course, there are other considerations as well – for instance, if we do go for the prize behind Door B, we should talk about ‘how much’. Do we take over the entire war, or do we hold the coats for the selected partner? The former should (if we, for once, can get the diplomacy right), afford us more leverage – more say so in how the war is prosecuted and the course that our enterprise should take. The latter should diminish that influence, to the point of there not being any room for negotiation on our desired future. The former also makes the war our problem in toto – including that damned ubiquitous reconstruction (dear God) of stuff that we didn’t even break. But hey: it may give us oil – just like Iraq and Libya did (chortle). But hey, we may not have the per capita GDP left over afterwards to buy cars anymore. On the other hand, if we go in light, we won’t have any of these things – or that things… go in light enough, and we won’t make a difference at all and we may not even get close to our desired future. Not that there is any guarantee that we ever will, anyway – but that is just a thought.

      Or we could give it to the Russians… and accept their naval presence in the Med. Will that be a problem one day? Ah sorry, I know: I was re-living the Cold War there for a minute. We are all BFF’s with the Russians now – just like in WWII.

      So… damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Damn you Rumsfeld!

      And that is how you soliloquize.

      PS: I vote for intervention (I know – take it up with my moral monkey). Even if it is a cock-up (and it will be), we can at least state with pride that it was our cock-up and that nobody cocks up quite as well as we do.

    • Madhu says:

      Hamlet would tell me to quit agonizing and make a point.

      (What on earth did I mean by “controlled intervention” in another comment? There are no such things!)

      Only one more (via Pundita blog):

      Downing Street said Britain wanted to also help the rebel fighters within Syria to work together to topple Assad, as happened in Libya to face Col Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime.
      (BREAK)
      Britain is prevented from physically arming the rebels by a European Union arms embargo which prevents any military hardware being supplied to any Syrians.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9659247/Britain-to-organise-armed-Syrian-rebels-into-efficient-fighting-force.html

      Put it together with the rest, draw your own conclusions….

    • Quintin says:

      That ‘controlled intervention’ expresses the ideal – we all know that things never quite work out that way, but we get an E for Effort by just mentioning it… more or less in the same manner as no conversation about strategy can ever be complete without a shout-out to Clausewitz (and that is my tick in the box); any discussion of intervention should at least express the expectation that our opinions would count for as much as our guns – and that we’d have some means for controlling the flow of war, including the ability to prevent escalation.

      That said, the engine of war needs ideals – it forms part of political desire (or political will, if you will… more Clausewitz for you there) – without it, we’ll never wage war. And that would be a good thing, I know (an ideal in itself – let’s have an ideal never to have any ideals). Ideals are therefore not out of place within a discussion of this nature – my suggestion is: don’t knock it… just know it for what it is.

      As for the rest, the outcome of war is never permanent (more Von C there). And I believe that for whatever the outcome may be, it only hurts for the first decade anyway. That is the Great Equalizer: nothing that we do really matters, but after a while, that doesn’t matter either.

  10. Madhu says:

    Pressure and threats from allies (or “allies”) and worries about spreading regional disorder?

    As the crisis shows little sign of abating, Israel and Jordan have become increasingly anxious. Israel fears the rise of jihadists, the possibility that Syria’s rich cache of weapons might fall into the hands of Hezbollah, and the general disintegration of Syria.

    Jordan, already squeezed by a poor economy, is facing a mounting humanitarian crisis: More than 400,000 Syrian refugees have fled over the border to Jordan, a country with a population of just 6 million. Some estimates say the number might hit 1 million by the close of the year.
    (BREAK)
    Israeli officials wouldn’t telegraph what they intend to tell Obama, but Oren said they wanted Assad to go.

    “We understand there’s a growing jihadist element among the opposition,” he said. “But Assad’s departure will deliver a tremendous blow to Hezbollah and Assad’s patron in Tehran.”

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/03/14/185893/obama-will-face-pressure-on-middle.html#storylink=cpy

    And then you can clean up the rest of it….

    RIYADH // Barack Obama’s national security adviser met King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz here yesterday amid acute bilateral tensions stemming from differences over how to respond to the region’s uprisings.

    http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/obama-adviser-meets-with-saudi-arabia-king-in-effort-to-ease-tensions#ixzz2QleOsUOS

    “Why, we might have to go nuclear if you don’t do something!”

    Buck passing, the dirtiest coldest hardest realist term of them all, especially when you are at the end of it….

    Excellent strategic position to be in….no room for maneuver.

  11. Alright, an attempt to list our interests, in descending order of importance:

    1. A minimum of risk to Israel.
    2. Stable, competent governance in a united Syria.
    3. A minimal threat from violent jihadists.
    4. A minimum number of deaths, and especially mass killings.

    What sort of intervention would be most conducive to these interests?

    I think we could promise a large aid and technical assistance package to the rebels when (if) they win. That would promote 2 and maybe 3, and also start to give us some leverage for 1. It also saves us from having to do much while things are so uncertain. Meanwhile, we could start providing some serious officership and military soft-skill training to those rebels we like. It’s not as easily transferred as weaponry, so there aren’t the same blowback risks, and it might reduce address interest 4.

    (Some of the thoughts are informed by the excellent new Carnegie Endowment report on building a Syrian shadow state: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/syrian_state.pdf
    KCL people may remember the lead author, Adam, who was in the same 2009 graduating class as me).

  12. Al says:

    When an unelected dictatorial regime uses the entire apparatus of the state – which it it has seized illegally and with no majority support – to wage war against its own civilian population I strongly believe in the role of the Democratic world in stopping this. I’m glad it was done in Libya and I believe in the principle of the west crippling/reducing assad’s ability to wage mechanised warfare against the population.

    The ‘post-bad guy’ situation does not necessarily have to be intrinsically linked to this. Libya, like Iraq and like Syria before the uprisings was ‘stable’ due to the strongman state’s ability to artificially impose measures that temporarily prevent the exposure and pursuance of historic tribal and religious vendetta’s/rivalries. Ie – no strong man, and things take their natural course (which can often be very ugly, but some would say necessary). Whether they intervene or not, it is not the role of the western powers to play policeman in this situation. though intervening does also confer a certain level of responsibility, it should not be at any sort of state/society building level- that is the job of the people whose county it is and who we should help where we can.

    To be a bit hyperbolic- This is also a question of the very survival of the concept of an accountable state that truly represents its people. Allowing the precedent set by Iran and Syria will have severe global consequences on the success of this notion and I for one quite like the idea of it gaining strength, not losing it

    Finally, the idea of ‘well if we do Libya and Syria then we also have to do [insert nasty regime here]‘. This is bankrupt-

    a) because pointing to examples of other nasties is not a good reason not to act in certain circumstances

    B) we are only talking about states that wage all out war on their own civilians, not just gangster authoritarian dictatorships

  13. Madhu says:

    Possibly helpful information in the first two links and (be cautious and skeptical when reading, always!) some speculation….

    The schemes are overseen by the US State Department’s Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS) and Foreign Office officials. America has set aside $25 million for political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad while Britain is granting £5 million to the cause of overthrowing the regime.
    Mina al-Homsi (a pseudonym) is one of the first graduates of the training.
    .
    One of its main activities is to repackage video shot by amateurs into a format that can be used by broadcasters.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9500503/Britain-and-US-plan-a-Syrian-revolution-from-an-innocuous-office-block-in-Istanbul.html

    The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.
    .
    The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-04-17/world/35262231_1_syrian-opposition-diplomatic-cables-syrian-authorities

    The above quotes are from two ‘must-read’ reports by journalist John Rosenthal (Transatlantic Intelligencer) on al Qaeda’s presence in Syria. (See below.) Regarding the term “massacre-marketing strategy” that Jurgen Todenhofer coined — yes; the Syrian rebellion has been a carefully marketed stage show.
    (BREAK)
    .
    How was this done? Recently a young blogger at TIME, clearly unaware of the appalling implications, proudly told a CNN anchor that for many months tech-savvy Westerners had been getting into Syria to show Syrians protesting the Assad regime how to smuggle video footage of the regime’s brutality past its censors and get the footage to the Western media. Thus, the skyrocketing number of smuggled videos aired on American TV — and the steadily increasing atrocities shown in the videos.
    .
    This doesn’t mean that every smuggled video that al Jazeera, CNN or FNC and other TV outlets aired for American audiences was staged. It does mean that for players whose only aim from the start was to overthrow Assad, it was dangling too much temptation to give them a pipeline to a mass audience in the West for footage of atrocities against Syrian civilians.

    http://pundita.blogspot.com/2012/08/al-qaeda-in-syria-and-mass-marketing-of.html

    As always, be careful with speculative posts but it brings up an interesting point for human rights activists. When you start knocking on the door of an oppressive regime, from the safety of “far away”, how much responsibility do you have for the subsequent violence that ensues? How do you do that awful humanitarian math?

  14. Madhu says:

    Possibly helpful information in the first two links and (be cautious and skeptical when reading, always!) some speculation….

    The schemes are overseen by the US State Department’s Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS) and Foreign Office officials. America has set aside $25 million for political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad while Britain is granting £5 million to the cause of overthrowing the regime.
    Mina al-Homsi (a pseudonym) is one of the first graduates of the training.
    .
    One of its main activities is to repackage video shot by amateurs into a format that can be used by broadcasters.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9500503/Britain-and-US-plan-a-Syrian-revolution-from-an-innocuous-office-block-in-Istanbul.html

    The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.
    .
    The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-04-17/world/35262231_1_syrian-opposition-diplomatic-cables-syrian-authorities

    The above quotes are from two ‘must-read’ reports by journalist John Rosenthal (Transatlantic Intelligencer) on al Qaeda’s presence in Syria. (See below.) Regarding the term “massacre-marketing strategy” that Jurgen Todenhofer coined — yes; the Syrian rebellion has been a carefully marketed stage show.
    (BREAK)
    .
    How was this done? Recently a young blogger at TIME, clearly unaware of the appalling implications, proudly told a CNN anchor that for many months tech-savvy Westerners had been getting into Syria to show Syrians protesting the Assad regime how to smuggle video footage of the regime’s brutality past its censors and get the footage to the Western media. Thus, the skyrocketing number of smuggled videos aired on American TV — and the steadily increasing atrocities shown in the videos.
    .
    This doesn’t mean that every smuggled video that al Jazeera, CNN or FNC and other TV outlets aired for American audiences was staged. It does mean that for players whose only aim from the start was to overthrow Assad, it was dangling too much temptation to give them a pipeline to a mass audience in the West for footage of atrocities against Syrian civilians.

    – Pundita blog, blog post.

    As always, be careful with speculative posts but it brings up an interesting point for human rights activists. When you start knocking on the door of an oppressive regime, and from the safety of “far away”, how much responsibility do you have for the subsequent violence that ensues? How do you do that awful humanitarian math?

    Syria’s vital oil industry is breaking down as rebels capture many of the country’s oil fields, with wells aflame and looters scooping up crude, depriving the government of much needed cash and fuel for its war machine against the uprising.

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/04/06/syrian-rebels-capture-oil-fields-increases-economic-pressures-on-assad/#ixzz2R6fC0WXm

    And whoever has ties or connections with the rebels may then have leverage in future deals. Swimming with the sharks is tough, interventionists and humanitarians.

  15. Madhu says:

    Rebels have reportedly captured much of the Syrian oil fields and in addition to increasing aid toward Syrian rebels (US just announced), the EU is talking about easing oil sanctions. I am sure that there are companies, perhaps even British or French, and, yes, others, that may view some relation with the rebels as potentially useful in the future.

  16. Madhu says:

    The schemes are overseen by the US State Department’s Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS) and Foreign Office officials. America has set aside $25 million for political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad while Britain is granting £5 million to the cause of overthrowing the regime.
    Mina al-Homsi (a pseudonym) is one of the first graduates of the training.
    .
    One of its main activities is to repackage video shot by amateurs into a format that can be used by broadcasters.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9500503/Britain-and-US-plan-a-Syrian-revolution-from-an-innocuous-office-block-in-Istanbul.html

    The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.
    .
    The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-04-17/world/35262231_1_syrian-opposition-diplomatic-cables-syrian-authorities

    And then there are the reports-conflicting and controversial, obviously-about who is really targeting civilians in the conflict, and how perverse incentives are set up in an age of mass-media and when humanitarian intervention is an accepted norm in some cases.

    What happens when you knock on the door of an oppressive regime, train rebels, and then violence ensues as must in any rebellion? What responsibility does the humanitarian have for the violence in that setting? What if the incentive to create more disorder in order to film it and pressure outsiders exists?

    What responsibility does the interventionist have?

  17. Madhu says:

    I may have messed up some of my comment submissions around here, apologies about that.

    I really will stop on this thread–hollow promise from me, usually, I know– but I am very worried about the potential phenomenon of pressure on governments to intervene via the “CNN effect” and what incentives for behavior such precedents set. Here, I worry not in a realist sense, but for the innocents caught up in the violence.

  18. davidbfpo says:

    Madhu’s last post referred to: ‘I am very worried about the potential phenomenon of pressure on governments to intervene via the “CNN effect” and what incentives for behavior such precedents set’.

    Governments, especially Western ones, do not always respond to the “CNN effect”. I recall during the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina there was copious TV coverage, for example by Martin Bell (BBC) and Channel Four News – who found concentration camps. For a long time there was no firm response, but the sad antics of UNPROFOR, who feed people, but did not protect. It took time for politicians to adjust their calculus and then it was an Anglo-French-Dutch robust response over Sarejevo that marked the beginning of the end.

    No wonder Sri Lanka’s government carefully prepared to exclude virtually all independent reporting of their final offensive in the north.

    Then there was the attempt by a US pressure group over the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to get more official US involvement. A conflict largely without imagery and little reporting. The LRA have not gone away, instead the effort to end their activity has shrunk.

    The “CNN effect” remains a POTENTIAL factor in state calculations.

    Returning to Syria, what more newsreel and reporting will alter the policies of the USA? None I would suggest.

  19. Madhu says:

    Thanks for that reply (see, I cannot keep away and shouldn’t make promises). I worded my comment poorly.

    What I mean is the incentive to cause harm to civilians and film the results in order to present to the world, “see, look how bad it is?” I mean the CNN effect harming local civilians and it being egged on by naive outside democracy activists.

    Forgive me if that sounds terribly cold and suspicious, but this is not an area I enjoy studying sometimes because I can’t help thinking these sorts of suspicious thoughts.

  20. Mike Wheatley says:

    Whilst not currently a student – at least not in the formal sense – your replies to me are likely to be a “valuable learning experience”, so let me see how I would answer your questions as-written:

    (a) Provide a strategic rationale for intervention based on US interests,
    (b) Identify what circumstances would merit a commitment that would place American military lives at risk,
    (c) Explain the criteria for disengagement if the conflict endures beyond our expectations,
    (d) Explain how the likely alternatives to Assad will be better for the United States.
    (e) Explain what success looks like and what comes next .

    (a) America has an interest to to be seen to support it allies,
    to be seen to be even-handed wrt supporting democracy in the Mid East as it does elsewhere in the world,
    to be seen to care about the locals.

    (b) If the war were to spill over into NATO member states, Israel, or other allies;
    and/or;
    and and when there are opportunities to make political/diplomatic gains large enough to be worth the costs, on blood, treasure, and loss of face in the event of failure.

    (c) Wrt supporting formal allies, in the event of the war spreading into their boarders, then it becomes an open-ended commitment, but you knew that when you singed the respective treaties.
    As the opportunity for political gains, stop when it looks like it is not worth the cost. The initial calculus will need to include a large margin to include both the risk of loss-of-face, and also the risk of encouraging attacks against US soldiers specifically to weight this calculation.

    (d) You know how I said I would answer your questions as-asked? Well, I’m going to fail here. The question I think you should be asking is:
    “Explain how the likely alternatives to doing nothing will be better for the United States.”
    The neutrals get a vote, and they (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) have voted to aid allied Islamists into probably winning.
    So, if you are worried with the prospect of Islamists winning Syria, then doing nothing is not a solution to that worry. You are going to have to propose doing something to prevent it.

    (e) success looks like:
    - US reputation as a good ally is enhanced or at least maintained.
    - US is seen in a better light amongst the locals.
    - US is seen in a better light across the international community.
    What comes next:
    - A period of political Chaos in which other nations will be vying for influence, control, and to shape the narrative; so we will have to be actively involved as well.

    What marks do I get?

  21. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the
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    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with
    it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for
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