A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RUSI on Syria: And No, They Didn't Exactly Say THAT

A lesson in why it's always good to read original reports and not rely on the media summaries: the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), he venerable (as in, the Duke of Wellington was its original patron) British military analysts, have ane a new report out on possible intervention scenarios in Syria. And the Telegraph report has this quote under the headline "Syria: West 'could deploy 300,000 troops following regime collapse"':
Michael Codner, RUSI's Director of the Military Sciences, wrote that a starting point for calculations of full scale intervention would be at least 300,000 troops.

What? Has RUSI lost its mind? 300,000 Western troops in Syria? Holy [poop]!

Well, actually, no. If you go to the actual report, you will find that Codner does use the words "In the case of Syria a starting point for calculations would be at least 300,000." But he uses these words in the last, most extreme stage of a multi-step analysis of a range of scenarios from a small UN presence up to an invasion and occupation on an Iraqi scale, Note a few of the caveats in even a few select, but in-context, quotes:
The final category is a full scale invasion of Syria to bring about regime
change along the lines of the 2003 United States led war in Iraq. It is almost
impossible to see the diplomatic and political circumstances under which
such an operation would be possible.

The numbers of civilian casualties might be huge and from a moral viewpoint
early surrender by the Assad regime could not be assumed in minimising this
risk. An initial aerial ‘shock and awe’ campaign against, say, Damascus, to
bring about a change of heart in the government would be as stupid now as it
was in 2003 bearing in mind that it is the communities in all their complexity
who would be terrified and they would subsequently almost certainly be
problematic for occupation forces.
Not exactly a rousing endorsement, is it? Note: "It is almost impossible to see the diplomatic and political circumstances under which such an operation would be possible." The Telegraph is one of Britain's better papers, a respected broadsheet, not one of its tabloids known for Page Three Girls, but this is a reminder that headlines and even the stories even in the quality press can be misleading. An "almost impossible" scenario made it into the headline. Codner is offering a worst-case scenario, and one it's clear he considers unlikely and undesirable.

There's a well-known acronym in computing, RTFM, which stands for Read the [well, you know] Manual. A good rule of thumb for newspaper reports on think tank studies, would be Read the Original Report.

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