I was about to hit “publish” on this post when I saw that the wires are sending out the story that the Syrian rebels have downed a Syrian government military jet.
The rebels say they took down a MiG-23 and have its pilot, alive. We’ll see. But all the more reason to take more seriously the idea that it’s time for a no-fly zone, among other actions.
The Obama administration has waited far too long to take a more active role on Syria. While the fighting rages on, the U.S. has largely been on the sidelines, not even “leading from behind” as it eventually did in Libya 17 months ago. Instead, as Fouad Ajami has recently written, the administration’s policies have been marked by “political abdication and sophistry.”
We do not need boots on the ground. We do need to provide support to the free-Syrian movement in the form of intelligence, weapons, ammunition, training, communications, and the creation and protection of safe zones in liberated areas as a place for refugees and as bases for the opposition to equip and organize. These steps should also enable us to strengthen the hand of those who seek a stable and peaceful future for Syria.
The United Nations and Kofi Annan took their shot. The Russians have done their best to save Assad. What’s left?
Bob’s point about “boots on the ground” is especially important. Opponents of intervention typically use the ploy of presenting “all or nothing” options, in which we face the false choice of going all-in, and doing Vietnam II or Desert Storm III, or whatever — or doing nothing.
This was the strategy that the Athenian statesman and general Nicias tried to use to dissuade the Athenians from attacking Syracuse in 415 BC. Nicias asked for a force far larger than the one he thought the assembly would approve, and it blew up in his face: the Athenians gave him everything he asked for and sent him off to Sicily — but not before he tried to backpedal on the whole thing:
Although this assembly was convened to consider the preparations to be made for sailing to Sicily, I think, notwithstanding, that we have still this question to examine, whether it be better to send out the ships at all, and that we ought not to give so little consideration to a matter of such moment, or let ourselves be persuaded by foreigners into undertaking a war with which we have nothing to do.
Unfortunately, the Athenians also put three different guys in charge of the operation, and the resulting invasion was a disaster. (A good idea poorly executed, or a bad idea? We ask our students this at the War College every year.)
Anyway, we should be long past arguments about Syrian sovereignty, or the future of Assad, or “boots on the ground,” or “quagmires” or any of the other detritus that has come from years of too much worship of the misbegotten and un-strategic postulates of the so-called “Powell Doctrine” or the “Powell-Weinberger Doctrine.” (More on that in another post. Don’t get me started.) This is not Vietnam, it’s not Libya, it’s not Iraq and it’s not Mars. It’s Syria, and it’s not like we don’t know how to do things in places like Syria.
Syria is a different country than it was a year ago, and Assad no longer has any claim to be its leader. The Russians will squawk, as the Russians always do, when the West brings force to bear on a dictator. (Maybe the Chinese will sit this one out, like they’ve been wont to do with issues outside the Asia-Pacific region.) But once again, we’re out of excuses about why we shouldn’t do anything, and have plenty of reasons to get involved. It’s time to be creative — and unlike the doomed Nicias, decisive.