Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘practical proofs of its viability

Bait-and-switch in Syria? What of safe heavens?

In a previous post on Syria Constitution referendum, I stated:

“The vast majority of Syrians in the referendum on a new Constitution have said it loud: “We want a negotiated political resolution”. Period.

The Constitution is not serious in the kind of changes expected, but Russia and China wanted the regime to demonstrate two things:

First, that the regime is in control of all the institutions capable of carrying out a referendum, and

Second, that the military of the regime is capable to putting down the armed uprising in Homs.

The Syrian regime of Assad has no alternative choices but to offer these two practical proofs of its viability“.

What of these “safe heavens” that the western powers are hammering out?

Stephen Walt on Foreign Policy published (with minor editing):

“The continued carnage in Syria is leading more people to call for some sort of international interventions (to protect Syrian rebels from further attacks by government forces).

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, recommended in the New York Times that the United States and others create “no-kill zones” on Syrian territory, protected by a coalition of outside powers.  Slaughter wants these outside powers to give the rebel forces various forms of weaponry, military training, and tactical advice.

To avoid the criticism that her policy would fuel a civil war, Slaughter insists that support be conditional on the aid being used “defensively,” though Turkish or Arab League units would be free to use drones or unmanned helicopters “to attack Syrian air defenses and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones.” (How funny is this NO-Kill Zone recommendation)

The core problem with this proposal is the critique of Paul Stanil:  This recommendation ignores basic military realities. The rebels are trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Once we commit ourselves to arming and protecting the rebels, how are we going to stop them from doing whatever they can to bring Assad down? Once engaged on their behalf, is it realistic that any government could cut them off because they had gone beyond our Marquis of Queensbury rules of engagement? Moreover, Slaughter admits that we cannot protect her “no-kill zones” without degrading Assad’s forces. In practice, therefore, her neat distinction between “defensive” and “offensive” operations would quickly break down.

Slaughter’s proposal would lead inexorably to an active military effort to overthrow the Assad regime. As in Libya, what sounded at first like a noble effort to protect civilians would quickly turn into offensive action against a despised regime, and in partnership with a host of opposition forces whose character and competence we can only guess at.  If that’s what Slaughter and others want to do, they should say so openly, instead of performing what can only be described as a strategic bait-and-switch.

China and Russia have figured this ploy out.  By the way, this is one reason they’ve been so reluctant to endorse any international action to stop the killing.

Here’s the basic problem.

Once we commit ourselves to creating safe havens (“no-kill zones”), we will be obliged to defend them for as long as there is any possibility that Assad’s forces might attack. As our experience with the no-fly zones in Iraq teaches, this could involve defending them for years.

And if Assad’s forces start shelling the rebel areas, then we will have to defend them or risk humiliation. But let’s be clear: “defending them” means attacking Assad’s own forces.

In other words: war.

And once that happens, the United States and the other outside powers will face enormous pressures to complete the job.  It is hard to believe that we could take the step Slaughter is recommending and subsequently agree to leave Assad and his regime in place. As soon as outside powers take sides and intervene, a failure to remove Assad from power would be interpreted as a striking defeat for the intervening powers and a blow to those who have seen the Arab Spring as a hopeful turn for a troubled region.

In short, there is no way to conduct the sort of minimalist, purely defensive, and strictly humanitarian operation that Slaughter describes in her op-ed, without it eventually leading to forcible regime change. And one big reason that Syria’s neighbors have been reluctant to go that route is their understandable fear of a protracted internal conflict there that would make the present carnage look mild by comparison.

I take no pleasure from that reality, and I share Slaughter’s anger and disgust at what Assad is doing.

But the choice we face is stark and agonizing, and pretending that we can keep our balance on this steep and slippery slope is not helpful.”

Note:  Turkey and Jordan have already established refugee camps for Syrians fleeing the onslaught.  Lebanon was quickly been dragged in until the army decided to step in and close the borders for arms and “rebels” trafficking




June 2023

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