BY  Harry C. Blaney III

The recent evidence of what appears to be a massive chemical attack in a Damascus suburb has provide a vivid example of the difficulties of American policy makers, and for that matter many of our allies. It seems clear that the U.S. with some allies will take still unspecified action. The question is with what, how long, and with what goals and at what cost?

The key is to figure out what options we can use to make the situation better and deal with the long-term consequences in some positive way. This frankly will be hard but it is necessary to chose those actions and tools that would not lead to even more problems after any kinetic or other direct intervention in the Syria conflict. The stark choices might seem as either committing initial strikes and perhaps getting stuck in a massive quagmire, or not acting and appear to be abetting massive slaughter of civilians.  But there are more complex choices that can avoid either the “quagmire” or U.S. boots and the ground or on the other side being ineffective with too weak tools to achieve an ending that protects the Syrian people from more massacres in both the long and the short term. We should not act in a way than adds to the killing.

The most common option that has been put on the table by many in Congress and in the more hawkish and even some liberal circles is to send medium range cruise and other missile directed at those forces that committed these international crimes and Syrian air military capabilities and to create a no-fly zone  and/or humanitarian space for citizens to find safety within the borders of Syria.  All this requires real large humanitarian assistance for long periods.

We have now gone beyond the UN Security Council route since action by them seems, with the Russian and Chinese veto, unlikely despite the motion proposed by Britain. Nor does it seem that NATO itself will act.

The other option of continued caution supported in the past by our key military leaders seems each day to be getting less viable and unsustainable. The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State have gone on the record that we are going to act and that our forces are being positioned to do so swiftly. Yet, I doubt that we will tell the Syrians or their allies just when and how we will act before we do.

Yet still the question is often rightely asked if we have a means of acting without also becoming totally ensnared in what is a bloody civil sectarian war and very complex conflict with no ideal internal partners or clear path towards a peaceful and broadly supported new government? This is the question that the administration will have to ask themselves and explain to the American public. Let us hope that have good answers.

The option I have suggested is of a broad-based robust and armed international peacekeeping/peacemaking force to intervene with the establishment of a non-fly humanitarian zone. This may require Assad’s air force and control and command being reduce to rubble. But we need also to indicate to all parties that a political solution is the goal where all sectors of the Syrian population are given security and a place in the governance of their nation under a new government of national unity. The process of reconciliation will take a very long time and thus we need to acknowledge there may be a need for strong multinational peacekeeping force for a decade or longer. Also to say that we are not after “regime change” is a bit dishonest – there can be no peace with Assad still in place and in power, some mechanism will be require for him to go. The role of the Arab states and of Turkey and Jordan will also be key in this process. 

Also is Europe and other states willing to carry their full burden?  Both Britain and France have push action will they now fully act themselves?   Are the American people going to understand the reasons for acting and give the President support?  And can we see beyond the moment and, at last, think long-term and strategic and the security of the entire region?


  1. Robert Lamoree September 2, 2013 / 7:55 AM

    There is no denying the killings, the tyranny, or the destruction in Syria. An international peace-keeping force would be/could be the means to end it all. BUT . . . in our own self-interest we cannot be the lone player. Good intentions be damned, playing solo adjudicator is a lose/lose proposition. Loved by either side we are not.
    An end to strife and the rebuilding of Syria should be a United Nations project . . . goal, if you will. Unfortunately, ‘united’ nations they are not.
    You warn that American values are at stake through inaction, and the future of humanity is not secure. This is a revolt of the people, a civil war . . . although calling any war civil is an oxymoron. History shows that we are not very adept at imposing our values on others, particularly by force. And, Syrians, most of them are Muslim. We, most of us, are of Judeo-Christian heritage and belief. It ia a factor, and it’s akin mixing oil and water.
    Your proposed solutions . . . ideally, perhaps, they would be a solution. Being a realist, most nations will not act propitiously. Indeed, even the nations who could be affected by happenings in Syria, will do little or nothing. And, the major nations that are the real stumbling-blocks (Russia and China), vetoing peace-keeping efforts leaves us looking like an aggressor nation. And, considering how relations with those countries have been of late, making us look bad serves their purpose quite well.
    An ideal world this is not!

  2. Harry Blaney September 1, 2013 / 10:49 PM

    Bob, The reason as I have noted before is that the region as a whole will be in conflict and upheaval if the sectarian war spreads and I think we and the international community have an interest in stopping the mass killing — 100,000 plus already, many woman and children — is a point that requires a response form us all. And because we did not act in earlier mass killings is no reason the world should stand by and let it happen now in Syria. The implications of continued slaughter of whole populations makes for a world where America and its values are not safe, nor humanity secure.

  3. Robert Lamoree August 30, 2013 / 4:37 PM

    Ideally, the nations of the world would send a peace force into Syria, depose Assad, pacify the rebels and help in rebuilding the nation. Ain’t gonna happen!
    What is happening in Syria . . . a revolt, a Civil War? Whichever, what is the best course of action for an interested ‘power?’ [Considering all the talk, somehow we seem to be an interested power.] Should we pick a side, send arms, send troops, send money? If Vietnam is an example, how did that turn out. The wrong guys won and everyone is happy.
    What happens when we sit back and let the warring parties resolve it themselves. If Ruanda is an example . . . the country is at peace and trying to be an economic growth center.
    As heinous as gas warfare is, we’ve sat on the sidelines before and been none the worse for it. We can squawk, we can rationalize, but sticking our nose into this one . . . let us not.

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