Today the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Armed Forces, Senator Carl Levin, gave a talk to the Carnegie Endowment in Washington after a trip to the Middle East. The essence of his talk was to push for a more active role for America and our allies (those in the “London 11″) in supporting the Syria Free Army and the opposition to Assad.  After a scathing review of the Assad regime’s conduct, including the use of WMD (chemical weapons), Levin emphasized his view that unless the international community acts, the unrest will spread and extreme groups in the region will cause even more conflict. Senator Levin also urged the U.S. to provide training and light weapons, possibly including anti-tank weapons, and hinted that America or our allies could act by taking out Assad’s airborne and related weapons systems from stand off weapons without getting U.S. troops on the ground.

The aim would be “to comprehensively plan additional steps to up the military pressure on the Assad regime.”  Importantly he said: “It is also important that his departure not create a vacuum into which Sunni-Shia divisions deepen and spread and which results in safe havens from which al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations could again bring suffering and terror to the United States and our friends and allies. Unless there is a planned transition to an inclusive political and military structure to provide a secure and stable follow-on to Assad, a longer civil war could replace the current conflict, bringing unspeakable suffering to the Syrian people and spiraling instability to the region.”

My view is that Senator Levin is right on the this point. I believe that not only do we need a new government with unity of all groups but also an effective structure of security for the Syrian population. To do this we need a formidable, multinational peacekeeping/peacemaking force with experts at meditation and reconciliation to act as guarantors of stability, security, and humanitarian assistance, which will be needed early and in large quantities to ensure a stable and democratic future for Syria. 

We welcome all comments on the blog! Respond below!


  1. Harry Blaney July 11, 2013 / 2:57 PM

    Regarding Paul’s assumption that Sen. Levin’s approach would create even more of a “vacuum” I do not agree…to let this inter-communal widespread killing to continue and to let Assad up more with his ethnic cleansing unopposed would only make maters worse in the entire Arab world and beyond. Stopping the killing AND creating the conditions for security of all groups and for rebuilding and reconciliation seems to be a better direction…..only when Assad is gone, and there are guarantees for all groups of a broad respected government and an international peacekeeping force with a strong and long-term mandate will there be a better chance for the Sunni-Shia conflict from spreading…..but action needs to be taken also in other countries like Iraq to bring the various sides into governance. That we have little leverage given the huge initial mistakes of the Bush administration including even going in – there were other ways of dealing with that regime in my opinion. I respect Paul’s concerns but come at the problem from another perspective which includes not turning our back on the rest of the world.

  2. Harry Blaney July 11, 2013 / 11:06 AM

    Both Paul and Robert have made some excellent points of caution and this is quite reasonable given recent past experiences with American over ambition and hubris abroad especially in Iraq. But frankly good policy can’t be made alone based on past cases which are never identical in context, location, specific condition, and ramifications for countries, regions and in global security impact.

    I am sympatric to senator Levin’s proposals without thinking they are certain to solve the many problems of Syria or having any inherent problems. We need to dig deeper. On the other hand I believe that the international community has the resources and perhaps still not fully the will to stop the killing in Syria and diminish its spread. I do think that a Sunni-Shia war of religion is a disaster for not only the strategic situation in the Middle East and Islamic world but frightening in human carnage with the possibility of hundreds of thousands if not millions being affected by killings and displacement “ethnic cleansing” if you will.

    For this reason alone (and there are others) I believe multinational intervention is needed and indeed on moral grounds required under the UN mandate “responsibility to protect.” If done right, and this needs to be debated, America should play a key role in such an effort. We have done it before in devastated Europe, Japan, Yugoslavia, etc. with some success. Peacekeeping and peacemaking should be a tool we use and use early when possible.

    In any case, we need to seriously debate both options, outcomes and our moral responsibility.

  3. Glen July 11, 2013 / 9:54 AM

    Senator Levin could not be more mistaken in regard to his opinions on how the USA should respond to Syria (or the current issues in Egypt). History is a cruel teacher if one does not learn from her lessons. In regard to Syria, the USA should cautiously monitor and keeps their meddling hands off, discouraging those who are fighting the Assad regime. In Egypt, the USA should back the efforts of the military to unseat the Muslim Brotherhood and seat a true democratic government.

  4. Robert Lamoree July 11, 2013 / 7:04 AM

    Are some problems literally unsolvable? As all-knowing as we seem to think we are, how have we done brokering an Israeli-Palestinian settlement? Or, how are the folks in Baghdad getting along these days? Might that same ability transfer to peace-keeping efforts in Syria, or wherever?
    Forgetting that we interrupted the natural process, Vietnam is an example of where letting things play out seemed to work. Unfortunately, when events are allowed to play out with no outside interference, the tough guys generally win, and winners take all. So, here we sit, contemplating some move, but knowing that the Assad regime is a dictatorship and the rebels, in the end, might be even worse. Add to that, there’s no way a Western power or consortium can positively effect the schism between Sunnis and Shias. Seemingly, that is a divide, a point of conflict, no one knows how to bridge, and it is in play.
    One thing seems certain, any solution that does not work toward or involve empowering ‘the people’ will lead to continuing enmity and chaos. ‘Solution,’ of course, is the operative term. Is there one?

  5. Paul July 10, 2013 / 1:41 PM

    Ironically, what Sen. Levin is calling for from the U.S. will lead to exactly what he fears: “a vacuum into which Sunni-Shia divisions deepen and spread and which results in safe havens from which al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations could again bring suffering and terror to the United States and our friends and allies.” It is also disingenuous and simplistic of the Senator to portray this war as a “good-guys vs. bad guys” narrative (as was done in Iraq) in order to further unseen agendas, as the rebels have committed numerous atrocities of their own against non-Sunni Syrians in order to consolidate control and spread fear. Assad may be a dictator, but it’s very telling how many Syrians (including minority Christians) are backing him against the so-called “Syria Free Army.”

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