Politics

06.13.12

We're Going to War With Syria

You need to be following this if you aren't. These new Russia developments are profoundly alarming.This is a question of when, not if, in my view.

In 1982, Assad pere massacred 20,000 of his own people in Hama. We did nothing. The main reason, I think, was the Cold War. Syria was then a Soviet ally, and in those days of very high tensions (before Gorby) you didn't go around kicking up dust that might potentially turn nuclear. An ancillary reason was that the belief that preventing slaughter was part of the advanced world's job existed only on the human-rights fringes in those days. The scales, then, were tilted about 90 percent toward "direct threat to national security" and 10 percent to "responsibility to prevent mass death."

We live in a different world. The difference can be overstated. I would not say it's now 90-10 in the other direction. Or even 50-50. But it's more like, in my estimation, about 65-35 national security to humanitarian responsibility. That's a considerable change. The development of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine in recent times may have nudged the scales a bit further.

In sum, I don't believe that we live in a world anymore where a Hama can happen and the Western powers do nothing. More than 14,000 have died in Syria so far, says the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The difference between that and Hama is that the current slaughter is happening slowly. But one of these days, and perhaps wth the aid of Russian attack helicopters, the regime will really cut loose. And the West will have to do...something.

With all the usual caveats about not knowing what will come next, we'd be well rid of Assad. Hezbollah might collapse, without Syria as a conduit for arms from Iraq. Lebanon might be able to breathe free air. Iran would find itself more isolated. All depending on what comes next, of course, which is a big question, but the potential upside of a post-Assad Syria is great indeed.

I should note that Israel sees things differently, taking a devil-we-know approach, and obviously Israel's interests are going to be taken into account to some degree by any US administration. But the US has different interests here. Assad is indeed a threat to US security, albeit an indirect one, because of his alliance with Iran. Combining that with the humanitarian impulse will likely outweight Israel's concerns.

So some version of war is looking more and more inevitable to me. I'd say next year, under either Obama or Romney, something will happen. That's another thing to think about--whether you want Secretary of State John Bolton calling these shots. He'll be pushing at the same time to get Georgia into NATO, a disastrous policy that will destroy that organization, which is to say he'll be itching for war with Russia anyway so we might as well get on with it and start the new Cold War.

But I disgress. This is serious stuff. Obviously, Obama's not going to want to get entangled in anything this year with the election looming. But get ready for the march to Damascus, or at least bombs over Damascus, in 2013.