Freitag, 30. August 2013

The Shot Across About the Bow: The Problem With Syria

I really do not need any convincing: the situation in Syria is appalling and it is high-time the world does something about it. And if it comes to regime change, well, count me in. I've argued elsewhere, why an intervention is necessary. However, I am deeply troubled by what the Obama administration is currently coming up with.

Military violence is a means to a political end. And as such, there needs to be at least an idea of a political end before military violence is employed. There is, however, a massive disconnect between the political ends the Obama administration has thus far outlined and the way an intervention is being set up right now. Basically, president Obama has articulated two political objectives, Assad's ouster and an end to the use of chemical weapons. The problem now is that the intervention, as it is being prepared at the moment, will with certainty achieve neither of these aims. Which, awkwardly enough, is part of the rallying cry by this administration: look, its not going to be regime change and hey, we'll not rely on a vulnerable presentation of intelligence findings to the Security Council. Which begs the question, what then is an intervention assumed to achieve?

The administration argues that this is primarily about showing resolve and punish those that use chemical weapons. I am very much in favour of making that clear, but since Assad used those weapons before, even a successful purely punitive campaign is not going to demonstrate that. What it would demonstrate is that the use of chemical weapons at a certain scale will have consequences. And that ain't the message the better part of the international community wants to send, is it?

The unfortunate truth is this: punishment for the use of chemical weapons cannot easily be disconnected from other political objectives, since these objectives are often, as in this case, informed by the conduct of the party it thinks needs punishment. Which is to say that a dictator willing to utilise such weapons should be brought to justice, or at least taken away from such weaponry. And that brings the strategic conundrum full circle. The political end would have to be to deny Assad the use of such weaponry permanently and since air-strikes cannot target chemical weapons directly, the narrowest way to achieve this would be to decapitate the Assad regime. Instead, the current strategy seems to be purely symbolic. As such it might end up not as a symbol for resolve but the bungled approach the Obama administration is taking towards security and foreign policy.  

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