Explain Syria to Me

I’ve been listening to the Sunday morning talking heads programs and the more I hear people say what they think we should be doing with respect to Syria the more difficult I find it to figure out what the heck they’re thinking. Basically, I’ve heard the following strategies advocated:

  1. Assad must go; we should train and arm the “moderate rebels”. (the Obama Administration)
  2. We should create a “no fly” zone in northern and western Syria. (Hillary Clinton)
  3. We should create a “no fly” zone, arm the Kurds, arm the “moderate rebels”, and have forward air controllers. (John McCain)
  4. “Boots on the ground”. (AEI)

My own view is that we shouldn’t be arming, training, or supplying any opposition forces, that we should attempt to maintain a low profile, and that we should be grateful that Russia doing the heavy lifting. Assad is lousy but anybody in his regime will be just as bad and the present regime is the most acceptable among unacceptable alternatives. No president should say that, of course.

Can someone who holds one of the other positions please explain it to me?

31 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Not my view, but I think the Administration’s p.o.v. is pretty clear. They believe ISIS gains its strength from non-radicalized Sunnis being forced between choosing an inhumane government that commits mass atrocities against populations that it believes are harboring anti-government forces, and ISIS, which itself contributes to cycles of communal retribution.

    They expressly do not want someone in Assad’s regime to take over for Assad because they believe he will be just as bad.

    They believe Assad has fundamentally lost control of the country and will never regain control.

  • KellyHall Link

    How about:
    5. “Not our circus, not our monkeys.” – do what we can to firm up the border to limit the spread of the fighting, offer humanitarian assistance for the refugees, and let events take their course.

    I’m concerned that we’re getting dangerously close to being in conflict with Russia. Is Assad / Syria worth that? Not for the US. Maybe those crack Saudi/CCW troops want to get involved?

  • PD,

    But the problem with the Administration’s position is that removing Assad from power is likely to create conditions that will empower ISIS rather than isolate it. They already have more firepower than the so-called “moderate” rebels, who we can’t really seem to trust in any case, and the chaos that would follow a collapse in Damascus would be something that could easily exploit for greater gain. In that situation, many of the so-called “moderate” rebels may just decide to throw their lot in with the side that appears to be winning rather than risk being targeted themselves.

    I think Dave largely gets the proper policy correct. We shouldn’t be doing very much in Syria at all, and we certainly shouldn’t be trying to bring about Assad’s downfall at this point. One would have thought that Iraq and Libya would have taught us what happens when a strongman is removed from power in a nation that has long existed in name only to begin with.

  • ... Link

    Dave, I’ve been advocating your position for at least a couple of years now, I think. We obviously don’t know what we’re doing, so we should sit the he’ll down and shut the fuck up. (And to be clear, I mean pretty much everyone in charge of the country doesn’t know what they’re doing. Obama is awful, but so is everyone else.)

  • Ken Hoop Link
  • In reference to your first link, Ken, Putin has been staking out a position for himself as the hero of Orthodoxy for some time.

  • I think it’s interesting to reflect on what the effect of a “no fly” zone over parts of Syria presently held by DAESH would be. IMO it would be to strengthen the hand of whoever has the strongest position on the ground and that, of course, would be DAESH. The part that I don’t understand is why we would want to do that.

    I’m also skeptical that there are bright line distinctions among the various groups of radical Sunni Islamists, a fundamental assumption of the Obama Administration’s policy.

  • steve Link

    I trust you saw this, as a Russian perspective on what is happening. While we are doing more in Syria than I think we should, let’s not forget the alternative if the GOP takes over foreign policy.

    “However, in recent months, the Israeli government and its American neoconservative allies have been floating trial balloons regarding whether Al Qaeda could be repackaged as Sunni “moderates” and become a de facto U.S. ally in achieving a “regime change” in Syria, ousting President Bashar al-Assad who has been near the top of the Israeli/neocon hit list for years.

    A key neocon propaganda theme has been to spin the conspiracy theory that Assad and the Islamic State are somehow in cahoots and thus Al Qaeda represents the lesser evil. Though there is no evidence to support this conspiracy theory, it was even raised by Charlie Rose in his “60 Minutes” interview last Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The reality is that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have both been leading the fight to destroy the secular Assad government, which has fought back against both groups.”


  • Since I keep up with the Russian language news media, I’m usually fairly up-to-date on the Russian point of view on events. My opinion of Russian foreign policy is that the Russians are the consummate foreign policy realists. Putin’s high approval rating gives him considerable latitude in his foreign policy moves and nearly everything he’s done has been completely in accord with Russian public opinion.

  • Andy Link


    It doesn’t make any sense to me. The arguments seem to be that Assad’s brutality was the catalyst for the current conflict and continues to fuel the current conflict. Therefore, Assad needs to go or the conflict will continues.

    I think that argument has some merit if they are literally just talking about Assad the man. If they are talking about the Baathist, Syrian government, then they are crazy. It’s not clear which they are talking about, though I suspect the latter. You don’t try to raise an army to militarily defeat and overthrow a government if what you really want is a coup.


    I’m not familiar with peacekeeper.ru but it sounds like BS to me. Turning AQ into moderates? No one I know who is involved in the conflict (and I know several) is saying anything of the sort.

  • TastyBits Link

    After Iraq and Libya, it is impossible to not understand the reality of regime change. One must intentionally suspend all contact with reality to continue believing one’s fantasy. There is no way to convince any of these people that what they propose will not work or that it will cause more problems than solve.

    I asked my dogs if regime change in Syria was a good idea, and they just looked at me like I am stupid with their heads turned. Even they know it means fubar’ing a country or region, and they ain’t that smart.

  • ... Link

    TB, let’s put your dog’s in charge of foreign policy.

  • You know it’s better to have dogs that look at you with their heads cocked to one side like you’re crazy than a president.

  • ... Link

    That would make an awesome tweet!

  • Ken Hoop Link


    Well into the article an Israel military man says Hezbollah is still the
    worst threat to Israel, more powerful than in 2006.
    Moscow-Damascushezb-Tehran-the axis of Palestinian liberation.
    That should explain some of commentors’ confusion regards USraeli policy.

  • TastyBits Link


    I am terribly fearful for the hounds. They are full breed chihuahuas, but we do not have any papers for them. If Donald Trump is elected president, he will deport them to Mexico.

  • Andy Link


    Hezbollah is a huge threat to Israel, but not in a military sense. Hezbollah is able to strike at Israel’s identity and has the potential to destroy Israel from within.

  • right on the money. Russia is protecting vital national interests given its minority Moslem populations, the war in Chechnya, and terrorism on a horrific scale in Russia — but Assad also has been a military ally of Russia for decades. Everything they (Russians) are doing is legal, everything the US and its “moderates” (weren’t there four or five, no doubt now down to none?) is illegal under international law. How do we get the gall to stand up and act offended because somebody is doing what they won’t do (destroy the terrorists) even if they aren’t doing it for us? We’re on the wrong side of the law, but we’re so noisily indignant. What the hell happened to the US of A?

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