I’ve seen more and more press releases from this weekend on how Syria is different from Iraq, or Libya, that we must act. Funny coming from Sen Kerry who was against action in Iraq, despite UN Sanctions which we don’t have here, that this time we must act.
How did our last bombing in the region go after its leader Gaddafi was threatening.. From a Sunday article in the London paper the Independent:
Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Qaddafi two years ago. Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that NATO’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention, which should be repeated in Syria. … Output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now.
Thomas Friedman had a great article discussing this same topic in his Sunday Op-Ed:
I keep reading about how Iraq was the bad war and Libya was the good war and Afghanistan was the necessary war and Bosnia was the moral war and Syria is now another necessary war. Guess what! They are all the same war.
They are all the story of what happens when multisectarian societies, most of them Muslim or Arab, are held together for decades by dictators ruling vertically, from the top down, with iron fists and then have their dictators toppled, either by internal or external forces. And they are all the story of how the people in these countries respond to the fact that with the dictator gone they can only be governed horizontally — by the constituent communities themselves writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above. And, as I’ve said before, they are all the story of how difficult it is to go from Saddam to Jefferson — from vertical rule to horizontal rule — without falling into Hobbes or Khomeini.
He goes on further discussing the same dangers I have in previous posts about there is no political entity that is ready to take over should Assad be toppled or removed from power.
If we were to decapitate the Syrian regime from the air, the same thing would likely happen there. For any chance of a multi-sectarian democratic outcome in Syria, you need to win two wars on the ground: one against the ruling Assad-Alawite-Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite alliance; and, once that one is over, you’d have to defeat the Sunni Islamists and pro-Al Qaeda jihadists. Without an army of the center (which no one will provide) to back up the few decent Free Syrian Army units, both will be uphill fights.
The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. They could hold together as long as there was a dictator to “protect” (and divide) everyone from everyone else. But when the dictator goes, and you are a pluralistic society but lack pluralism, you can’t build anything because there is never enough trust for one community to cede power to another — not without an army of the center to protect everyone from everyone…..
Each tribe or sect believes it is in a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.
That means Syria and Iraq will both likely devolve into self-governing, largely homogeneous, ethnic and religious units, like Kurdistan. And, if we are lucky, these units will find a modus vivendi, as happened in Lebanon after 14 years of civil war. And then maybe, over time, these smaller units will voluntarily come together into larger, more functional states.
They are tough words, but if we “change the momentum on the battlefield” we need to be prepared to get more involved for quite some time.
Is Syria different on the ground? No. It will take enormous effort, money, and blood before Syria would be stable enough following the collapse of their government. It would take help from the Arab League, NATO, EU, The UN, none of which is stepping up yet.
Is it different for Presidential authority to unilaterally act? Yes. In fact, despite calls from the President that Congressional approval is not required (coincidentally that he is seeking approval of) the NY Times this morning had this in their article:
…. the proposed strike is unlike anything that has come before — an attack inside the territory of a sovereign country, without its consent, without a self-defense rationale and without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or even the participation of a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO, and for the purpose of punishing an alleged war crime that has already occurred rather than preventing an imminent disaster.
If you remember the Bush reasoning for Iraq, it was expanding our authority to strike to prevent an imminent attack. There was also a decade of UN Sanctions not upheld.
- Stay Out of Syria’s Inferno: Americans Want Peace, Not Another War (huffingtonpost.com)
- Wonkbook: Seven hard truths for the White House on Syria (washingtonpost.com)