Tuesday, June 5, 2012

U.S. Policy in Syria based on Civilian Casualties

I just read a very good article by Glen Tschirgi writing in an excellent blog (The Captains Journal) entitled: The Body Count Foreign Policy: Civilian Casualties in Syria Force U.S. Hand? I admit that I particularly liked the article because it does a very good job discussing a weakness in our foreign policy which often leads us into messy and costly foreign entanglements when there is no important national security issue at stake. This time the question revolves around what the Obama Administration is going to do in Syria. Let me restate some of the important points from that article.

The U.S. is now warning Syria of possible military action. Does that mean we are getting geared up for yet another Middle East conflict? Has the Obama Administration determined that Syria’s support of terrorist outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah is antagonistic to vital U.S. interests and poses a threat to national security?  Perhaps it is because the Assad Regime is the linchpin to Iranian aggression in the region?  No? Then is it because the stockpile of biological weapons may find their way into the hands of Radical Islamists to be used against Western targets?  Or maybe it is because the U.S. has determined that the replacement of the Assad Regime by an even tepidly pro-Western government would be a game changer in the Middle East?

I doubt if any of those questions are the true reason for our changing policy toward Syria. The true reason may be simply because of the high body count in civilian casualties that the Assad government has been racking up lately. -Something that the media likes to report on and get people all hot and bothered about (the videos draw good viewership).

I do not condone the massacre of women and children by the Assad Regime.  It deserves all of the condemnation that can be delivered (although it is somewhat hypocritical of the Russians– who used an absolute, scorched-earth assault to suppress rebellion in Chechnya including artillery barrages -and China, which routinely tortures and kills its civilian population).

Nonetheless, as I argued in a prior post :     U.S. foreign policy cannot be dictated by statistics of civilian casualties.   Instead, the U.S. must enter into a complicated calculus of risks and benefits in seeking to topple Assad and the methods necessary and appropriate to the task.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration seems to be engaging in this very type of body-count calculus in weighing military intervention.  This is from an article in The Guardian:

    "The US’s top military officer has warned Syria it could face armed intervention as international outrage grows over the massacre of women and children by tanks and artillery in Houla.

    General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that following the UN security council’s condemnation of the slaughter – in which more than 100 people were killed, many of them children – there needed to be increased diplomatic pressure on Damascus. But he added that the US would be prepared to act militarily if it was “asked to do so”.

    “There is always a military option,” he told Fox News. “You’ll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we’re never entirely sure what comes out on the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities.”

The world is filled with governments committing atrocities against their own people, and all too often on a scale far larger than the massacre at Houla.   Sudan and its Islamist allies have been slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands of largely Christian South Sudanese civilians for the better part of a decade.   U.S. response (both Bush and Obama):  Ignore it and maybe it will go away.  North Korea’s forced starvation and Nazi-like concentration camps are legendary and indisputable.   U.S. response for 50 years:  North Korea's other bad behavior gets our attention, not it's treatment of it's own people.

Why should civilian deaths in Syria trigger any kind of threat of military action by the United States?  Determining foreign policy based on civilian body counts like this is absolutely bass-ackwards.

If intervening in Syria is in the U.S. national interest, including all the factors that must be weighed and considered– and can be articulated as such to Congress– then that is all the reason we need.   If it is not in the national interest, then no body count should precipitate military action.

Syria is being supported by both Russia and Iran. Both of those countries are supplying the Syrian military with arms, ammunition and training A  direct military intervention by the U.S. would entangle us in a prolonged proxy war in another Arab country and in the end may very well leave us with a new Islamic country (hostile to us anyway).

My point here is that we need to be motivated by cool calculation not by a knee-jerk reaction to civilian deaths, If we do that kind of knee-jerk reaction we'll find ourselves fighting wars all over the  world for the foreseeable future. If it is truly in our national interests to go through another Middle East War to topple Assad, I say fine, I'll support it -but you are going to have to make that case with more than "Assad is a bad actor that needs to go" or "They are killing each other and we need to stop it". 

Now, to lighten up things a bit, here are some very lucky people:

Live Long and Prosper....

No comments: