Notes on the burgeoning conflict in Syria. First, chemical weapons. The U.S. has of course asserted that the Syrian regime has used them. But Reuters says the rebels may have used the nerve gas sarin:
U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.
At the New York Times, Bill Keller, who pushed the Iraq war, advises, “Syria Is Not Iraq,” and that “getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.” The columnist ascribes great power to the U.S. to be able to fix things over there– on what basis?
“I don’t mean to make this sound easy. It might well be that the internal grievances are too deep and bitter to forestall a bloody period of reprisals. But that outcome is virtually inevitable if we stay out.”
“How do they do it?” writes a friend. “Give completely wrong advice in a matter involving hundreds of thousands of deaths, look back on it with regret (but not remorse), and then do it again. Keller’s learned authorities are Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.”
At Lobelog, Robert E. Hunter, former ambassador to NATO, says Syria is just like Iraq, and the U.S. should abandon the hubris of believing that it can do something positive with the situation.
What is happening in Syria is radically different from what happened in the so-called “Arab spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, or even Libya. This is not primarily a matter of whether a leader who stayed too long and was too repressive will go; but whether a particular minority will continue to be able to dominate the rest of the population, or, with “regime change,” whether there will be a bloody free-for-all competition for power. None of the other three regime changes were about that.
More relevant is what happened in Iraq, when the US and partners, by invading in 2003, overturned centuries of admittedly unjust domination of a majority (Shi’ite) by a minority (Sunni). Or what is happening, or rather not happening, in Bahrain, where the situation is just the reverse but has been kept in check by military power, much of which has been applied by neighboring Saudi Arabia, with the US, concerned about its base in Bahrain for the Fifth Fleet, at best “turning a blind eye.”
It’s therefore hard to see what the United States, or any combination of outsiders, could usefully do — not to help overthrow Assad and his Alawite-dominated military (that can be done) — but to help “shape” a future in Syria that won’t lead to even more bloody chaos before something approaching “stability” could ensue…
There should be no indulgence in the nonsense that all could be accomplished by providing more lethal arms to the rebels, imposing a no-fly zone, or using air power directly….
So what is to be done at this juncture of “no good options?” The best to be hoped for now is for President Obama to keep his nerve (backed by the US military leadership) and continue resisting attempts to drag the US even more deeply into Syria. At the same time, the US must avoid the temptation to perceive another looming chance to experiment with “nation building”; Iraq and Afghanistan should have inoculated us against that.
As a cardinal principle, the US should internationalize whatever is done — by the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and Arab League — and not regard Syria as a test of US “leadership,” as asserted in the aforementioned White House letter (“strengthen our leadership of the international community.”) It should put out the word in very clear terms to other states in the region to stop meddling in Syria, and in particular, to rein-in their nationals who are engaged in spreading Islamist militancy in Syria (and elsewhere), with both ideas and arms.
More claims and counter-claims. The Sunday Times is reporting that Israel, aided by the U.S., has reached a deal with Turkey to take on Iran; but the international Turkish site, Hurriyet Daily News, denies it as propaganda. From the Times:
ISRAEL is preparing to agree a defence co-operation deal with Turkey and three Arab states aimed at setting up an early warning system to detect Iranian ballistic missiles.
The proposal, referred to by the diplomats involved as “4+1”, may eventually lead to technicians from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan working alongside Israelis in joint command-and-control centres.
From the Turkish site, Hurriyet Daily News:
The Turkish Foreign Ministry today dismissed a British newspaper report suggesting a role for Turkey in a regional cooperation against the “fundamentalist crescent,” which consists of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.
“These are manipulative reports which have nothing to do with the reality,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News.
Thanks to Annie Robbins.