Thursday, July 25, 2013

What About the Pre-Option Decision?

I've said it before and I'll repeat it--if we help the rebels defeat Assad, we don't "own" the post-war Syria. But we should decide that telling Assad he must go (as our president did) is the objective we should pursue as we debate options.

Austin Bay discusses the options General Dempsey laid out for intervention in Syria. I think option one should be a no-brainer and should have been from the beginning of the revolt:

Option One -- Train, Advise and Assist the Opposition -- has U.S. advisers training Syrian rebels in tasks such as tactical planning and employing weapons. Advisers might provide intelligence and logistics help. Deploying several thousand advisers might cost $500 million a year, with a secure rear area (think Turkey and Jordan). The risks include terror attacks on advisers. We might "inadvertently" train rebels who commit war crimes.

Yes, assisting rebels to oust Assad is essentially declaring war on Assad. So what? How many dead Americans are there because Assad supported terrorists in Iraq? Didn't that count as war? We owe Assad some payback, no?

So yes, intervening a little might lead us to intervene more. But if we are at war, we should decide that the objective is worth going to war. Perhaps we might need to go to option two if our decision to use option one is too late to be decisive alone in a timely manner.. And in collapse, we might have to go to option five to prevent chemical weapons from leaking out of Assad's control to terrorists.

And we could hold back if the price isn't worth it. So soon after Iraq, it would be easy to refuse to escalate. If Assad survives this revolt in charge of a rump Syria, I'll count that a decent victory. Heck, a year and a half ago, I'd have figured going to option one that merely raised the cost of an Assad victory to regain control of all of Syria would have been a small victory. Just scaring Assad by making him know we will exploit any problems he gets might make him more cautious in the future.

Keep in mind that option one would have been less likely to lead to more intervention if it had been taken a year and a half ago. And delaying option one makes it more likely that we would have to intervene with option four or more.

Remember that we spent a decade with option three and four regarding Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War ceasefire, plus repeated efforts to find somebody in Iraq to overthrow Saddam in a coup. And let's not forget the post-war Shia uprising that we did not support. So in 2003, our only option to destroy Saddam's regime was a conventional invasion--an option not even on Dempsey's list.

We've given Assad time and he has used it to adapt. Assad may not be able to reassert control over all of Syria given his bad position, but he can kill Syrian civilians for a long time.

Why do opponents of doing anything about Assad assert that we would "own"--be responsible for everything that happens--in Syria after we intervene?

Do we "own" Libya? No. Libyans own Libya. They own Libya even though we provided the rebels with arms, intelligence, supplies, and an air force.

The stupid and dishonorable actions we've taken there since the war have nothing to do with "owning" Libya. So yes, overthrowing Assad doesn't end our interests in Syria. But let's do that and work on the next step after, ok? Let's harm an enemy. Let's settle on that before we choose options.