Sunday, July 22, 2012

U.S. to Focus on Forcibly Toppling Syrian Government

With the exception of Max Boot at Commentary, and Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Wall Street Journal, we've seen few voices advocating direct military intervention in Syria. (And Gerecht was calling for CIA-directed operations, quite short of full boots on the ground.)

Susan RiceAn invasion of Syria would have worked better months ago, had there been enough foresight to realize that it was time for Assad to go and there weren't really other good options. Certainly, the U.N.'s engagement has once again made a mockery of that institution, especially with Russia protecting its balance of power interests in Syria, which include Moscow's only naval base outside of Russian waters. On Thursday this photo at the Los Angeles Times summarized --- like "a picture worth a thousand words" --- U.S. frustration with United Nations diplomacy toward Syrian President Bashar Assad (see, "Russia, China veto U.N. resolution on Syria"). Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has his hands outstretched as he leans forward in a pleading stance, while U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice looks at him, arms crossed, seemingly angry and surely frustrated. It's an amazing shot.

But now here comes the New York Times with the very shocking headline, "U.S. to Focus on Forcibly Toppling Syrian Government." Notice how Memeorandum has the original headline, which has now been changed at the Times' website, to "Stymied at U.N., U.S. Refines Plan to Remove Assad." And from the article:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama’s national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, in part to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The White House is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans — including safeguarding Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities — in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, the capital, and the killing of Mr. Assad’s key security aides in a bombing attack.

The administration has had regular talks with the Israelis about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, administration officials said. The administration is not advocating such an attack, the officials said, because of the risk that it would give Mr. Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.

Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.
Continue reading.

Well, as Marc Gerecht indicated, we're already aiding the free Syrian forces with "a rudimentary, small-scale CIA covert action" now under way against Assad. And besides weapons of mass destruction, the next biggest worry is that Islamists will come to power after the regime falls. I can't think of a better way to prevent that, at least in the short term, than by installing an "American Caesar" to govern the country until direct popular elections are held. The biggest impediment to that, frankly, is the risk of open armed conflict with Russia, which would cause a further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations to rival the worst points of the 20th-century Cold War. But the U.S. shouldn't rule out the option of military intervention for humanitarian purposes, especially amid the continuing refugee flows from the country.

A complete collapse of power in Damascus with no countervailing force is an even worse scenario, so it's going to take a lot of leadership, especially in Washington, to protect regional and international security in Syria in the weeks ahead.