There have been a number of critics of the U.S. strategy for dealing with the upheavals in Syria and the region. The problem is that some critics of the right and the far left present no alternative options to stop the blood letting (some sadly even say let the killing continue) while others want full military intervention – boots, weapons, and no fly zones – the full nine yards, which may mean more deaths.
Much of this “all or nothing” writing, especially in op-ed pages and advocacy groups, does not recognize the complexity, dangers, and fast moving elements in the Syrian conflict. It would be foolish to advocate an “all in” approach without planning for an end game, as we neglected to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. There are larger regional issues at stake here also — and again diplomacy and “soft power” as well as harder power need to be used in wise ways together as required.
The present Middle East “neighborhood” is frankly aflame with instability, revolution and upheavals. That is even more reason for America and its allies to act now and with wisdom to set in place efforts for regional security and peace with reconciliation. This seems what Obama, Kerry and Hagel are trying to do. I cite the recent efforts by Secretary Kerry, who seems to be determined and focused to deal seriously with the many problems in the Middle East including Egypt, Turkey, the Arab Gulf nations, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The barriers are high, but so are the stakes.
We are thus playing for not only a peaceful Syria but also to prevent conflict upheavals in the entire region. Is the sole answer military action? No! Is staying out and turning our back to this conflict with its horrific consequences that seem to have no end and are spreading? No! But the price of any peace will require a huge measure of efforts by all the major players and powers, including both robust peacekeeping forces and economic assistance. It can’t be done without on the ground vigorous peacekeepers, a large mediation process, and oversight with international presence. America would have to be part of that effort. But only a part and with a lower profile. I argue that the price is worth paying.
The best approach is the one that the U.S. is seeking, in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances, namely to proceed with care. Don’t just lead with military force – do what we can on a humanitarian basis, find out more about the people involved, seek allies to act together to stem the killing, and put a full “court press” into a diplomatic efforts to find a doable peace agreement and an interim broad government that can be representative of all groups and seen by most Syrians and others as a better alternative than the Assad regime. Let me be frank, this is a tall order with many obstacles and road blocks, including a weak and divided opposition, division among our allies in the “friends of Syria” on how to supply the opposition, and knowing which groups can be trusted.
This is the reason that I advocate a strong, multinational armed peacekeeping/peace-making force, backed up with humanitarian and economic assistance and capable of assisting from the very start a vetted replacement governance entity that will act with fairness and support a democratic model. It must respect the mandate of the peacekeeping forces to ensure security for the threatened civilian population of all groups. To be clear, such an effort will likely be a median to long term effort and probably cost billions of dollars. It is better than the alternative – since the worst case is a sectarian regional killing spreading from Iraq to Lebanon. The best model is what was put in place in Yugoslavia, which while not perfect, did stop most killing and now after decades of effort is seeing many of the new nations emerging from the old state and gain a degree of peace, economic progress, and for some, even membership in the EU.
Under Obama and Kerry we are acting in a much more coordinated way and have several options on the table and tools being used. There is never a guarantee of success in any option. The costs of mistakes are very high if we just put boots on the ground or totally ignore this horrific conflict. In sum, there is room for a multilateral, multifaceted approach, which seems the direction Obama and Kerry and Hagel are going. Let’s be thankful, rather than churlish.