Name Your Poison

by Dave Schuler on July 5, 2014

When I read about the idea that the Obama Administration was considering changing course and backing Assad in Syria my immediate reaction was

Which of the following choices is the worst course of action?

  1. Back the rebels, Assad is defeated and replaced by an Islamist regime.
  2. Back the rebels but Assad remains.
  3. Back Assad and Assad defeats the rebels quickly.
  4. Back Assad and Assad defeats the rebels slowly.
  5. Back the rebels, Assad remains, and then you back Assad.
  6. Wait for the whole thing to blow over.

You may propose other alternatives. Note that I don’t include an alternative for Assad being removed and replaced by a liberal democratic government because that was not going to happen in any event.

What would the best course of action have been?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy July 5, 2014 at 11:24 am

The other alternative is that neither side wins and the civil war continues indefinitely until the parties tire of slaughter.

TastyBits July 5, 2014 at 11:36 am

Without a large combat ready, ground based force, there is little any of this matters, and since this is unlikely to occur, choice F would be best.

You left out the choice for a negotiated settlement between Assas and the good rebels. I believe the tooth fairy was going to mediate the negotiations.

I could offer several solutions. None of them would be acceptable to most people, and each would be more abhorrent than the last.

What will happen is that the situation will drag on for years while everybody fights over what should be done and who is to blame. In the end, the violence will subside into a manageable level, and everybody will lose interest until a slow news day.

Dave Schuler July 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Speaking as someone whose instinctual reaction is towards F, I think it has pros and cons. On the pro side, you’re not spending anything or losing any soldiers. On the con side, you’re not influencing events and you’ve ceded any possible initiative.

steve July 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Backing either of those two sides is a bad option.

Steve

jan July 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm

There are no good choices here. The time to have made a difference was early on. Now, helping one side is as bad, with possible onerous outcomes, as helping the other.

TastyBits July 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Let me put this another way. The only real option is F. All the other options are window dressing that make the option taker feel good, but they all end up at F.

michael reynolds July 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Tasty:

Yeah, there is no desire on the part of the Americans people for anything but F. Mr. Bush shot our wad, we broke it, (or at least added to the existing breakage) and we are not going to fix it.

Jimbino July 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Whenever Muslims are kept busy killing each other, the world is a happier place.

mike shupp July 5, 2014 at 9:18 pm

G. Some sort of partition.

Dave Schuler July 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm

mike:

At this point partition isn’t a realistic option, either. Who’s going to impose such a partition? Us? How?

Right now the Sunni Arabs and the Shi’ite Arabs each want a unified Iraq on their own terms. As long as that’s the case there is no way the country can be partitioned. I’m also not as sanguine as some about a free Kurdistan but that’s another subject.

... July 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm

H. Back the Turks (or someone else NOT US) in an effort to reimpose an empire on that region, and let them deal with the shit.

I was surprised that you let the 100 year anniversary of the death of Archduke Ferdinand pass without comment last weekend. Which suggests option

I. invent a time machine and stop the execution of Archduke Ferdinand.

I mean, hey, if we’re going to suggest whacky shit that will never happen (options C, D, E, G & H), why not go all out?

mike shupp July 5, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Dave:

We’re talking Syria, remember. Not Iraq.

I’d suggest a UN call for a ceasefire between Assad and the rebels, with a firm line of troops between the two factions, probably accompanied by some resettlements. In effect, partition. I’m of two minds about whom the peacekeeping forces should be — I’m 50% of the opinion they should be Swedes and Japanese and Australians and Brazilians or such, 50% convinced they should be from “neutral” Moslem states such as Morocco, Indonesia, and Bengladesh, and 50% persuaded they should be from Iran and Arabia and Egypt and Turkey. (So this is more than 100%? Why think in small terms?)

I rather suspect the northern, Kurdish portion of this enclave would draw closer to the Kurdish parts of Iraq over time; I suspect the ISIL portion would drop any barriers between it and the ISIL-occupied portion of Iraq. I suspect Shi’ite forces in Iraq and Iran would continue to be at war with ISIL, with the idea of squeezing the new Sunni caliphate into as small a space as possible, but not of totally obliterating it.

Effectively this would create a smaller and more unified Syrian state, a smaller and religiously mixed Iraq, a larger Kurdish state, and a theocratically-inclined Sunni state somewhat smaller than any of the others and surrounded by more secular Sunnis.

This new “caliphate” wouldn’t have much in the way of oil, so it’d essentially have to behave itself to receive subsidies from the Saudis or Russians or anyone else choosing to befriend it. The shrunken Syrian and Iraqi states would pretty much retain their sources of revenue (okay, the Kurds are going to grab some oil wells), and ideally they’d be spared much of the factionalism that now prevails in the area.

Maybe it’d work. If I were in the US State Department, I’d be perfectly happy to give credit fto the Russians for the idea. Heck. I’d even be happy to nominate Vladimir Putin for a Nobel prize.

michael reynolds July 6, 2014 at 12:26 am

De facto partition is already in place. I doubt Assad or Maliki or even Assad and Maliki can take back what they’ve lost. I doubt they have the will for it, let alone the power. It is hard to take territory from a determined opposition on its home turf.

It’s either partition or a civil war that could go on for a decade or more. In a rational world they’d have a mediated divorce, negotiate conflicts over territory, etc, and have NATO or the EU or the UN manage it. But they’re a long way from rational.

mike shupp July 6, 2014 at 3:34 am

Well, Christians weren’t a whole lot more rational either, until the Thirty Years War came along, and got us all good and tired of religious conflicts.

As for the solution I propose … it’d make sense for Maliki and the Iranians (and Obama’s 750 “advisors”) to stay on the attack against ISIL till it’s shrunk down to not having any oil fields. And perhaps when we got to that point, the rebellious Sunnis in Syria would dominate the 12th century fanatics in Iraq, so the rump ISIL state would come to terms with the 21st century.

I’m asking a lot, I understand. Foreign policy is not my thing.

TastyBits July 6, 2014 at 10:05 am

@michael reynolds

President Bush left the place relatively stable. When President Obama pulled out the troops, the place was relatively stable. What happened at that point was their problem.

President Obama got roped into Libya which is what started this mess, and he then ran his mouth about Assad and Syria. So far, he has not gotten the US in another half-assed military adventure. Why he does not toss the mess to the UN is beyond me. I think the UN is worthless, but I thought he was a UN type of guy.

I suspect that if Assad were allowed to release his inner daddy-Assad, he could cleanout Syria in a few weeks or less. The body count might be high, but it is his problem not mine. What was left in Iraq would be a manageable problem for whomever was going to clean up that mess.

The right wingers would howl and call President Obama everything short of a traitor, but they are going to do that anyway. Americans do not give a rats ass about Syria, Iraq, Syrians, Iraqis, or anything in that part of the world. The polls are fleeting. Clinton may dwell over not doing more for Darfur, but nobody else does.

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