Tuesday, June 18, 2013

To War or Not to War

Part of being a "Great Power" (a fortiori, a "Superpower") is a certain global responsibility to use one's power judiciously to maintain a stable balance of power in the world. I have never had any sympathy with isolationism, which I regard as an unrealistic ideology and an irresponsible one.
That said, Syria is a mess. And that indisputable fact, far from clarifying what the US should be doing in that region, really rather obfuscates it - and argues, in my opinion, more powerfully against intervention than for it.
Some 90,000+ people have been killed in consequence of Syria's civil war, while many others have been displaced, to their own detriment and that of the stability of neighboring countries (e.g., Jordan). It is a genuine humanitarian crisis, which naturally invites the question what, if anything, might be done about it. It is also a serious political crisis threatening to destabilize the region even further. The Syrian regime is supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah - three good reasons not to want it to remain. The alternatives, however, are ambiguous at best. The defeat of Assad would likely lead to a further civil war between competing revolutionary factions, and the likely result could well be worse for the world than what is there now.
So I think this certainly seems to be one of those times when prudence should cause one to be very wary of intervention. At minimum, any argument for intervention should be required to spell out the exact aims to be achieved and where that fits into a larger international strategy and by what military means it can realistically be hoped to achieve those aims.
At the moment Asad seems to be gaining (with outside help, of course). Those who think that the US has some vital national interest in ending the Asad regime have reason to be worried whether the prospect of such an outcome is decreasing. But others also have reason to be worried - worried that we don't have a clear and coherent picture of what  alternative we might be able to achieve and how we might actually get to it, worried further that we may end up in the long run only arming our enemies. 
Obviously, were we able to wave a magic wand and stop the carnage, we should surely do so. In contrast to waving a magic wand, however, our options are much more traditional - military intervention (more or less, directly or indirectly) on one side or other. 
But which of several sides, and how much help, how deep and long our involvement, and for what hoped-for final outcome? 

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