Rebuke of the Strategic Argument for Syrian Intervention


Here is an article finally arguing for Syrian intervention from a wholly non-dogmatic perspective- the one thing which could threaten my assertion that we ought not strike Syria.

Point by point, here is what I think:

1. “The regional order is at stake.” Doran seems convinced that it is in our best interest to prop up the Saudis and the Gulf Sheikdoms against the Iranians, arguing that the Sunni victory in Syria will pave the way for a stable regional order in the Middle East.
WHAT regional order? Syria is not about to become integrated into the weak associations of Muslim states which currently exist in theory. Iran is not about to renounce its history rivalry with the Sunni world, regardless of how many Jews Rouhani consoles. There is no EU-esque regional order on the horizon for the Muslim world, and idly hoping for one can do nothing but becloud.

2.”The only route to a political solution is regime change.” Doran argues that the Obama Administration’s hopes for a power-sharing agreement between the government and the rebels have been illusory, and he is right- a negotiated settlement has never been an option seriously worth considering in this war.
However, that does not make the alternative- ultimate victory for the rebels- any more worth pursuit. In the first place, American regime change in the Middle East- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya- has thus far not worked in the 21st Century, and it is not likely to work now when our rationale is the exact same for Syria as it was for those other situations. In the second place, I am not convinced that there is anything worth looking forward to in a post-Assad Syria.
Additionally, the balance-of-power implications ought to be obvious. The Israel-Egypt and Iran-Iraq balances of power are the most crucial balances in the Middle East, and we have seen what eliminating Iraq did to the power of the Iranians. Now that the Gulf States and Saudis have replaced Iraq, it is unclear that pushing back Iranian power in the interests of the Gulf States and Saudis would lead to a particularly stable balance.

3. “The United States should therefore build up the rebels as aggressively as possible.” Assuming the preceding admonition on the necessity of regime change to be correct, this would be the obvious policy prescription.
There has been plenty of coverage on the immediate downside of this- by backing the rebels, you send weapons to organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda, who one day may turn their guns on American targets. The 1980s Afghanistan analogue is obvious.
However, this might be justifiable in a strategic sense, wherein the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend. But I do not think the proponents of this policy have grand strategic designs in mind- rather, they seem to be hoping for some quick and easy solution to allow them clean consciences. For they have failed to note that the rebels they hope to send weapons to are affiliated with those movements which strive to undermine our strongest allies in the region, the Egyptian military and Israel. The intended policy of justice goes counter to a policy of prudence and good faith. Washington, of course, counseled against permanent alliances; but he did not so in the intent of giving American support to every national freedom movement popping up every few years.

4. “Supporting the FSA is not the same as supporting al-Qaeda.” In a flourish of journalistic irresponsibility, Doran posits that we ought to direct resources into building up a third option two support, that we might not have to support Assad or al-Qaeda- presumably, he hopes we can create, from people radicalized by war, a group of people which is in no way radical, which responds only to our call, which has not its own best interests but ours at heart.
This is silly flim-flam of the sort which adults should never indulge. Man is not a blank slate; when we deal, we deal with PEOPLE, with their own thoughts, their own prejudices, their own interests, their own ways, and it is utter foolishness to assume we can mold them to our liking. Indeed, there are a great many Syrians who are neither in the Assad or al-Qaeda camps, who fight for reasons other than Power or Paradise. And it may be wise to attempt to empower such people, especially as it seems that this faction is at odds and even at arms with the jihadists. But it is foolishness- utter, utter foolishness- to fall into the mode of thought that this faction is more moral and therefore more supportable than the factions they oppose. There are no clean solutions in this case.

5. “Striking the regime will help to contain weapons of mass destruction.” Doran basically throws this in there to reach the nice number five, so he wouldn’t have to have an awkward ‘4 Truths about Syria’ title. He takes the opportunity to explain that the United States should be more muscular in the Middle East because the Arabs actually wish we were more muscular, and that we can do that by dropping a few bombs here and there on chemical plants.
He never does explain how this intervention will help to establish the global norm, that WMDs ought to be off-limits.

I must thank Doran, actually, for he has done what so many of his colleagues in the foreign policy community have failed to do- he has created a list containing a few potentially rational points which paint the Syrian conflict in strategic rather than ideological terms. I have been overly harsh; his analysis is definitely worth consideration.

However, Doran, employee of the W administration, is polluted by the tendency of his colleagues from that age- that poisonous assumption that America can and ought to spread her principles by the sword, and that our intersts will be ultimately served thereby. He joins arms today with those legalistic hawks who demand world order and global justice.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am a Kiplingesque imperialist, never convinced by purely ethical arguments against the employment of force or the expansion of power. Rand Paul, in my opinion, is profoundly uninformed about the realities of superpower status. But I align with his views here, on the Syrian issue, because he understands what the hawks do not- that nothing good can come from intervention, while much bad inevitably must result.

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