Syrian Knowns and Unknowns
6) Politics: There are five groups weighing in on the Syrian war.
First, there are the genuine anti-war liberal Democrats who believe that war, unless we are attacked, is never an answer. Even though Obama is one of them, they (most of the liberal Congress, The Nation, academics, etc.) will oppose all U.S. interventions -- even his.
Second are the libertarians and paleocons. They too oppose most U.S. interventions, often on grounds that they rarely serve U.S. interests, enlarge the state, and created imperial responsibilities antithetical to our republican roots. They (The American Conservative, Reason, Rand Paul, etc.) would oppose Syria if a Republican advocated it.
Third are the mainstream Democrats. They mostly oppose all conservative-inspired U.S. interventions, though not always, at least not always at first. They almost never oppose an intervention orchestrated by a Democratic president. They (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) see any defection from a Democrat-inspired war as injurious to a wider Democratic domestic agenda.
Fourth are Republican establishment figures and neocons, who accept the tragic role of the U.S. as an enforcer of the postwar world. They yearn for the old days of bipartisan interventions to spread democracy and American power and culture, and believe that a Syrian or Libyan bombing against tyrants is both ethical and humane -- and enhances U.S. stature, They (John Boehner, Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary, Wall Street Journal, etc.) deemed it is as important when in the minority to support the opposition-led intervention as it is when in the majority that the opposition should support them.
Fifth are independents, conservative Democrats, and unpredictable Republicans who believe that each intervention depends on the circumstances, the likely outcomes, and, especially, the people in charge. In this case, Obama’s Syria makes no sense at all to these group (a hodgepodge crew from the last three categories).
Unfortunately for the president, groups one, two, and five vastly outnumber groups three and four.
In the president’s favor, he at last achieved his previously disingenuous goal of bipartisanship: a majority of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, really do oppose him.
7) Outcomes: There are endless outcome scenarios. Let us list just a few of them:
a) Assad is killed or flees; chaos erupts: Somalia, Sudan.
b) Assad is killed or flees; Islamists seize power: Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran .
c) Assad is killed or flees, militias ruin the country: Libya.
d) Assad sticks it out and wins: Syria reverts to a worse form of pre-2011.
e) Assad and the insurgents keep endlessly fighting: Afghanistan.
f) Assad is killed or flees; moderates take over: a temporary version of Iraq
g) Russia intervenes with supplies and a no-fly zone: who knows?
h) Hezbollah attacks U.S. interests: Obama does what?
i) Iran sends missiles and terrorists at U.S. assets: Obama does what?
j) Assad and Hezbollah launch their missiles at Israel: Israel responds.
k) Assad comes to the peace table and agrees to an international brokered settlement.
l) Assad is killed or flees, and the UN and “international community” occupy the country.
I believe that the few good scenarios are improbable and the far more bad ones far more likely.
None of us like Bashar Assad. His demise would in theory weaken our enemies like Iran and Hezbollah and be a proper punishment for decades of Assad regime murdering and slaughter. But I don’t how this administration, at this particular time, and with its changing rationales, has the knowledge to make Syria a more pro-American or better place, the savvy to win Congress, the American people, and allies to its cause, or the competency and will to carry out its own plans. Rethinking the intervention, and trying something different than bombing because of ill-advised Obama red lines is the more sober and ethical course.