Guest editorial: America attacking Assad is a crazy, no-win scenario
Fifty-one State Department officials have just signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria, calling for targeted U.S. military strikes against the regime of Bashar al Assad and urging regime change as the only way to defeat ISIS.
The internal memo was sent throughout the "dissent channel" which is defined as “a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures” and “which will not be subjected to reprisal, discipline action or unauthorized disclosure of its use”. It was established in the 1960s during the Vietnam War to ensure that senior leadership in the department would have access to alternative policy views on the war.
The views expressed by the U.S. officials in the cable amount to a scalding internal critique of a longstanding U.S. policy against taking sides in the Syrian war.
It is safe to say that our incredibly counterproductive military involvement in the Middle East during the past dozen years was a outgrowth of the powerful influence held by neoconservatives in the Bush administration.
It is equally safe to say that “liberal interventionist” ideology has played a role in foreign policy under the Obama administration. Obama’s first Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton is widely described as “hawkish” in her foreign policy views and her administration has always contained liberal interventionists, many of whom have remained there after her departure from State and the arrival of Secretary Kerry. They still play important roles in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy.
However different the origins of liberal interventionism may be from those of neoconservatism, the net result in foreign policy is not that different. Both ideologies believe in the export of democracy and regime change, policies that have rightly come under attack here and abroad, given the negative results of our recent military activities in the Middle East.
So, the question is, are the State department “51” simply a continuation of our old notions of the export of democracy and regime change?
In all of this and regardless of the motivation behind the “dissent channel” memorandum, the only important question to be asked is, what would be the result? That assumes we become more heavily involved militarily against the Assad regime which would be an act of war in itself. What do we do about al Qaida’s Al Nusra front? With Iran? With the Russians? With the Chinese? With the Saudis? With the Iraqis? Who is on our side? Who is against us?
Assuming we can successfully engineer this regime change, whom do we then pick to run the country? Do we pick the remaining Alawites with their Shia allies in Iraq and Iran? Do we pick Sunni Syrians with their confessional ties to ISIS and Iraqi Sunnis? Do we install the military?
Irrespective of what we do, how will the competing confessional groups in the broader region react? How have they already reacted in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria? Does America really have a dog in this fight?
Whomever we pick under these circumstances, we will own the responsibility for the Syria of the future, a Syria that will always be contested by the ethnic and confessional forces that rule and roil the Middle East.
It is difficult to determine the precise motivation of these 51 co-signees in favor of military intervention. However, regardless of that motivation, given our recent history in the region, it seems like a crazy, no-win thing for America to want to do.