Song for Syria (Part 5) How we should attack
Now that I have covered the “why” concerning the question of action in Syria. I turn my focus to the “how.”
The thorny question of how we should act concerning Syria is one that I expect will be debated vigorously by Congress in the coming days. Although I am in support of action in Syria, I do not think that the best way to take action in Syria is to launch some limited missile strike.
After all, if the purpose of the action is to deter countries from using chemical weapons and to deter Assad from using them again, I don’t see how a barrage of cruise missiles is likely to change any minds. Syria is already at war and collateral damage is being counted on all sides. If Assad can use chemical weapons and survive with control of the country remaining in his hands, then I think he will judge that using those weapons is acceptable given the relatively minimal risk.
I think American response on this issue must not simply be a punitive one which results in bombing of strategic sites. While this might preclude Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, it also might result in more unnecessary casualties among the Syrian people. It also might not be as successful as advertised which could potentially goad us into taking more and more aggressive military action until we find ourselves perpetually in the middle of Syria’s civil war.
If we are to take effective action we must state clearly what our goals are. In my opinion our goals should not be regime change, but it should be decapitation of the regime. Essentially, America is taking a global police action and therefore I think America should be mindful of what the police do. America should declare before the United Nations that Assad is a war criminal and international outlaw. As such, the goal of America should be to apprehend him alive if possible to stand trial in the World Court. America should reserve the right to take whatever military action necessary in Syria in order to capture Assad. If these actions happen to turn the tide of the Syrian Civil War then so be it. Assad brought that consequence upon himself when he unleashed chemical weapons.
I believe this type of designation gives America wide latitude in the type of action it can take. It also has the added benefit of establishing a clear cut objective for action in Syria. Our goal is very simply to capture or kill Assad. Furthermore, once he is designated an international criminal we can shame him in such a way that other nations will not want to harbor him and he will be isolated. In addition, this course of action has the benefit of making things very personal for Assad. He will be under constant threat from the United States. It will send a message to other dictators that if you use weapons of mass destruction you cannot hope to keep your regime, freedom, and possibly your life. I believe this is the type of action that will achieve the goal of limiting these kinds of atrocities. It also would give us an indefinite timetable for action while making any action we take as cheap or expensive as the president sees fit. America has proven its ability to capture or kill an individual leader of a country in many different ways. We captured Noriega in Panama, we eventually captured Bin Laden in Pakistan when we discovered that he fled there, we found and captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and with the help of an international coalition we created the conditions which led to the capture of Ghaddafi.
If we remain focused on simply capturing a war criminal we can be very effective and send a strong message without incurring the high cost of an indefinite occupation. If we are able to capture Assad we can leave the rebuilding of Syria to the Syrian people.
A complementary action we should take is to arrange for additional financial support for over 1.5 million people displaced by the Syrian Civil War. This would go a long way toward demonstrating that America is not only interested in simply keeping international order, but America is also interested in improving the humanitarian situation caused by the war.
Another option would be to pick some responsible rebels in Syria and arm them in such a way that it actually turns the tide of the war.
The drawback to the action I have suggested is that at some point capturing Assad would definitely require boots on the ground in Syria if we felt we had a clear shot at it. Putting boots on the ground becomes a slippery slope if we become increasingly engaged. However, that would not necessarily mean an indefinite military struggle there. Our military leaders could take the time to either create the conditions that would lead to his capture or we could simply play a waiting game.
Moreover, we could begin the political aspect of the plan immediately with minimal cost by addressing the United Nations directly and specifically about Assad’s criminality. The same is true for giving additional assistance to the people who have been displaced by the war.
Finally, this action would allow us more time to consider whether or not we really want to drop cruise missiles on Syria at all. It would allow us to consider what the human cost of such an action would be and whether it is truly worth it. Designating Assad a war criminal could forestall us ever having to bomb Syria at all. It would also allow us to retain the ability to put political pressure on Russia and China for blocking action in the UN and continuing to support Assad. We need to look at this issue from all angles and decide which action would be the most beneficial to upholding international order and avoiding an unnecessarily long entanglement in Syria. We may find that putting boots on the ground early with a clear objective related to, but separate from Syria’s civil war, may allow us to extricate ourselves in a much quicker fashion and send the type of message we desire.