No Half Measures with Syria
Wow. Once again, what a week in political news! On Thursday, President Donald Trump ordered a targeted military strike against the Syrian Regime after dictator Bashar Al-Assad ordered a gas attack which killed 70 people. The President said he was emotionally moved after he saw footage of the civilans suffering.
The American people are split by the decision. Some say it was necessary because of the dictator’s repeated violations of human rights and Russia’s growing influence in the region. Others say that Mr. Trump turned into George W. Bush, offering humanitarian reasons to involve the U.S. in a conflict which is against our interests.
My argument is as follows: We must avoid half-measures and act decisively. The US, along with NATO allies should establish safe zones, giving the Syrian people some relief. With the consent of Syria and other allies, it would be ideal to either partition the country or form a new government while avoiding the mistakes made in Iraq. Finally, while Russia seems fearsome, the US should not view the country as an equal and let Russia dominate our decision making.
First, the United States must avoid taking half-measures. The title of this post is inspired by one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad. The main character, Walter White, is advised another character to avoid taking ‘half measures.’ Either go big or go home. The United States must be decisive and effective. There is no going back now, We cannot embark on a half baked course of action and then abandon the region again, causing more chaos than order.
Now that the United States has escalated the situation, there are several things we must do quickly. I have long been a fan of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) establishing safe zones in Syria and paving the way for a transition of power, if the Syrians want it. At the very least, the poor Syrian people deserve some relief from the hell that they have experienced for the past six years.
However, I believe that Syria, like Iraq, is too ethnically and linguistically diverse which makes it difficult to create a unified country. President Assad’s Alawite Muslims make up 12% of the population but have dominated public life in the 1970s. Similarly, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority dominated Iraq despite having a Shia majority.
In addition to the Sunni-Shia divide, Syria has a host of other ethnic and linguistic groups as this map shows. Syria was artifically created by colonial powers after World War I and did not develop organically. I don’t see how, after all that has happened, a Syrian consciousness can develop. As long as the country exists in its current form, there will be problems.
If not partition, then Syria can look to regions such as the countries of Yugoslavia (the Yugoslav Wars) as to how avoid problems and create governments that represent the different ethnic and linguistic groups. At any rate, the current arrangemant is not working so alternatives are worth exploring.
While obvious, I must emphasize that the US must avoid repeating our mistakes in Iraq. Under no circumstances should the US participate in nation building without the consent of the Syrian people. All actions, such as the safe zones and partitioning Syria or making a new government, must be done with Syria’s consent and several NATO allies. Acting unilaterally (another awful half-measure) will turn the situation into even more of a mess and undermine the US’s credibility in the region.
Don’t think I forgot the elephant in the room- Russia. The country has clearly indicated their support for Mr. Assad time and time again. Additionally, Russia has been trying to spread its influence in the Middle East. Many fear Russia’s response to President Trump’s strike. While Russia may be able to put a fight for awhile, its military might has been declining.
As this 2015 article from the Brookings Institute argues, both Russia and its ‘president’ Vladimir Putin are in a weak position. The demonstrations of strength in Ukraine and other places in recent years are a distraction from how the government was overspending on the military. Furthermore, Russia’s economy is tied to oil, like Saudi Arabia’s. It is not wise to base your economy on one product, and a bad stretch for oil prices has weakened Russia and will weaken it again in the future.
Consequently, I do not believe the United States should see Russia as a strategic equal, but I do believe that the US should be wary of Russia and monitor the country carefully. The US must remember that the current Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union. The former is not as dangerous as the latter, despite all of Mr. Putin’s attempts to convince the world otherwise. Respect Russia and what it can do, but don’t give the country more credit than it deserves.
In sum, the United States has to embark on a clear course of action now after the airstrike. With our NATO allies, we should establish safe zones and pave the way for a transition of power to end the war. Ideally, Syria should be partitioned or at least reorganized due to its colonial legacy and ethnic\linguistic diversity. The US should remember its mistakes in Iraq and avoid unilateral action and nation building. Russia, while powerful, is no match for the United States and its strength should not be overestimated. The US has the advantage and should not be afraid of Russia.
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Originally published at theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com on April 9, 2017.