The Transom, Ben Domenech, April 6, 2017
The latest use of chemical weapons in Syria has resulted in a slew of new horrifying images from the conflict, and a renewed push by the do-something caucus to take steps against the Assad regime. President Trump has indicated that this attack may have changed his mind about the Syrian conflict – he is, after all, always attuned to images on TV. But as disturbing as these images are, we have to answer the hard questions relevant to any U.S. actions regarding Syria, and be clear about what we are willing to do, and why.
Sean Davis poses 14 questions. http://vlt.tc/2slj “We owe it to the American men and women whose blood was shed in Iraq, and their families, to not repeat the same mistakes we made there in Syria. We owe it to the men and women who would be deployed overseas to have a clear understanding of our political goals in Syria, what military resources will be required to achieve them, and what risks we face, both militarily and politically, as a result of approving military action to remove Assad.
“Here are 14 questions that proponents of war in Syria must answer before anyone considers whether military intervention to remove Assad is the best course of action for the American people.
1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?
2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?
3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?
4) What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?
5) How long will it take to achieve political victory?
6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?
7) What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?
8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?
9) What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?
10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?
11) Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?
12) Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?
13) Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?
14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?
“Until these questions are answered with specificity, and until the U.S. government is open and honest with the American people about the potential risks and likely costs of a war to remove Assad from power in Syria, it makes little sense to discuss the idea further.”
Rob Tracinski responds. http://vlt.tc/2slk “[O]nce we decide that that we have a substantial national security interest in the destruction of ISIS, and that this requires putting an end to Syria’s civil war, then we’re going to iron out the rest of the details because we really don’t have much choice.
“We can offer a lot of theories for how these various issues are going to work out. For example, when it comes to pushing the Russians out of Syria now that they’re ensconced there, there’s a straightforward model for that: Afghanistan. Of course we shouldn’t challenge the Russkis directly, because that would risk escalation into a great power war. But we can give very substantial covert support to select groups of rebels—far more than the half-hearted, going-through-the-motions efforts so far—and make Syria a quagmire the Russians can’t sustain. Russia is a shrunken shadow of the Soviet Union and in far less of a position to maintain a serious effort in Syria over the long term.
“As for our overall strategic goal, we have to keep in mind that this is a two-front war, that we’re fighting Assad and pushing out the Russians and Iranians in order to clear the way for also getting rid of the Islamic State. The model for that, as I’ve pointed out before, is the question of whether we should fight the Nazis or the Soviets. It’s not really a question of which one we have to fight, but of which one we’re going to fight first.”