Sunday, September 1, 2013

No good options with regard to Syria

Fortunately, Obama has decided to seek Congressional approval before taking action against the Syrian government in response to the chemical attacks.  I say fortunately for two reasons.  First, when it comes to responding to the atrocities in Syria, the U.S. has no good options.  Whatever we do, it is very unlikely that we can change the situation and there is a good possibility that we might make the situation worse if not in Syria, certainly in the region.  Second, when there are no good options and where there is a high probability of limited or no success, the wise leader does not go it alone.  He recruits as many supporters of the high risk effort as he can if for no other reason than to insure that the blame for failure can be distributed among many people and groups should the likely outcomes--failure or limited success--actually occur.

Don't get me wrong.  What has happened in Syria is horrific.  It is clear that someone is using chemical weapons in Syria in clear violation of international law.  It is clear that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Syrians have died including children.  While there is no absolute proof, there is a high probability that Syrian President Assad either ordered the use of chemical weapons against his own people or could have stopped the use of such weapons but chose not to do so.  It is clear that the United States and the international community have an obligation under international law and internationally accepted standards of decency to do something to bring an end to the Syrian atrocities.  Theoretically, the United Nations should lead the effort to enforce international law and restore order.  That’s simply not possible since Russia and China are blocking any action by the U.N. when it comes to punishing Assad.  We could appeal to the International Court of Justice to try Assad--or somebody--for war crimes or crimes against humanity but we have a problematic relationship with the court since we deny that it has jurisdiction over American actions.  Anyway, who is going to arrest Assad and/or the somebody who carried out the chemical attacks and bring him or them to the Hague to stand trial?

President Obama was considering a targeted military strike against the Syrian government with or without the assistance and participation of our allies.  Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress demanded that Obama obtain their approval or at least consult with them before proceeding.  Sixty percent of the American people said they had no desire to get bogged down in another war and, therefore opposed military action against Syria.

While there is no doubt that the U.S. could inflict serious damage on the Syrian government, most people doubt whether air strikes would bring Assad down or greatly impede his ability to deploy chemical weapons unless the strikes continued for a very long time, perhaps months.  Additionally, there is the danger that airstrikes might make the Syrian situation worse by accidentally setting off stockpiles of chemical weapons with devastating results for the Syrian people.  Absolutely no one wants to put troops on the ground.  At a minimum any military action we take--even very limited in scope and time--will likely result in a volatile region of the world becoming even more volatile.  We certainly won't gain any friends.

So, we are stuck.  It is possible that Congress will eventually approve some kind of limited military intervention, if for no other reason than to give the appearance that the United States is at least trying to do something.  Don’t expect much success.  As I said, we have no good options.  That includes the option of doing nothing at all.

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