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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square.

“But, first, here’s my take. In the debate over U.S. intervention in Syria, there is a striking mismatch between ends and means. Proponents of intervention want to defeat a ruthless and powerful regime, rescue a country from civil war and usher in a new democratic political order.

But these people say, at the same time, that they want to achieve all this with the most limited methods. “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria,” says Senator John McCain.

We’re often told that the goal of this intervention is to stop the killing, but sending more arms into the mix will actually increase the violence. That’s fine, say the interventionists, because the real goal is to oust Assad.

But as we learned in Iraq, ousting the dictator is only the beginning of the task. The actually goal here is the creation of a democratic Syria in which all sects can live in peace.

Now, the United States tried that in Iraq with an almost decade-long invasion and occupation spending over a trillion dollars and it hasn’t quite worked. But, now, we’re going to achieve a better outcome in Syria and just with a no-fly zone? In the mid-1980s, the scholar Samuel Huntington pondered why the United States, the world’s dominant power, which had won two world wars, deterred the Soviet Union, maintained global peace, was so bad at smaller military interventions.

Since World War II, he noted, the U.S. had engaged militarily in a series of conflicts around the world, but, in almost every case, the outcome had been inconclusive, muddled or worse.

Huntington’s answer was we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, he reasoned, U.S. military intervention had usually been sparked by a crisis, which then put pressure on Washington to do something, but Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed.

So, we would join the fight but in incremental ways and hope that these incremental moves would change the outcome. It rarely does. Instances where we have succeeded, 1990 Persian Gulf War, Grenada and Panama, were all ones where we did fight to win, used massive force and achieved a quick, early knockout.

In Syria, the interventionists have lofty ends but no one wants to use the means necessary to achieve them. So we are now giving arms to the opposition and hoping it will bring the regime to the negotiating table.

But, as Huntington observed, “military forces are not primarily instruments of communication to convey signals to an enemy; they are instead instruments of coercion to compel him to alter his behavior.”

This reminds one of the strategy of the Johnson administration in Vietnam, use force to pressure the enemy to negotiate. But the enemy is fighting to win not to play a negotiating game.

The chance that our current efforts in Syria will do enough to achieve even our objectives is small. Eventually, the contradictions in U.S. policy will emerge and the Obama administration will face calls from people like John McCain for further escalation.

They should resist them and it’s possible that they will. The scholar Daniel Drezner argues in his blog on ForeignPolicy.com that the new move “is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik Obama policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years.”

“The goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished, he writes, “at an appalling toll in lives lost.”

If this interpretation of the Obama administration’s behavior is correct, then the White House might well be playing a clever game, but it is Machiavellian rather than humanitarian games.”

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1306/23/fzgps.01.html

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