A View on Syria

A bit of history on interventions into armed conflicts of other brutal regimes and the why's and why nots

before the writer describes Syria's situation.

Guest Post: Indirect Intervention—Why and When

by Guest Blogger for Stewart M. Patrick
July 26, 2012

Residents attend the funeral of Abdelaziz, 23, a sergeant who defected to join the Free Syrian Army, on the outskirts of Idlib province July 25, 2012. Abdelaziz was tortured and killed by Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's forces after he was captured at a checkpoint, according to the people who attended the funeral (Obeida Al Naimi/Courtesy Reuters). Residents attend the funeral of Abdelaziz, 23, a sergeant who defected to join the Free Syrian Army, on the outskirts of Idlib province July 25, 2012. Abdelaziz was tortured and killed by Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's forces after he was captured at a checkpoint, according to the people who attended the funeral (Obeida Al Naimi/Courtesy Reuters).

Here is a guest blog by my colleague Mark P. Lagon, adjunct senior fellow for human rights at the Council, as well as international relations and security chair at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

Despite a reputation as arch-hawk, in her twilight years the first U.S. female UN ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, privately opposed invasion and occupation in Iraq. (I knew, as she was my mentor.) Biographer extraordinaire Peter Collier documents this fact in Political Woman. Her qualms and preference for another avenue offer insights for leadership and multilateral action today, especially regarding Syria.

Sometimes a government so acutely threatens its own people or its neighbors that external actors must step in. Sometimes global governance requires globally changing domestic governments.

Most observers would think of four options. First, is direct military intervention with a UN Security Council imprimatur, such as Operation Desert Storm to repel Iraq from Kuwait or Operation Uphold Democracy to replace Haiti’s junta.

Second, a “minilateralist” option without formal UN legitimization is embodied by NATO bombing Serbia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo after Russia blocked Security Council approval.

A looser “coalition of the willing” option was seen in the Iraq intervention starting in 2003, opposed by two neoconservatives: Kirkpatrick privately and Frank Fukuyama publicly.

The merits of stated pro-democracy goals and post-facto approval by allies or bodies aside, pure unilateral action is the fourth option – like the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983.

Yet the Kirkpatrick preference is another viable option—embodied by the “Reagan Doctrine” aid to insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in Angola, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. My 1994 book The Reagan Doctrine tries to answer how in the late Cold War the United States got in the business of aiding insurgencies—rather than counterinsurgency as in Vietnam and El Salvador (and Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years). Avoiding full, direct intervention after Vietnam was one reason.

This option typically involves three actors: (1)  an indigenous opposition movement enjoying varying degrees of unity, popular backing, and authentic roots, (2) a sanctuary state offering them a base to regroup and from which to mount military efforts, and (3) a substantial patron power funding and arming them, often through the sanctuary state.

The Reagan era cases highlight two prerequisites for this option to serve global governance. One test is the will and capacity of the United States and the international community to follow through and help an insurgency transition into an efficacious, pluralism-protecting government. The United States neglected Nicaragua after aiding the Contras. Then U.S. secretary of state James Baker reportedly said that Central America after the Cold War should return to the back pages of the newspaper. Nicaragua has been mired in acute poverty and corruption with not-so-benign neglect. Ironically, the Sandinistas are once again in power with the same illiberal President, Daniel Ortega.

The other test is looking hard at just who the insurgents are and what they will become. President Reagan called the U.S.-backed insurgencies “freedom fighters” who were “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers,” supported by France in the American Revolution. Given the direct multilateral intervention in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, it is noteworthy to recall how the United States backed the Muslim fundamentalist resistance to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, some elements of which became the Taliban. (Truth be told, the world also committed the sin of neglect in Afghanistan after the Cold War as well.) Even columnist Charles Krauthammer, who approvingly gave the approach the moniker “the Reagan Doctrine” noted the perils of the United States backing elements of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in a coalition of insurgents against a pro-Soviet regime in Cambodia.

My last guest post looked at the global and domestic governance issues of civil strife in Libya, noting that the “responsibility to protect” required responsibly examining an opposition movement for commitment to liberal governance in weighing whether to back it.

In the most striking humanitarian calamity in the world today, Syria’s government has through a long train of abuses forfeited its legitimacy and justified revolution, a la John Locke. It has contravened its responsibility to protect its own people—indeed proactively subjecting its people to massive harm. That fact justifies the international community stepping in to protect the Syrian people.

Perhaps the most feasible option is the Reagan Doctrine formula.  The vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, Danielle Pletka, offered a measured, thorough assessment of the actors in question: various insurgent groups, sanctuary states like Turkey, and other patrons like Saudi Arabia. While indigenous actors, local sanctuary states, and great power patrons like the United States may have some parochial interests involved, it would be wise to back the best of the insurgents before a slaughter already claiming tens of thousands of civilians balloons further. That is, as long as the United States pays close attention to the nature of who it backs and is prepared to follow through helping a new state govern and govern justly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. Being too pristine in “the fog of civil war” about vetting the liberal credentials of armed insurgencies risks just standing by as a house burns. Awaiting some nonexistent better alternative to materialize risks the same. Better stability and governance in Syria, the region, and the world would likely result from working with a responsible rising power, Turkey, to help those already willing to help themselves in Syria.

July 21 2012


SJ(7/21) Mideast Sees Dangers If Assad Falls

WSJ(7/21) Mideast Sees Dangers If Assad Falls

Saturday, Jul 21, 2012

By Jay Solomon, Julian E. Barnes and Farnaz Fassihi

The U.S. and its Middle East allies are bracing for the potential that a catastrophic fracture of Syria along sectarian lines could spread chaos into neighboring countries.

Such a breakdown inside Syria is now seen as a likely outcome if rebel fighters succeed in quickly overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad's regime, American, Israeli and Arab officials said.

Under such a scenario, Mr. Assad's ethnic Alawite clan, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is expected to retreat to its stronghold in the country's western coastal regions, where it would consolidate its forces and battle its foes.

That would leave a disparate mix of moderate and fundamentalist Sunni groups, Kurds, and Christians to compete to fill the power vacuum in other parts of the country.

"We are already heading to a partition of the country," said a U.S. official who is closely tracking Syria. "There are a lot of parts of the country the regime can't hold."

A rebel attack on Wednesday killed four top Assad aides in a surprising display that officials said could prove a turning point -- though in which direction is uncertain. "This could tip fast and decisively away from the regime, or the regime could harden up and brutalize their way back to equilibrium," a U.S. diplomat said.

U.S. and Mideast strategists fear that a rapid collapse would have far-reaching effects on Syria's neighbors, particularly Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.

"Syria has become a convenient battlefield for everyone, a place to divide the Arab world, said Farid Khazan, a Lebanese lawmaker and a professor of political science at American University of Beirut. "You won't be able to reshape that country without messing up the entire region."

The sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites inside Syria have already destabilized communities in northern Lebanon and Iraq, U.S. and Mideast strategists said. Jordanian officials fear that the rise of fundamentalist Sunni groups inside Syria, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, could threaten King Abdullah's monarchy.

The gathering chaos inside Syria, which is believed to have stockpiles of chemical weapons, is increasing pressure on the Obama administration to play a more direct role in trying to shape a post-Assad government.

In recent weeks, U.S. and Arab officials and Syrian opposition groups said they have seen an increasing dissolution of the Assad regime's control over the country. This dynamic is most pronounced in tribal regions in the south and areas near the Turkish border.

The Free Syrian Army, which oversees the country's myriad rebel groups, has become so confident that it is considering declaring Syria's Idlib province a liberated zone, according to members of the group.

The FSA and Syrian opposition groups are providing social services and governance to local populations, opposition officials and analysts say. Revolutionary councils in rebel-held areas have begun supplying cooking gas and other supplies.

U.S. and Arab officials, however, said they have seen growing signs of the Assad regime trying to carve out an ethnic enclave inside Syria.

Recent regime campaigns in cities such as Hama and Homs have focused on driving out Sunni communities, the officials said. Some of the Syrian Alawite leaders have begun to move family members back to the coastal city of Latakia and to secured mountain areas in the western region, they said.

"The Alawites would essentially fall back and create a ministate, giving up Damascus," a U.S. official said. "The ethnic cleansing, the sectarian cleansing of that area would be consistent with that."

The conflict has huge ramifications for neighboring countries. As violence rises, Syrians are fleeing in ever-larger numbers. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon since Thursday, while thousands more are pouring into Iraq by land and by air, and Jordan says that more than 100,000 Syrians are now within its borders.

Lebanon has already had several sectarian clashes between supporters and opponents of Syria's regime. Lebanon also is a stage for regional rivalries to play out between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back feuding Lebanese political factions.

"I don't think Lebanon has ever been through a situation this sensitive and complicated as right now. The divisions are very deep," a senior Hezbollah official said.

In Iraq, the Syrian chaos could easily translate into radical Sunni jihadists crossing the border with money and weapons to target the Shiite-dominated government with car bombs and assassinations.

Security officials in Israel fear their northern neighbor could become a haven for terrorists, as have other broken states. That could transform Israel's long, quiet border with Syria into another battleground. The potential that rogue actors could launch rockets at Israel from Syrian territory, as Hezbollah and Hamas have done in the past, is a deep concern.

The U.S. and its allies also worry Syria's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons could wind up in the hands of Islamist radicals. Israeli officials have voiced concern about Syrian rockets and antiaircraft systems. U.S. officials have acknowledged contingency plans to send American forces to secure weapons sites if necessary, but say they would prefer to see U.S. allies, chiefly Jordan and Turkey, take the lead.

However, the likelihood of an orderly political transition in Syria, in which international peacekeepers could provide for calm, appears less and less realistic. "The fall of the Assad regime doesn't mean it is the end," said Jihad Zein, editorial writer for Lebanon's largest daily newspaper, An Nahar. "We will have a chaotic Syria and some kind of Islamist party dominating the street for a long time."


Charles Levinson and Joshua Mitnick contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

21-07-12 0640GMT