Monday, June 03, 2013

But What?

I'm generally a big fan of Walter Russell Mead, whose Via Meadia blog is one of the smartest places on the internet. But not on this post:
The cost of the meltdown in Syria and of the regional eruption of sectarian war will be felt for some time to come. Many Americans look at the mess the way our grandparents and great-grandparents looked at the mess in Europe in 1939, thinking that all that trouble over there couldn’t possibly affect us over here, and believing that common sense dictated that we stay out. The longer we sat out the war, the uglier it got and the higher the price we ultimately paid. The Sunni-Shiite war now engulfing the Middle East will not mestatasize into a WWII-style challenge to national survival, but in the months and years ahead many moments will come when we will wish that the US had done more to stop the war in its early stages.
Riddle me this: what "more" could the US have done? We don't have any good options in Syria. While I wouldn't dispute that the war in Syria is causing problems that will affect the United States, picking sides in this conflict doesn't seem likely to improve matters, either.


First Ringer said...

I'm generally more bullish on American foreign policy, but I fail to see the upside in getting involved in Syria.

Considering Syria's political and military connections with Russia and Iran, intervening would require a force commitment equivalent to Iraq - but with even fewer options for "friendly" allies once the regime is removed. This would not be Libya the Sequel - a few laser-guided bombs would not produce a feel-good ending, or any ending for that matter.

More to Walter's point: our intervention would not resolve the "Shiite/Sunni rift." The conflict is being funded by Middle Eastern players who are eager to settle scores but also eager to tie down the extremist elements of the region in a bloody civil war. If Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, et al want to shoot each other instead of targeting Western forces or Middle Eastern monarchies, those funding the war obviously feel that Faustian bargain is on discount.

Anonymous said...

To add the First Ringer's comments, the "feel good" endings in Libya and Egypt aren't really that feel good. Having the Brotherhood running things in countries seems to be worse (particularly for religious minority populations) than having a dictator run the show. Basically the battle lines as currently drawn consist of Assad vs. Hezbollah. That's like trying to pick a winner in a match between Lord Alfred Hayes and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. In essence it appears that the better option is to let things play themselves out and if needed send in the Gagne's after the dust has settled!

Mr. D said...


Personally, I'd send in Pampero Firpo or Larry the Axe Hennig, but I take your point.

Bike Bubba said...

I can see one reason for getting into Syria in some way; the Russians are seeing it as worth their while to prop up Assad for some reason. I'm going to suggest that we'll do well to at least understand why. Selling a dictator--possibly on the outs--weapons on credit doesn't seem sufficient.

First Ringer said...


Russia has a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, giving them a reach into the Mediterranean - a foreign policy goal of Russia since the time of Peter the Great.

Syria is also about the only client state Russia has left in the region. They'd rather prop up a long-time economic and geopolitical relationship on credit than risk losing the alliance with a new regime in town.

Brian said...

Syria:Russia::Bahrain:The U.S.

Which is why the U.S. did bugger all when Bahrain cracked down on its dissidents in 2011.

Gino said...

the Sunni-Shia squabble is playing out as the Christians had there reformation violence 500yrs ago.
there will be no winners, here.
just lots of martyrs, well intentioned or otherwise, there will be martyrs.

i have a lot of respect for Islam and it's adherants (many of them i consider true friends of mine), and i can tell you that the honest muslims (shia or sunni) deplore this war among their own.

but like anything else... its needs to play out before it can settle down.

this is no place for 'foreign policy' because its not about politics in the western sense.
whatever side we choose, it will be a losing proposition, guaranteed to make us an enemy of some sort among the population that loses...

Al Quaida represents a minority, a very small minority, of Sunni Islam. how much drama have they caused already????

stay out, and play to the winner when one emerges... which likely wont happen in our lifetime anyway...
this is no time to place our trust in Neocons, ok?

Mr. D said...

stay out, and play to the winner when one emerges... which likely wont happen in our lifetime anyway...

Increasingly, I'm thinking that's all we can do.