War In Syria Next?
Published on: April 23, 2011
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  • Nathan P Brown

    Not totally convinced – firstly, I think it’s something of a linguistic solecism to suggest that the deaths of civilians in Syria may ‘force our hand’. This sounds more like a desired conclusion than a irresistible impetus to action.
    Also, with America in more than its fair share of wars already, I can’t see the US gov’t clamoring to bomb another country. I think the point about the Golan has to be the absolute clincher, if any were needed. Unlike Western action in Libya, there is a real, and frankly terrifying prospect that a US intervention in Syria could well affect Lebanon and ultimately degenerate into another Arab-Israeli war, and then all bets are off.

  • Mogden

    It’s a good thing that the nation is unable to go to war without a Congressional declaration.

  • suleiman

    Obama won’t support opposition to Iran, Syria or the PA because they are Muslims and the enemies of Israel. Many have expressed bewilderment at Obama’s Middle East policy but it is simply anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian and pro-Muslim.

  • vanderleun

    “Will Samantha Powers bomb yet another country in the region, or will she try to sleep nights with the blood of thousands of Syrians on her hands?”

    Oh, now that is the most barbed and funny question yet. Pretty much the whole deal in a nutshell.

  • Well, the spectacle of Obama’s foreign policy is just as troubling as the spectacle of Bush’s. Both remind me of watching someone who can’t drive a nail. The bottom line for me is recognizing that countries like Syria and Iran really our our enemies and acting accordingly. This article really helped me connect the dots.

  • Stephen P

    Prof. Mead,

    This is a very enlightening analysis. However, there is a good reason to challenge your belief that Obama’s Libyan war has been proven successful by the protests in Syria. This is that if we hadn’t committed so many of our Mediterranean resources to defending an insurrection in a relatively insignificant North African country, we would have a much stronger hand to play against Syria, arguably the second worst of all our enemies in the Middle East. If the administration starts beating the drum for intervention in Syria now, it will have a tougher time convincing Assad that we’re able to wage a serious war there, and it will face a very hostile reception at home.

  • WigWag

    Another excellent post by Professor Mead but I’m not entirely sure he’s right when he asserts that the Saudis would like to see Assad overthrown. Yes, Syria has been an ally to Iran and Saudi Arabia despises Iran. Certainly the terrible role that Syria has played in Lebanon must give the Saudis pause. Nor should we forget that the form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia considers the Shia to be apostates which makes the Alawi something even worse; apostate apostates.

    But given everything that’s happened recently in the Middle East and North Africa it’s hard to believe that the stability-craving Saudi monarchy wants to see yet another Arab dictator overthrown. If Assad goes down in the same manner as the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia what type of precedent will it set for Saudi Arabia itself?

    In addition, there are blood ties between the Saudi Royal family and Syria. One of King Abdullah’s previous wives was from Syria, and her sister married Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar´s uncle. One of the offspring of this marriage, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah is now the Saudi point man on Syria.

    There was no question that the Saudis wanted Gaddafi ousted; the Libyan dictator once ordered the assassination of the Saudi King. In the case of Syria, I think it’s somewhat less clear than Professor Mead describes, what the Saudis ultimately want.

    Whatever it is though, the Obama Administration will undoubtedly pay very close attention. It has been widely reported that because of his stance on Mubarak and his weak response to the Iranian threat, the Saudis are furious with Obama. Just in the last week, as the price of gasoline in the United States exceeds $4.00 per gallon we see Obama’s approval rating plummeting. If the Saudis decide to reduce oil supplies to teach Obama a lesson, to use a colloquialism, Obama’s toast. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the King Abudallah may hold Obama’s reelection prospects in the palms of his hands.

    What’s extraordinary to me is that as recently as three weeks ago, Hillary Clinton (Samantha Powers nominal boss) and Senator John Kerry (Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) were arguing that Bashar Assad was a “reformer.” It is simply mind-boggling that they could make this claim with a straight face.

    While the Israelis (who have more than enough problems on their plate) can be forgiven for being ambivalent about regime change in Syria, the overthrow of Assad and his replacement with a regime run by Sunnis (even if the worst comes true and it is a Sunni regime influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood)is decidedly in American interests.

    Things have been going terribly for the Obama Administration in the Middle East. Obama lost Lebanon when he let the victors in the Cedar Revolution crash and burn; Hezbollah has rearmed and is stronger than ever and their ally, Hamas, has won a modicum of legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Iran is as recalcitrant as ever and is marching steadily in the direction of becoming a nuclear state (incentivized in part by the Western decision to destroy a regime in Libya that had given up its nuclear weapons). In Egypt, a regime allied to the United States will be replaced by a regime that may or may not abrogate the Camp David accords but will clearly be less friendly to the United States and Israel than the Mubarak regime was. In Iraq, a violent conflict between Kurdish and Arab Iraqis appears inevitable once the Americans leave. In the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Obama Administration’s decision to focus on Israeli settlements has proven disastrous.

    Finally, at long last, with the recent events in Syria, the Obama Administration has drawn a positive hand, but it will undoubtedly turn out to be too mesmerized by ideology and feckless to take advantage of it.

    If Obama were even mildly competent, instead of focusing on developing a peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians that won’t work, he would be laboring overtime to make sure that the Assad regime falls.

    If the recent events prove anything, they prove that the belief by the Europeans and Obama himself that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is at the center of the problems in the Middle East is wrong.

    The right strategic move that advances both American values and American interests is to make sure Assad is relegated to the dustbin of history. Once that’s accomplished, the Administration should admit that the Condi Rice strategy of trying to forge an alliance between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations against Iran was the right approach and return to it.

    Libya is a distraction; so is the effort to forge a peace agreement that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are ready for. Assad’s weakness affords the United States the opportunity to finally win one in the Middle East.

    Alas, to do that would require a President who wasn’t so incompetent and misguided.

  • Tom Holsinger

    The worst threat from violent regime change in Syria is that Al Qaeda will obtain some of Syria’s biological weapons, particularly vaccination-resistant smallpox, during the chaos..

    Vaccination-resistant smallpox was developed, at least originally and in part, by the defunct Soviet Union. The USSR shared this research with Syria to some extent, and the Syrians developed it further. There are conflicting reports on how successful the Syrians have been, but it is known that they obtained more of the ex-USSR’s biological warfare research data, in general, after the USSR expired.

    Syria’s two Assad regimes have not been nihilistic. Islamic extremists are.

    Syria’s chemical weapons (nerve gas, etc.) are at most local threats due to distribution & use problems. Biological weapons are far worse, and those like vaccination-resistant smallpox are threats to civilization.

  • Kolya

    I don’t know that the Bashar Assads of this world have reasons to fear what the USA might do. We don’t seem to be fighting to win in Libya (doing so means killing Ghaddafi and his sons). The West in general seems to be a spent force in terms of willpower and a general paralysis induced by political correctness. Syria and Iran have misbehaved for a long time with little negative consequence. Why should they change now?

  • WigWag

    Does the Assad regime possess vaccine resistant smallpox as Tom Hoslinger (#8) suggests they do? Here’s an article from the “American Thinker” which suggests that they might.

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/06/the_threat_of_bioweapons.html

    As one expert on biological weapons put it; if a nation was to release vaccination resistant smallpox into the environment, we would be in the feeble position of fighting and incredibly potent and new form of small pox with a vaccine that was invented in 1791.

    We already know that Syria was attempting to develop nuclear weapons with the assistance of the North Koreans. Neither the Bush Administration nor the Obama Administration had the guts to do anything about it. It took the Israelis to bomb the Syrian nuclear facility in much the same way that they destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capability during the Reagan Administration (Reagan imposed limited economic sanctions on Israel for doing so.)

    Yet when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons development program the Administration demands that the Israelis do nothing despite the fact that it is increasingly apparent that the UN led sanctions regime is purely a cosmetic farce.

    One of the few things that could get the Iranians to rethink their nuclear strategy is if they lose their most important ally; Syria.

    Yet Obama refuses to help remove Assad the way he is helping to remove Gaddafi and he refuses to allow Israel to make the attempt, at least, to attack Iranian nuclear installations. When the Saudis tell Obama that his approach to Iran is feckless, the President turns a deaf ear.

    There it is, folks; “change you can believe in.”

  • Patrick

    There are at least three differences between the Libyan and Syrian situations which refute Prof Mead’s analysis:
    1. To my knowledge, no Syrian opposition leader, inside or outside the country has asked for help
    2. The Gulf Arab states have also been slow to ask for help, (and Aljazeera Arabic and Al Arabiya have been slow to cover the story)
    3. Even if intervention was expressly requested, there is as yet no “free” territory in Syria for a foreign force to defend

    They Syrian opposition is on its own, and while it appears to have the moral high ground, it will be extremely difficult to overcome an entrenched and violent regime.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Evaluation of the desirability of American and/or NATO intervention in overthrow of Syria’s current regime should include possible deterrents developed by said regime against overt foreign attempts at regime change. Apocalyptic biological warfare agents are an obvious such deterrent.

    Sure the reports of Syrian work on vaccination-resistant smallpox might have been disinformation, which is safer and easier to develop than the real thing. Risk assessment must, however, include the magnitude of risk as well as its likelihood.

    I see no need whatever for action by us to terminate the Assad regime. Junior has given too much up already for his regime to survive.

    It certainly would be desirable, however, to secure Syria’s WMD stocks, which we know include immense stocks of nerve gas, when the Alawite regime goes down. I would much rather use American military forces for that purpose, which means keeping them OUT of Libya, and ready for immediate use in Syria if suitable opportunities develop to nab their WMD.

  • Luke Lea

    Mead is of two minds. Maybe it would help if we developed a “modular” theory of revolution — a template for the peaceful transition to some form of constitutional, parliamentary government? Not sure which country — Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan — could supply the model, but it sure would be nice if the U.S. and Europe made it clear they would only lend support to non-tribal, non-violent (except in self-defense) protests leading to representative institutions.

  • Luke Lea

    Let me amend my suggestion above: the US and Europe should let it be known that they will only support non-violent protests in the Middle East for democratic reforms, but threaten to decapitate regimes that kill non-violent protesters. That would work. And we have the capacity.

  • Luke Lea

    Scratch my suggestions above. We don’t have the capacity to decapitate regimes. What was I thinking?

  • There is no question that the Assad regime is as bad as Mead says. The problem is that taking it out also carries a great risk that the Alawites and other minorities in Syria would be subject to retaliatory genocide. In a country so fraught with sectarian resentments, I wonder if its even possible to avoid massive bloodletting in the course of charting a post-Baathist Syria–a transition that must occur sooner or later.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Given Syria’s known massive WMD stocks, anything we do or don’t do concerning Syria should be done to further the interests of the American people, not the people of Syria. Syria’s WMD in terrorist hands would be a direct and immediate threat to the American people.

    I.e., political grandstanding here would be the height of irresponsibility. Syria is not a place for humanitarian fantasies. If ever a foreign issue called for cold-hearted realism, this is it.

    We know Syria has a major active WMD program. We inspected one of its nuclear weapons facilities courtesy of Israel, who occupied it a few years ago, and stole as much of it as they could carry off.

    We know Syria has thousands of chemical munition warheads and much larger stocks of the stuff. Unfortunate & fatal incidents involving those have sometimes been reported.

    And we know both that the Syrian WMD program includes biological weapons, and that Syria’s biological weapons program had material support from the USSR. Evaluation of Syria’s potential biological weapons stocks must therefore include what the USSR program contained.

    With that in mind, consider these two books:

    _Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox_, by Jonathan B. Tucker, and _Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World–Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It_ by Ken Alibek.

  • Bruce

    The odds of Obama intervening are low. We went in to Libya because it looked “easy.” This would not be easy and the potential for complications is great.

  • Luke Lea

    I disagree with WigWag — who is a very good writer, btw, almost as good as Mead 😉 — when he denies the Isaeli-Palestinian conflict is at the center of problems in the Middle East, problems for us that is. I do agree that Israel is not to blame for the situation. But then I don’t think the Arabs are to blame either. Europe is. Someday they may take responsibility, compensate the Palestinians, and pave the way to a just and lasting peace in the area.

  • Barry from Victoria

    Unless we in North America are directly attacked, or to establish safe zones for Christians, there is only one good reason for us to be in the Middle East- target practice. Otherwise it’s Europe’s problem. We have enough oil of our own, if we would only develop it. In the meantime our policy with regard to Islam in North America should be a mirror image of Islamic practice with regard to Christians in their territories. In other words we should allow as many mosques here as churches in Saudi Arabia.

  • Raed Kami

    Hands off Samantha Powers. She is a great humanitarian who will probably win the Nobel Peace Prize along with Judge Goldstone. The US needs Bashir Assad more than Assad needs the US. Obama knows that with the 2012 election coming up, he cannot follow up on his anticolonial opposition to zionism. Thus a strong Syria is required to check the zionists. All Bashir needs to do is hang on past november 2012, and Syria can replace israels “special” relationship with the US

  • Raam

    You Americans are so naive and such a bunch of useful idiots.
    Your Administration together with the powerful corrupt oil and car companies are using you and your taxes to keep them in power.

    Think about it for Gods sake, what would happen to the Arab world if you stop importing oil from OPEC?

    USA has the largest oil reserves in the world and also the most advanced alternative technologies for energy. Why are you not developing your oil fields? Why are you not developing your alternative energy sources?

    Why do you keep supporting the useless organization called the UN with good American taxpayers’ money if only 40% of the registered nations are democracies?

    Take a long hard look in the mirror and mind your own business before you meddle in matters that do not concern you. And if you ever want to help anyone, first do it at home then help your friends and not your enemies!!!

    American foreign policy has been a disaster since WWII and for what? Arab Oil? Wake up!!!

  • ThomasD

    All of your reasoning in support of regime change in Syria was operable when we chose to take out Saddam. At the time I thought it the next logical step in re-structuring the middle east to a region more amenable to western civilization. The left’s anti-war schtick, so painfully transparent now that one of their own is POTUS, effectively monkey wrenched that opportunity. Leaving us to ‘focus’ on the basket case that is Afghanistan. Now we must deal with the consequences of that missed opportunity.

    I do not hold out much hope that the Obama administration will either do the right thing, or even succeed in whatever path they choose to take.

  • 11235813213455

    Re: Raam
    Don’t think that there aren’t Americans that agree with you. I happen to be one.

    I agree with your rhetorical question about importing oil from OPEC. These countries have squandered the money they’ve earned from the sale of their oil. When they run out, they’re going to be condemed to an eternity of poverty and strife.

    I would like to believe that we’ve got a secret reason for developing US oil fields. I hope that the plan is to buy up all the Arab oil first. After they run dry, we develop our own and leave them to their fate. Unfortunatley, I don’t think our politicians are that smart, but they may be doing this inadvertently and accidently by keeping oil and nuclear power from being developed in the US.

    As for the UN, there’s a lot of Americans that think it’s hopelessly corrupt organization and would like nothing less than for the US to withdraw and kick them off US soil, or at lease sharply reduce funding the UN with US taxpayer dollars.

    As for your MYOB foreign policy comment, again there are lots of us that are screaming for this. The Libya operation, or humanitarian intervention, or whatever Orwellian label we’re giving it, has been a complete farce and a strategic blunder, which is fast becoming clear with the recent developments in Syria.

    You wouldn’t by chance want to run for US president as a Republican in 2012, would you? You’d have my vote 🙂

  • Angelo Rombola

    Another war? And who pays for this one? France & Britain got us (somehow) to pull their chestnuts out of the Libyan fire, but Syria? Since we’re already far down the line to being mercenaries, and aware that we’re the only country able to run a war more than 30 days (before running out of ammo) who stands to benefit the most from Syria’s troubles: Iran’s enemy Saudi Arabia. So let’s be true mercenaries and get the Saudis to pay for our military in any attacks on Syria.What the hell, they’re only American (mostly non-muslim) lives being put on the line.

  • Bill Johnson

    If it’s bad for America, O[darn it — ed]will do it. If it’s good for America, not a chance.

    It’s really that simple.

  • koblog

    “For the Obama administration, the prospect of making the painful choice between war in Syria or genocide in Syria cannot be welcome.”

    Prof Mead, you make the mistake of thinking that Samantha Powers wants to avoid war. Just because Rahm “Never let a crisis go to waste” Emanuel is now mayor of Chicago doesn’t mean the White House isn’t still taking full advantage of any given crisis to advance their anti-US agenda.

    Obama cozies up to — or outright supports — every other leftist dictator in the world (see Brazil).

    You have to view Obama, Powers and H.Clinton through a very uncomfortable lens…one that doesn’t seek the best for America first and is very willing to allow people to die if it helps Obama.

  • Anthony

    ‘Syria/Middle East’ historical region and contested area of influence long before Mediterranean trade; resource, strategic geography, and post World War II arrangements within region now conspire to challenge “the logic of our interests as well as our duty to protect.” U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Syria/Mediterranean/Middle East remains undergirded by international economics (i.e. U.S./West) adapting to deteriorating relations in political/social structures set up after World War II.

  • Kohl Haas

    In thinking about Syria, the US needs to stop thinking about being in 3 wars already; it is not. It is in one war with three fronts/battles (so far) and it needs to start thinking about a real Grand Strategy for that war, supposedly the subject of WRM’s course at Bard. How Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, individually are fought are tactical considerations in a much larger problem which does need strategic thinking.

    Our strategic objective should be survival and not get ourselves sidetracked with trying to impose democracy on people who do not want it in countries which are constructs of past colonial regimes. Nor should we expend our resources on humanitarian missions on the other side of the world in unfriendly countries; we tried that in Somalia.

    Barack Obama; Harvard Law School
    Hillary Clinton; Yale Law School
    Samantha Powers; Harvard Law School

    Our foreign policy is run by Ivy League lawyers – no wonder it is a mess. Not exactly the qualifications or breadth of experience one needs running foreign policy. Personally, I never, ever have a lawyer negotiate for me – they draw up the contracts and add the legal and regulatory requirements after the negotiations are finished.

    Lawyers learn to operate under a set of rules and confront opponents operating under the same set of rules and the confrontations have a referee up on the bench.

    For meeting someone such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad there are no rules and no referee; Mahmoud took off Barack’s socks without ever untying his shoes and Barack did not even know it.

    Raam is right; our foreign policy is foolish and naive. We do not need Ivy League lawyers running our foreign policy, we need Tony Soprano.

    Syria may have been Iran’s major ally but shortly Iraq will take its place; that transition is well on its way to becoming an Iranian satellite. Al-Maliki, a Shiite, could not form a government for eight months then made a trip to Tehran, met with Ahmadinejad, the Mullahs, and al-Sadr. He came back to Baghdad and had his government two weeks later and al-Sadr returned to Baghdad. Al-Maliki then started insisting that all US troops would be out of Iraq by year-end 2011. Pretty obvious the deal that was struck.

    What seems to be missed is that Tehran had another visitor at the same time, for his ninth visit of the year: Hugo Chavez, and Iran is now building missile bases Venezuela. For some reason, I do not think those missiles will be pointed at Brazil.

    So we have the nice situation of Iran with an Iraqi satellite, the president of Yemen making a deal to leave, Bahrain weakening, Egypt neutralized as an ally and making overtures to Hamas in Gaza. By next year, Saudi Arabia will be surrounded by Shiites and no local allies and we shall be confronted with missiles based in Venezuela.

    If I were advising Ahmadinejad I would tell him to make his move in late August after our political conventions when the campaign is in full cry and it is 130 F in the Middle East. Invade Saudi Arabia with your Shiite friends and tell the Nobel Peace Prize winner if he does anything you will take out Houston and Atlanta for starters.

    What we should tell our own troops in Iraq is that they will not embark for home in Basra or Kuwait; we shall pick them up in Beirut. March west, gentlemen, and bring out or destroy Assad’s WMD on the way.

  • steveb

    We’ve found our exit strategy for Iraq, north and west, through bekaa, then jump on a boat and go home.

  • Jack

    But,…but Hillary Clinton said that Assad was a reformer! What, do you mean the Obama administration was wrong?

    Assad was visited by Nancy Pelosi in 2007. Why would she visit such a horrible regime?

    I was told that Obama was a genius by, well everybody. You mean that isn’t true?

  • A great admirer of your writing generally, but the idea of the US intervening in Syria or Libya is madness. Saddam needed to be overthrown simply because he maintained himself in power by making aggressive war. He was a source of instability.Three missiles would have done the trick. The US played a role in nationbuilding or rebuilding after WW2 when the defeated enemies were helpless and discredited. As a nation the US is not capable of willfully murdering the numbers you have to kill in Iraq and Syria to even begin the process of creating a nation out of the tribes and religious differences represented. This is without consideration of the consequences for these actions on the American people. In addition, we have a failed state to our south with millions attempting to come to America, undermining the working world of Americans, distorting our social contract. We cannot much longer ignore this shocking abandonment of law and reason. We need to repair our House, we need a new strategic vision, a vastly reconfigured military, that emphasizes naval mobility, the Marines, a completely reorganized Army and a real national defense instead of the cartoon represented by DHS. We need to be out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq, deep in the Persian Gulf and we need a Navy that snuffs the piracy in the Indian Ocean.

  • Barbara Skolaut

    “Will Samantha Powers bomb yet another country in the region, or will she try to sleep nights with the blood of thousands of Syrians on her hands?”

    Whaddya mean “try”? She’ll have no problem at all.

    Do you think she’s having trouble sleeping now, with the blood of Libyans (and probably others) on her hands?

  • Tom Holsinger

    Things are going along nicely without us.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/04/24/%e2%80%9call-the-assad-posters-are-gone%e2%80%9d/

    “All the Assad Posters Are Gone

    Michael Rubin 04.24.2011 – 11:53 AM

    I just got off the phone with a contact who drove from Syria to Jordan—a frightening trip, he said, as he got pulled out at a checkpoint by masked security officers and barely talked his way out of a far worse situation. The road to Jordan and all the small towns along the way are normally dotted with smiling portraits of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria. Every single mural has been taken down or defaced, my contact said. What’s going on now in Syria appears to be full-scale rebellion.

    Tragically, it is a rebellion in a vacuum. If the media catalyzed revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, Bashar al-Assad is determined to ensure they fail to do the same in Syria. In the last few days, journalists from BBC, Reuters, and elsewhere have been arrested and expelled. It seems that Assad is preparing to do something he prefers the world not see. Something tells me what he plans to do will not justify Secretary of State Clinton’s description of him as a reformer.”

  • Anthony

    As I understand WRM’s exposition, he neither advocates nor contests Syrian intervention while calling for reconstructing U.S. foreign policy in oil rich Middle East. WRM provides background for reader to examine basis from which the Middle East and Persian Gulf region remains an American sphere of interest as quickening change envelops 20th century social/political arrangements. History, commerce, power, interest, people, obligation, and hegemony all shed light on war in Syria next.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    It is well within the possibility that regime change in Syria would be of great benefit to the United States. However, it does not follow that it would be to the benefit of the Obama regime and his allies. The two entities are not identical, and the former is subordinate to the latter.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Porkov

    There was a lot of traffic into Syria from Iraq leading up to Desert Storm. How eager to you think this administration is to discover (or reveal) whether or not co-Baathist Assad provided cover for Saddam Hussein by warehousing WMD until the unpleasantness blew over?

  • J. Pulley

    Mr. Mead, you are unusually blinkered today. The plain goal and evident organizing principle of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is the weakening of the United States.

    Attacking Libya diminishes us. We incur all the moral cost of war and spread our resources that much thinner, all to no national benefit even if the adventure goes well. Of course, Mr. Obama conducts our involvement to optimize our decline.

    You make a nice case for dealing roughly with Assad and his administration. I’m especially amused by the emphasis you give its consistency with the Obama administration’s arguments for our Libyan involvement. If you value logical consistency I suggest you begin again from the principle I stated above.

    Changing the regime in Syria via military means is the single most effective and humane action available today to the United States in its dealings with the middle east. Syria is a brittle keystone in the decrepit edifice of dictators and the “Arab street” – pull it out and things will get brighter throughout the region. I doubt Mr. Obama is so churlish as to weigh negatively the lives of those who live there, but I doubt he could stomach the complementary improvement in America’s lot. I don’t think we’ll be working against Assad any time soon.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Jonathan Rubenstein #32:

    We don’t have to massacre the troublesome ethnics ourselves. We only have to break up their militias and let their loving neighbors massacre them. It’s the Middle Eastern way! That is how we won the Iraq occupation campaign.

    FYI, we had dispersed Iraq’s urban Sunni Arab militias (for fighting us) so they couldn’t resist when the Shiite majority went totally medieval on them after the Al Aska Mosque bombing. And we gave the Shiite death squads access to the urban Sunni Arab enclaves.

    The results show up in UN refugee statistics if you care to look. Iraq’s Sunni Arab urban enclaves (excepting those in Kurdish areas, and the southern ones where Al Qaeda/Baathist terrorists did not operate) were depopulated, aka ethnically cleansed, in a few months. Their inhabitants fled either to their rural tribal roots, or to Syria and Jordan.

    The Sunni Arab rural tribes switched sides when they did more to the horrid example of their imminent fate posed by the arrival of their former urban cousins than to the “Surge”.

    I predicted this in October 2003 here:

    http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/000849.html#003954

    “… Unreconciled Sunni Arabs in Iraq will have the following choices once our occupation ends – (a) becoming reconciled, (b) becoming gone or (c) becoming dead.”

    You can also read a description of the then-ongoing ethnic cleansing here:

    http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/iraq/articles/20060918.aspx

    “… September 18, 2006: The worst trends of the week include; Sunni Arabs fleeing the country, corruption in the police, Shia and Kurd death squads, government corruption and Sunni Arab terrorism. The Sunni Arabs are getting out of Iraq because the Kurd and Shia, especially the Shia, death squads are operating more frequently in formerly “safe” Sunni Arab areas.”

    The deep dark fear of Middle Eastern ethnic groups, particularly in Arab areas, is massacre by their neighbors. This fear is justified.

    Most events in the world do not happen because the United States make them happen. Things happen even if they aren’t reported in American media and newspapers.

  • Kohl Haas

    The United States is involved with three major confrontations in the world (Islam, Drugs, China) and finances both sides in all of them. Really stupid. An old adage applies: “Follow the Money”.

    The road to Tehran runs through Caracas. For dealing with Iran, we need to start with Hugo Chavez. A simple phone call with the news that “as of close of business next Wednesday we are not buying any more of your oil. Neither is anyone else”. Hang up.

    With no income Chavez won’t last 90 days and he will not be able to support his pals in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, or Argentina – and they will fade.

    Several decades ago American oil companies made a deal with the Venezuelan government that they would build refineries specially designed to process Venezuelan oil; the other side of the commitment was that Venezuela had to sell its oil to those refineries. Chavez realizes his problem and is slowly financing and building refineries in countries not much concerned with international agreements – mostly in the Caribbean and now in Vietnam. But until those are finished he cannot sell it much of anywhere else. We need to take action before he has other options.

    After Venezuela collapses, the next call would be to Mahmoud in Tehran to the effect that “as of the close of business next Wednesday we are establishing a gate at the Straits of Hormuz. No tankers will pass without a permit. Permits will be issued based on the source of oil and the tanker destination. You get no permits”. Hang up.

    Put a $25 per barrel tax on all oil not going to the US; if people think we are an empire, we should act like one. Tax it. We need the money, the Navy is expensive. Message to Europe and Japan: No more free ride on your oil supplies. Render unto Caesar what is Caeser’s.

    Do not worry about political stability in the producing countries, they are mostly phony countries anyway and whoever runs them will make deals to sell the oil; they are too greedy not to. And they will scramble to undercut their neighbors and bring the price down.

    Can anyone imagine anyone in our Administration taking this action?

  • gracepmc

    The fact that the likes of Samantha Power has risen to any position of weight still astonishes me and argues against any reasonably logical foreign policy in the ME at all. And as a conservative I am equally astonished that my position is that because we have made such a mess of our kinetic military action in Libya, I have no confidence that this Administration is capable of steadily executing any acceptable foreign policy action with a clearly defined objective. I have read, but am not banking on, that the brave Syrian opposition is asking for our moral support but not intervention. I wish I could say that I had confidence that this Administration is capable of providing support on any level that would be more helpful than harmful in the end. Sucks for Obama to have to deal with foreign policy mid campaign.

  • Peter

    Mr. Mead,

    Good analysis on Syria, but you throw around the term ‘genocide’ a bit too freely.

  • Dima

    I am from Syria ….
    I would like to clarify some points …that many of people don’t know .
    I can say that it’s all about money and boarders …
    The only way that Mr.Obama can go out the economical situation in USA is to start a new war in the Middle East and make us pay for it under the name of helping people in Syria ..
    Second – Israel and USA want to get rid of the Al Assad and bring the Muslim brotherhood instead …ask me why??
    1-they will brake the relation between Iran,Syria and Hizbullah and weakness the three of them ..because there are no good relations between the SONA( Muslim brotherhood) and SHIAA (IRAN) .
    2-Syria is going to be weak ..because a civilian war will start if that happens .
    3-Isreal will have a good reason to attack Syria each day under the name of the terrorist of Islamic country.
    Please don’t be fool and believe lies .

    1- there is nothing called AL-Qaida..ask me why???..where is OSAMA BIN LADEN??he hasn’t appeared since all of these wars in the Middle East .. he didn’t say a word..can u believe it?? he has just disappeared ..we just hear AL Qaida ..with no one to lead them ..wasn’t America able to get him throw all of these years ..
    2- people are killed each day in Israel ..kids women …more than the people where killed in the Middle East these days ..
    America didn’t say a word or do any thing ..aren’t they Human beings too??
    3-Look what happened in Iraq after Saddam ..are they in a better situation now than before ..the American armies are there what have they done to make a better Iraq???
    PLS DON’T LET THEM FOOL YOU AND FOOL US THEY ARE KILLING YOUR CHILDREN AND OURS IN THE NAME OF MAKING A BETTER WORLD …FOR WHOM???
    WHY SHOULD AN AMERICAN OR EUROPIAN SOLDIER BE KILLED TO SAVE AN ARABIC PERSON WHO MAY HAVE NEVER SEEN???
    PLS

  • Karl

    An excellent insight, Professor Mead, regarding the implications of the Syrian situation vis-a-vis the Powers “Duty to Protect” doctrine. If Syria continues to worsen, and no action to deal the the “reformer” Assad is proposed, then the hypocrisy of Powers et al will be starkly revealed. A delicious prospect.

  • Sara

    Will Syria be the next Libya?

    Russia Today, April 29, 2011

    War correspondent and author Keith Harmon Snow explained America is over-involved in Arab interventions and routinely applies hypocritical practices on other nations to benefit an American agenda.

    “There’s a program behind this that has to do with unseating different government around the world to serve American interests,” he said. “Most importantly are the extraction of raw materials from these countries.”

    Snow argued US and other western interests, namely oil, are behind the increase in interventions.

    “These are CIA backed, or Mossad backed, intelligence backed operatives, covert forces, involved in creating the violence in Syria,” Snow said. “The violence that has been created there is not from the people. This is not pro-democracy. This has been instigated by the outside interventionist forces.”

    “The interveners are the problem, not the government or the people. The threat in the region is not Syria or other Arab states,” Snow contended – “the threat is Israel.”
    Last edited by marxist; 04-29-2011 at 05:08 AM

  • ahmad shamsin

    whats happening in Syria has been supported and instigated by outside “forces/countries”,,,actually the overwhelming majority of syrian people like Bashar and support him. keeping bashar under increasing international pressure will eventualy lead to an all out war that would engolf the middle east and most likely turn into a nuclear disaster. so everyone should stop and think twice ,,,syria is not Libya

  • ٍSyrian

    fool steps
    usa think syria like libya
    we can eat the stones when someone try to touch our motherland
    it’s the end of amirca exist
    u think , if amirca can defeat syria it would happen long time ago ,
    we say wellcome for any incomming war
    we can say good bye usa in middle east
    we wait the moment to clean the middle east
    they are sending terrorist groups from more then 10 countries to syria
    and support them with money and weapons to kill the people
    but we are strong we will show usa allies who is syria
    they are playing with fire 😉
    we born to die
    we prmoise that any stupied attack comes to syria we will crash israil in 1 hour and then start cleaning USA millitary bases
    usa are far away it’s not usa land let usa get out of our land
    it’s over we need fredoom
    if usa comes to syria it will fight 23 million
    not only the army so if usa start the war
    we will not stop till we clean middle east completely

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Syrian: There have been many reports that the Syrian government is paying people to represent it on the internet. I’m not sure they are getting good value for the money!

  • Jake

    This entire aticle was written for the sole reason to promote war with another arab nation, which poses no threat whatsoever to the United States.
    Look at the propaganda used in this attempted farce at journalism:
    – Syria’s downfall may prevent war with Iran.
    – North Korea offered to help Syria develope a bomb (absurd).
    – (This one is complete fabrication) Regime change in Syria would lead to peace among Israel and Palestine.
    The US is in debt. We all know this. War cost money which we don’t have, and lives of our own citizens. Ask those in the military if they want another war and I would bet that well over 75% would say no.
    If Syria poses no threat to the US beyond the possibility, which is mere speculation, that the Assad regime houses terrorist organizations, it isn’t enough to invade yet another Middle-Eastern nation adding to our unsurmountable debt.
    Honestly, does the average American believe war with Syria should even be discussed by congress considering all of our domestic problems here in our own country. I think not. The author of this piece is a war-hawk, blinded by war rhetoric, without a doubt.

  • Bob Licks

    I honestly believe that it will mostly play out like Libya. But with very little western intervention, the situtation could lead to more civil wars because I’m sure the current Alawite lead Ba’ath Party and other Aliwites in the country who have gained enormous wealth during the rule of the Assads don’t want to be oppressed by the Sunni’s. Like before Assads bloodless military coup against a Sunni lead gov. back in 1963.

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