I’m a little late to the party, but I feel the discussion on Obama’s strategy in Syria could use some revising. The death toll in Syria has reached 100,000 and 1.6 million refugees have fled the area. The Obama Administration has evidence of nerve gas used by Assad. Obama has even stated the Administration will provide weapons to the opposition forces. But to what end?
Arguments abound in the media, both for and against, in predictable points of view for our involvement in Syria. Citing the awful death toll, the hard drawn line of the use of chemical weapons, and, on the other hand, the dangers of military intervention in such a mission. While these are all valid arguments, I feel they miss the larger point and therefore the real goal of the Obama White House.
Obama has long been an adherent to Realism the political theory where states primary goal is the obtainment of resources, act on self interest through military build up, often leading to a security dilemma.
On paper, Obama has a very clear goal — to support a rebel victory that results in Assad’s removal. He believes that opposition forces are the best way to go about achieving that goal. He may also be attempting to balance the power in the region with Iran and drain Russia and Hezbollah of resources. In a classic Realism when your enemy gains, you accelerate supplies; when your enemy faces loses, ease back gain.
If Syria has become a Realist chess board then Obama will have accept some rather dubious claims including that arming the opposition forces will:
1) Halt the regime’s gains and give the forces a fighting chance
2) Win influence over the groups and the people they defend
3) Balance the power that Iran, Al Nursa or any Sunni forces may have gained
4) Unite the more secular forces and drive out Al Qaeda backed groups
What’s wrong with these points? A few things…
· The Syrian Army uses attack helicopters and tanks to bombard towns from far away so small arms will not help the Syrian forces make gains nor improve defenses
·Interventions like this tend the prolong conflict
·Research shows that external support generally fractures groups
·No research has ever proven that a patron or country can reliably “buy” influence from a group or groups
In order for Iran to lose this chess match, the rebels have to make political and military gains. For Iran, a victory would just be avoiding an outright U.S. win. If Obama’s gamble fails it will only reinforce just how weak U.S. influence in the region has become. And then, checkmate.
Despite the tragedy that is the loss of life, culture and history of Syria, a greater one awaits the Syria population if this power game continues. They will not be collateral damage. They will not even be pawns. They simply will be the board on which this game of power struggle continues.
Many commentators, including David Brooks, have made comparisons to a Post 9-11 Iraq. This is folly. Instead, I recommend we view this situation as Afghanistan in the 1980s where President Reagan made the decision to arm opposition forces to combat the Soviet Union. A choice that birthed some the same forces we face in Syria today in the form of Al Nursa and Al Qaeda.
Limiting the discussion of whether or not to intervene not only misses the underlying issue but is short sighted. Why limit your tools to only rooks and bishops that attack in straight predictable lines? Predictable military strategies result in a lot of time being wasted attacking and defending positions instead of looking at all the players on the board and seeing what is happening.
Acknowledging where this great chess game is going and getting the players to sit down for diplomatic talks requires a more flexible strategy with more flexible players. If Obama wants to reach any end game in Syria he needs to release his knights. Jump over near by obstacles and get to the heart of the matter. U.S. foreign policy has been here before, a diplomatic response would go a long way improve relations with Gulf States and U.S. standing.