Thursday, May 31, 2012

What I believe the US should do in Syria

The continuing bloodshed in Syria is terrible. I believe that greater, more aggressive action is needed on the part of the international community. I also believe that Europe must learn that this situation is another example of why they must spend more on defense.

Having said this, I will break my reasoning into two considerations - the strategic utility of  a non-US Military rooted intervention and how such an intervention could be implemented effectively.

Regarding a prospective military intervention, my primary concern is that direct US Military intervention in Syria would pose substantial risks. A major point here is in the fact that much of Syria is protected by a comparatively advanced air defense system. This is a system that’s defeat would require a substantial air campaign on the part of the United States – a campaign that would risk both Syrian civilians and American flight crews. Another concern is the relative competence of the Syrian armed forces in comparison to those of Gaddafi. Faced with direct US Military intervention, these units might dramatically escalate their campaign against Syrian civilians. These units would also be likely to pose a greater threat to US interests in the region. I also worry that a military intervention would require a substantial re-direction of resources away from other critical US Military missions, while simultaneously risking Iranian escalation. In such a situation, the US would be left stretched and our regional priorities would be left highly vulnerable. Critically, Afghanistan is a core US national security priority and requires the continued focus of our national power.

My argument instead is that the US should adopt a strategy that combines increased diplomatic pressure on Assad, Iran and Hizballah AND China and Russia, with physical US support to Syrian rebel elements.  The US should make clear to the Chinese and Russian leadership that we regard their continued support for Assad with major discontent. Consequently, the US should be ready to take escalatory diplomatic reprisals if China and Russia fail to adapt their position. To be blunt, the US must ultimately be prepared to withdraw our ambassadors to Beijing and Moscow. If we truly value human rights, we must be willing to stand up with purpose. Alongside diplomatic action, I believe that the US should provide logistical support (weapons money, tools, intelligence support etc) to identified rebel elements. This support should be given in concert with European and other regional partner states, so as to maximize support efficiency and credibility, while also minimizing the risk of this 'support' entering the hands of Islamist extremists (a risk that cannot be totally eliminated). The CIA Special Activities Division is well suited to such a task.

Ultimately, I believe that this balanced approach would dramatically increase pressure on Assad while mitigating the negative risks of an open military intervention. Such action would also serve to increase pressure on the Lebanese Hizballah, via highlighting the hypocrisy of Hizballah's continued support for the Assad regime. It is in this way that the Assad-Iran-Hizballah alliance could be weakened and Assad's grip on power could be slowly but systematically degraded.

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