Would US Intervention Help Syria?

Political pressure is building on the Obama administration to intervene in Syria’s civil war on the side of the anti-government rebels, but an escalation of the violence might only prolong the conflict and prevent serious national reconciliation, say Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett at RaceForIran.com.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Across most of the American political spectrum, policy elites are urging that the United States double down on the Obama administration’s failing Syria policy. America’s reliably pro-intervention senatorial trio (Lindsay Graham, Joseph Lieberman, and John McCain) recently argued that the “risks of inaction in Syria,” now outweigh the downsides of American military involvement.

Last week, the Washington Post prominently featured a pieceby Ken Pollack, asserting that negotiated settlements “rarely succeed in ending a civil war” like that in Syria, even though that it precisely what ended the civil war in Lebanon, right next door to Syria. From this faulty premise, Pollack argues that the only way to end a civil war like that in Syria is through military intervention.

Syria and the surrounding countries. Graphic image by (orthographic_projection).png

(After his scandalously wrong case for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, we wonder why the Washington Post or anyone else would give Pollack a platform for disseminating his views on virtually any Middle Eastern topic, but especially not for a piece dealing with the advisability of another U.S. military intervention in the region. In this regard, we note that the bio line at the end of Ken’s op-ed makes no mention of his book that made the case for the U.S. invading Iraq, The Threatening Storm, describing him instead as “the author of A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East.)

A more chilling, and, in some ways, more candid, indicator of the direction in which the debate over American policy toward Syria is heading was provided last week in Foreign Policy by Robert Haddick (managing editor of the hawkish blog, Small War Journal).

Remarkably, Haddick argues that: “rather than attempting to influence the course of Syria’s civil war, something largely beyond Washington’s control, U.S. policymakers should instead focus on strengthening America’s diplomatic position and on building irregular warfare capabilities that will be crucial in future conflicts in the region.

“Modest and carefully circumscribed intervention in Syria, in coordination with America’s Sunni allies who are already players in the war, will bolster critical relationships and irregular warfare capabilities the United States and its allies will need for the future.”

And why is bolstering these relationships and capabilities so critical? Because, as Haddick writes, “The conflict in Syria is just one front in the ongoing competition between Iran and America’s Sunni allies on the west side of the Persian Gulf. The Sunni countries have a strong interest in stepping up their irregular warfare capabilities if they are to keep pace with Iran during the ongoing security competition. The civil war in Syria provides an opportunity for the United States and its Sunni allies to do just that.

“U.S. and GCC intelligence officers and special forces could use an unconventional warfare campaign in Syria as an opportunity to exchange skills and training, share resources, improve trust, and establish combined operational procedures. Such field experience would be highly useful in future contingencies. Equally important, it would reassure the Sunni countries that the United States will be a reliable ally against Iran.”

Foreign Policy has become arguably the leading online venue for topical discussion of key issues on America’s international agenda. And it is giving its platform to an argument that Washington should leverage the “opportunity” provided by the civil war in Syria to help its regional allies get better at killing Shi’a.

And Washington should do this for the goal of prevailing in “the ongoing security competition” between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States (along with America’s “Sunni allies).

Such trends in the American policy debate show an appalling incapacity to learn either from either current experience or history. And these trends are, in fact, influencing actual policy.

Late last week, during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Turkey, Ankara and Washington agreed that “a unified task force with intelligence, military and political leaders from both countries would be formed immediately to track Syria’s present and plan for its future.”

After meeting with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoðlu, Secretary Clinton said that the United States and Turkey are discussing various options for supporting opposition forces working to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad, including the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory in Syria.

In the wake of Clinton’s remarks, Flynt Leverett appeared on CCTV’s World Insight weekly newsmagazine to discuss the internal and international dimensions of the Syrian conflict. Flynt and both of the other guests on the segment, Jia Xiudong from the China Institute of International Studies and our colleague Seyed Mohammad Marandi from the University of Tehran, agreed, contra Pollack, that the only way to resolve what has become a civil war in Syria is through an inclusive political process.


Getting to the heart of the matter, Flynt pointed out that “the United States and its regional partners are trying to use Syria to shift the balance of power in the Middle East in ways that they think will be bad for Iran.” This strategy is “ultimately doomed to fail”, but, as long as Washington and others are pursuing it, “the international community is going to be challenged to find ways to keep the violence from getting worse and try to get a political process started.”

Flynt also observed that China and other players in the international community have historical grounds for concern about the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to create so-called “humanitarian safe havens” could lead to: since the end of the Cold War, every time that the United States has imposed humanitarian safe havens, in Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, and most recently in Libya, this has ultimately resulted in a heavily militarized intervention by the United States and its partners in pursuit of coercive regime change.

In part, American elites persist in their current course regarding Syria because they continue to persuade themselves that, in the “security competition” between America and Iran, the United States is winning and the Islamic Republic is losing.

At roughly the same time that Pollack and Haddick were holding forth last week, the New York Times offered an Op-Ed by Harvey Morris purporting to explain Iran’s “paranoia” over Syria’s civil war by describing “What Syria Looks Like from Tehran.”

Morris claims that “the impact of regime change in the Arab World has in fact been largely negative from Tehran’s perspective. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt is closer to Saudi Arabia than it is to Iran. If the Alawite-dominated regime in Damascus were to fall, it would mean the loss of a non-Sunni ally.”

Our analysis, of both of Tehran’s perspective on and the reality of how the Arab Spring is affecting the regional balance of power, is diametrically opposite to Morris’s. For an actual (and genuinely informed) Iranian view, we note that Al Jazeera devoted last week’s episode of its Inside Syria series to the topic, “Can Iran Help End the Syrian Crisis?”

Once again, our colleague from the University of Tehran, Seyed Mohammad Marandi, gave a clear and concise exposition of Iranian views on the imperatives of and requirements for serious mediation of the struggle in (and over) Syria.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. [This article was originally published at RaceforIran.com. For a direct link, click: http://www.raceforiran.com/how-much-will-america%e2%80%99s-animus-against-iran-distort-u-s-policy-toward-syria.]

7 comments for “Would US Intervention Help Syria?

  1. Kenny Fowler
    August 19, 2012 at 17:22

    The answer is no.

  2. August 19, 2012 at 07:14

    certainly like your web site however you have to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to inform the truth on the other hand I will certainly come back again.

  3. August 16, 2012 at 22:27

    The Cold War got hot twice in Korea and Vietnam. In both of these wars Russians and Americans fought each other. So, I think you are wrong to claim that they never attacked one another. They did. I find it interesting that Russia is just standing idly by whilst American Imperialists conquer what is left of their empire.

  4. August 16, 2012 at 14:54

    U.S. intervention has not helped so far why would doubling down on it help? This whole policy is nothing more than a stick in the eye to Russia. I mean how much more can American Policy Makers humiliate them? We are illustrating their inability to defend what little they have in the way of empire. The Russians are no longer a deterrent to American Imperialists. They are going to sit idly by while America’s Ruling Class kicks them out of their only Med Port. They have been conquered. Syria is the proof.

  5. davebehrens
    August 16, 2012 at 08:32

    Why should the USA commit ANY resources to mitigate the Syrian debacle, or any other Islamic war? Muslims are killing Muslims, albeit at too slow a rate in my opinion, and I welcome it. Read the Quran’s Verse of the Sword Surah 9:5 or Surah 9:29 for irrefutable evidence as to how ALL professed Muslims must confront the non-Islamic portion of Earth’s people. Hint: Convert to Islam, or pay a yearly tax (jizyah) and be made to feel subjugated in the paying, or be summarily butchered.
    Shrewdly calculating Muslim governments are AGAIN awaiting the Great Infidel to spill American blood and dissipate American resources to depose a Muslim dictator. While they husband their oil riches and wait to decry the defilement of their sovereign territory by the feet of American troops, should they be sent to do the dirty work, these cowardly Muslim governments’ hands remain politically clean. This gives zealous mullahs the opportunity to characterize American military involvement in any degree as Islamic genocide. We have made ourselves into absolute fools by acting as the world’s policeman. Did America get one gallon of free oil from either Iraq or Kuwait for deposing Sadam Hussein?? Will America get priority access to Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth?? Has America gained a willing ally, not a paid friend like Pakistan, in any Mideast endeavor?? The answer to these questions is a resounding NO.
    The argument that ‘we are spreading democracy’ in these Muslim countries is a testament to our fundamental ignorance of Islam. Greek initiated, western style fully participative democracy is anathema to Islam and Sharia Law. Islam comes closest to democracy in the Quran’s Surah 42:38, in which a powerless, strictly consultative assembly (shura) is suggested, albeit not required. The shura certainly cannot challenge Sharia Law as interpreted by the Islamic priesthood, who are the de facto rulers of all Islamic political entities.
    Is the lesson of the recent Egyptian popular election of an Islamic zealot lost on the average American, and his government?? The Quran dictates that Muslims live in an Islamic theocracy, ruled by Sharia Law. A majority of Egyptians freely voted against democracy and for the implementation of that Islamic theocracy. Understand exactly what that means. A majority of Egyptians, in the only opportunity in their lifetime to vote to choose how and by whom they will be governed, voted to never have that choice again. Bloody, expensive American interventions will always fail if their goal is to establish even a semblance of democracy.

    • August 17, 2012 at 17:30

      From the above website:

      9:5 And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

      9:29 Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.

      From al-Hadith:

      Hadith 9:4 “Wherever you find infidels kill them; for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”

    • bobzz
      August 18, 2012 at 19:22

      “On the other hand, Abraham Foxman, national director of Jewish lobby group, ADL – said in his 2006 book that the New Testament’s teachings inspired the Nazis to murdered millions of Jews.”

      Foxman could not be that dumb. No NT teaching supports anything like the Shoah. If someone THOUGHT it did, they badly misread it. Early Christians were non-combatants, and a number of them were martyrs.

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