What Are Our Goals in Syria?

Blog posts come about in a number of different ways but in many cases they’re responses or reactions to a single sentence. At any rate that’s true of this post and the sentence is from a comment to Doug Mataconis’s post on our options in Syria which quoted Kevin Drum:

I don’t want to pretend that Obama’s approach to Syria was a model of foreign policy precision, but in the end he did the right thing: nothing.

That is untrue. Doing nothing would have been better than what the Obama Administration actually did. What they did was arm Al Qaeda, prolonging the Syrian civil war which resulted in more Syrians being killed than might otherwise have been the case. It also drew Russia and Iran farther in.

What are our objectives in Syria? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Remove Assad.
  2. Remove Assad’s regime.
  3. Impede or reduce Russia’s and Iran’s gaining of influence in the region.
  4. A liberal democratic government friendly to the U. S. in Syria.
  5. Stay out of it.

A decision tree would be a better approach to this but I don’t have the energy, time, or ambition to create one. Let’s start with #4. I suggest prayer. It would be at least as effective as what we actually did and have many advantages over what we actually did including costing less.

We could have realized objective #5 by actually doing nothing. We didn’t do that so, clearly, that wasn’t our objective or, at least, it wasn’t our sole objective.

The only way we could have accomplished #2 was by a full-fledged invasion-of-Iraq style campaign. If we had actually accomplished it, the outcome would have been a violent Islamist Sunni Arab regime replacing the Alawite regime and the subsequent genocide of Alawites. It would also have risked a direct great power confrontation and possible nuclear exchange. I genuinely hope that isn’t our objective.

Short of that campaign we might have accomplished #1 by helping the Syrian government to put down the civil war. At least we would have had a seat at the table which is more than we have now.

What we did accomplished the opposite of #3. Is there some politically possible way we could have accomplished it? I don’t see it. Somehow we never seem to learn. Don’t expect our military to accomplish something that can’t be accomplished at all.

7 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    I noted that and a few other sentences for different reasons.

    For the interventionists, the goal is some combination of 1 to 4, and they change from day-to-day. If replacing Assad does not look promising, impeding Russia and Iran is the goal, and if 1 to 4 do not seem doable, sending a signal to N. Korea becomes the goal.

    As soon as one of the other goals seems possible, it becomes the main goal. There are no objective ends or means. It is situational, and they have no doubt it can be achieved.

    (It is interesting that as soon as President Trump decides to no longer oppose Assad militarily, a chemical weapons attack occurs, and amazingly, chemical weapons are the redline for President Trump.)

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I will come at this from another angle. What is Russia/Iran’s goals; lately they seem almost as incoherent as the Americans.

    Why launch a chemical attack when they are winning; it gives a causus belli for interventionists in the West. Perhaps it has been staged, but then there was the other chemical poisoning in the UK a few weeks ago (the only disagreement is if Russia did it; but their denials have been weak); without that attack I doubt the UK would have joined whatever is happening.

    With Turkey getting in ever deeper; Syria looks like a bomb that’s ready to explode (again). It’s high to get out.

  • The retired spooks over at Pat Lang’s place think that both the chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the attempted assassination in the UK were false flag attacks. Maybe that’s a wilderness of mirrors thing. One assertion made there is if the attack in the UK had been military-grade chemical weapons the apparent target, his daughter, and everyone within 100 meters would have been dead in seconds. That’s pretty convincing to me but it just convinces me that the vector wasn’t military-grade. The Russians still might have been behind it. I’m guessing some pro-Putin paramilitary rather than the government itself.

    Frequent commenter Andy is convinced that the Syrian government has been behind the chemical weapons attacks there. I don’t know what to believe.

    The most recent chemical weapons attack in Syria was, as you note, so unnecessary and counter-productive that it raises at least a little doubt.

    I don’t think there’s much mystery about either Russia’s or Iran’s goals. Russia is expanding its influence in the Middle East. If we’d been consciously working with them to achieve that goal, I doubt we could have done a more effective job. The Iranians are working against Israel and in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia.

  • TastyBits Link

    I have not kept up with the UK incident, but the Russians are known to assassinate people using unconventional means. They do seem to be quite competent in this area.

  • steve Link

    “One assertion made there is if the attack in the UK had been military-grade chemical weapons the apparent target, his daughter, and everyone within 100 meters would have been dead in seconds. ”

    Don’t know about the claimed agent, Novichok(?), but tis doesn’t describe any of the nerve agents we knew about when I was on AD. One of the big problems was getting the agent to go where you wanted it to go. In an outdoor area this seems really unlikely. Indoors, maybe. (This is assuming you are trying to keep it secret.)

    #6- Minimize our involvement. I would prefer none, but realize that our internal politics, i.e. the Israel first crowd, might need to be placated somehow. Do as little as possible to get by with them.


  • Bob Sykes Link

    What is important is that we are stumbling into a major war with
    Russia and maybe with its ally China. It may start in Syria, but it will quickly spread to Europe and Asia if China joins in. Today’s date is August 1, 1914.

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