A grim civil war is playing itself out in Syria, the contested situation description (‘civil war’) to me now justified given the widespread evidence that what began as a regime versus opposition struggle has become “successfully” ethnicized/sectarianized and politicized by the regime’s violence and the backlash it has provoked. So what we see is a bloody slugging out of a civil war until we reach an endgame.
My initial position was that military intervention was only possible by Euro-Atlantic institutions if Turkey was willing to take the lead. It has refused to do so, so far. The retreat of regime forces from Kurdish towns on the border creates the possibility that PKK fighters might take advantage of this situation, and that the Turkish government might intervene not on a humanitarian mission but to prevent the emergence of a safe zone for Kurdish militants, and broader regional expression of Kurdish aspirations).
I don’ think the United States or the UK should be in the lead on military involvement here. Reports that the Obama administration is aiding the opposition seem credible. Clearly they are getting arms and reportedly may have surface to air missiles, something they will need if there is an all out push to take Aleppo. Obviously there are fears of a proxy war unfolding in Syria and engulfing Lebanon and the whole region. Yes, it could get very nasty indeed.
I am persuaded by the arguments of Joshua Landis and others that non-intervention is the right course of action. The notion of a ‘humanitarian zone’ was floated earlier by Anne Marie Slaughter, but it required military dimensions to make it work, and with reluctance to provide this, it became a non-starter.
In yesterday’s Financial Times Slaughter had an op ed which had the misfortune of bad timing. The very day it appeared under the title (most likely given to it by the FT not chosen by her) “We will pay a high price if we do not arm the Syrian opposition” footage appeared of Syrian opposition forces executing prisoners they had captured, a clear war crime. In it she suggested:
It is time for bold action, of the kind Mr Obama took in deciding to go after Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and to intervene in Libya. In Syria this would mean putting together a coalition of countries that would commit to providing heavy weapons (and possibly air cover) to all commanders on the ground who sign the “Declaration of Values” supporting a democratic and pluralist Syria put forward by the nine commanding generals of the military council of the FSA. To receive weapons, these commanders must show they control safe zones and admit foreign journalists, civil society activists and the UN to monitor the implementing of the declaration’s principles. They must also allow citizen journalists to upload photographs of what they witness to an official website maintained by the coalition.
I sympathize with the goals that Slaughter has in mind but this description seems so high on a twenty first century form of Wilsonianism that it cannot see the grim realities of the world. The Democratic response to the failures of Bush-era ‘Wilsonianism with boots’ (Timothy Garton Ash’s term) should not be ‘Wilsonianism with I Phones.” It has to be tempered by a strong dash of fatalism about the human condition and a clear grasp of the limits of US power. Syria is the latest of many failing states. The US should be pitching in with blankets, tents and medicines — Rieff’s ‘A Bed for the Night‘ — not charters of ‘values’ because the twenty first century, pace the doubling down on American mythology by Obama and Romney in this presidential election campaign, is not going to be American. Its going to be grim, messy, hot, disrupted, energy deficient, and unpredictable.