The Syria Question
|September 1, 2013||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Editorials|
There are good reasons for the U.S.A. to intervene to stop the use of chemical warfare in Syria and help the rebels, and good reasons to avoid intervention. The reasons for avoiding U.S. military action are better, but much depends on how it is done.
The reasons why the USA should intervene are: (1) chemical weapons inflict greater and more horrible individual harm and mass destruction than other arms; (2) the president drew a “red line,” and doing nothing would damage the credibility and influence of the US government; (3) a victory by the current regime of Syria would strengthen the government of Iran in its conflicts with the US and its allies; (4) the territories held by the moderate rebels are distinct from those of the supremacist tyrants, and US aid could be focused on the moderates; (5) many Syrians want the U.S. to help defend them and defeat the regime and ask how a society that believes in human rights can stand by and do nothing, when it is able to help.
The better reasons why the USA should not intervene were laid out in a 7 August 2013 Cato Institute “Policy Analysis” article, “Arms and Influence in Syria: The Pitfalls of Greater U.S. Involvement,” by Erica Borghard. The article argues that intervention will not remain limited. History shows how an initial intervention breeds ever greater involvement, and Americans are unwilling to commit to a large scale war campaign in Syria. Moreover, the ability of Syria to resist American invasive action is much greater than was that of Lybia. Enforcing a no-fly zone would require a substantial military effort, while the Syrian regime would be able to continue attacks with artillery. Lesser amounts of U.S. aid would not stop the war.
There are ways the U.S. could help without military action. The U.S. should admit Syrians who are able to flee the war. This could be done under the “Humanitarian Parole Program” of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Parole is currently under a discretionary authority on a case-by-case basis. It does not constitute permanent admission into the USA. This program is currently used sparingly, but it could be expanded to allow asylum to all peaceful Syrian refugees.
Secondly, the U.S. could promote a further recognition of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate temporary government of Syria. In 2013 the National Coalition selected a prime minister and president, and extended membership to representatives of the Free Syrian Army. The National Coalition should in turn establish a constitution that would promote genuine democracy and liberty for Syria, including protection and self-governance for minorities such as the Kurds and Assyrians. Several Arab and European countries, and the U.S. in December 2012, have already recognized the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The National Coalition was given membership in the Arab League in March 2013.
Third, the U.S. and other countries, as well as the opposition groups, should be willing to engage in negotiations with the Syrian regime.
The U.S. can aid the rebels indirectly by providing goods to Arab countries that are aiding the moderate opposition. If the U.S. administration does initiate military action, it should only do so with the explicit consent of Congress, with a declaration of war. The U.S. should only act with the backing of the general assembly of the United Nations and the approval of the Arab League. By seeking backing from Congress and international players, the president could overcome his previously declared “red line” as being conditional on support from the people and their representatives. At any rate, the president should avoid any further colored lines. It is better to remain flexible, for in war, entry is easier than exit.
Syria has ways of striking back at U.S. intervention. The regime could direct its allies in Lebanon to strike at Israel. The Syrian regime could also strike back with electronic attacks originating in their ally, Russia. War is no longer territorial, as globally connected communications and computers have made us vulnerable to attack from all sections of the planet.
The calamity of Syria can be traced back to World War I, whose anniversary falls in 2014. The Turkish Empire foolishly entered into war with the western allies, failing to recognize how vulnerable it was to political collapse. Syria as well as Iraq and Palestine were all within the Turkish empire, and should have stayed there. But the greedy chiefs of the United Kingdom and France sought to expand their colonial empires as their last imperialist land grab. France got Lebanon and Syria, while the U.K. got Iraq and Palestine, including Jordan after it got split off from western Palestine.
France then failed to establish a deep-rooted democracy in Syria, which achieved independence in 1946. The Ba’athist part took control in 1963; since then, its Emergency Law has eliminated constitutional liberties. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad became the head of state. On his death, his son, Bashar al-Assad, became president.
The Syrians would have been better off if they had practiced civil disobedience rather than a violent rebellion. The whole Arab Spring has gone awry because the movement has not been sufficiently grounded in decentralized democracy and a respect for universal human rights.
Now it seems that the U.S. executive branch will initiate military action. The U.K. parliament rejected it, but France may join in, making the action not totally unilateral. Many of the troubles that plagued the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan will visit us again. I suggest a little honesty here, to rename the Department of Defense to the Department of War, and to include all the costs of war in the U.S. federal budget rather than making it “off budget,” so that we could at least have a calculation of the cost. As to the benefit of this intervention, we will not know until its 100th anniversary.