Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria and US Foreign Policy

After years of (still ongoing) war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s obvious that few Americans have the appetite for another foreign entanglement. The polls speak to this truth – the vast majority are opposed to US military intervention in Syria.

I get why.

Nonetheless, I also remain convinced that the US must take action against Assad.


Because in America’s absence, other actors will shape the conduct and outcome of this conflict. And they’ll almost certainly do so in ways that are catastrophic for the moral and strategic standing of the United States. That's an intolerable price for an illusion of peace.

As I see it, there are two overarching foreign policy considerations at stake here.

First, there’s the principle of American values.

If the US fails to intervene against Assad, America's moral authority will endure a terrible blow. Just as the US suffered from accusations that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was 'all about oil' (it wasn't), a failure to intervene in Syria would play to another false truth. The notion of an 'America that only intervenes when her direct national interests are at risk'. In short, the sustaining ideal of American exceptionalism - standing for global peace and security would be seriously jeopardized. Further, if the US fails to intervene, the prospective power of international law would also be rendered absurd – if laws are not enforced, they have no value. This is about far more than basic morality. Values drive perceptions and motivate relationships – they shape positive realities. To have meaning, they must be upheld in realms beyond words.

Second - outcomes

The foundation of any successful foreign policy is the pursuit of positive outcomes. 

Let’s be clear, if the US stays out of Syria, then the Syrian civil war will remain dominated by interests fundamentally hostile to the United States. In essence, if we accept the basic (almost incontestable) proposition that a US failure to intervene makes Assad's survival more likely, then we must also accept what his survival would mean. A dictator who owes his existence to the Iranian theocrats and Capo Putin. Alongside Iranian demands for payback, reflecting upon a failure of American willpower, Assad's preserved regime would be far more willing to aggressively intrude in the politics of other regional states like Iraq, Lebanon and of course, Israel. The dictator would also pay little heed to the Syrian people.

So, this leads us to the challenging proposition – how do we shape a more positive outcome?

I’ve previously spoken and written about what I think the US should do. But I also think that our debate has to break free of some seriously problematic misconceptions.

For a start, we need to trash the argument that just because the Syrian resistance is made up by some jihadists, the US cannot support any rebel elements (IE nationalist minded formations). We also need to realize that just because we engage in Syria, it doesn't mean that we’re committing ourselves to the social and political reconstruction of that country. We can have limited engagement and also achieve strategic effect.

In the end, I believe that our failure to intervene would guarantee the very outcome that the non-interventionists wish to avoid - a catastrophic loss of America international standing and an outcome where, in one form or another, extremists prevail. It's true, these things may happen even if we do take action. Nevertheless, doing nothing is the surest path to the realization of our worst fears.

If interested, check out my other writings on the Middle East.

No comments:

Post a Comment