A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 14, 2013

The US and Syria: Diving in or Testing the Waters?

I'm going to be cautious in my response to the still somewhat vague commitment by the US to arm the Syrian rebels; the US commitment seems ambiguous at best. The evidence that the Syrian regime has used sarin is the ostensible reason for the change, but clearly the recent successes of the Syrian regime are also part of the calculation. But it's also clear the US is not diving in head first, but perhaps testing the water with a toe.

The Syrian regime's behavior is atrocious, but intervention without a clear understanding of what the US can actually do to change the outcome could be disastrous, especially as there seems to be no great reservoir of popular support for such a move. The Libyan model does not apply, since the factors of Iran, Hizbullah, and Russia were not in play in in Libya. The fact that the US Administration seems unenthusiastic but is responding to political pressure also may weaken any response.

I don't think the Libyan model applies. I worry that the Vietnam model does: a complicated geopolitical configuration that limits one's options and prevents an all-out commitment, combined with a lack of political support at home. Yet I know many people who know Syria far better than I do who are advocating doing more, and I also respect those views.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Yesterday, a representative of the Syrian opposition cornered me. In making the case for the U.S. to jump in with decisive force he was whiny, accusatory, pathetic and sanctimonious, all in the space of a few minutes of conversation. It's really hard to feel confidence in such people. I'm sure there are very brave and idealistic Syrians doing the fighting, but it's the people who send them into battle that I worry about. Yes, the Obama Administration is right to be cautious. We do need to focus on working with Turkey, Jordan and responsible Arab allies. If we can check the destabilizing effects on those countries, it would be worth making careful commitments. We should not imagine that we can save Syria without huge cost, and I don't see a lot we can do for Lebanon either, but maybe Hizbollah will overplay its hand and enable a new government to take power. As for U.S. hawks who talk blithely about "taking out the Syrian air defense and the Syrian air force," they should tell us how many Syrian civilians they are prepared to kill in the messy process and what we would do in the aftermath. It would not be some antiseptic video game.