Can the U.S. take action to protect Aleppo?


Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier write: Aleppo is an emergency, requiring emergency measures. Are we no longer capable of emergency action? It is also an opportunity, perhaps the last one, to save Syria. Aleppo is the new Sarajevo, the new Srebrenica, and its fate should be to the Syrian conflict what the fate of Sarajevo and Srebrenica were to the Bosnian conflict: the occasion for the United States to bestir itself, and for the West to say with one voice, “Enough.” It was after Srebrenica and Sarajevo — and after the air campaign with which the West finally responded to the atrocities — that the United States undertook the statecraft that led to the Dayton accords and ended the war in Bosnia.

The conventional wisdom is that nothing can be done in Syria, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a path toward ending the horror in Aleppo — a perfectly realistic path that would honor our highest ideals, a way to recover our moral standing as well as our strategic position. Operating under a NATO umbrella, the United States could use its naval and air assets in the region to establish a no-fly zone from Aleppo to the Turkish border and make clear that it would prevent the continued bombardment of civilians and refugees by any party, including the Russians. [Continue reading…]

Any military strategy that’s designed “to recover our moral standing” is dubious — and not simply because there are those who doubt that the U.S. possessed much the moral standing in the first place.

The effectiveness of a military strategy can’t be assessed on the basis of the worthiness of its non-military goals.

The authors in their sweeping assertion that they are offering “a perfectly realistic path,” dodge the awkward details on how this would work.

Are they assuming that once the boundaries of this no-fly zone had been defined, Russian and Syrian aircraft would then obediently comply?

Or do they assume that as soon as a few jets had been shot down the intended lesson would have swiftly been learned?

Turkey already shot down a Russian jet on the edge of this arena. What lessons, if any, have been drawn from that incident and are they now being applied to this future scenario?

“If the Russians and Syrians sought to prevent humanitarian protection and resupply of the city, they would face the military consequences,” we are told by the armchair generals.

“Military consequences” is a phrase of political bluster — especially when coming from two writers who profess no military expertise. If pressed to spell out what these military consequences might be, I expect Ignatieff and Wieseltier would defer to the actual generals.

My point here is not to dismiss the idea that at this late hour there might be a constructive military intervention in Syria, but simply to say that such an argument needs more detail and substance and fewer passionate declarations. It needs to credibly show how this would work rather than simply why it should be undertaken.

Currently, Obama administration officials are cynically curtailing all discussion about their military options by claiming that they only have two choices: start World War III or do essentially nothing (beyond repeating their mantra that their is no military solution in Syria).

“What do you want me to do, go to war with Russia?” John Kerry is reported to have asked a Syrian NGO representative in London last week.

The choice is false but it is gladly being picked up by ideological anti-interventionists who are attracted by the rhetorical utility of this device when offered to those who have little interest in questioning its validity.

To those who insist on framing this crisis in terms of World War III, I would ask two questions: What makes you think it hasn’t already begun? And why do you think its defining attribute necessarily involves a clash between the U.S. and Russia?

A world war involves global instability and a contagion of violent conflict. There are active conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. There is unrest in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Palestine, Israel, and elsewhere.

As the EU struggles to handle the refugee crisis, European unity is being fractured, placing its future in jeopardy.

If through the power of inattention, Americans could indeed successfully insulate themselves from the effects of global strife, then perhaps this could endure as a land of blissful ignorance.

Instead, what is more predictable is that the more disengaged the U.S. becomes, the less influence it will have and the fewer options it can consider.

No one will benefit from America’s self-imposed paralysis.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “Can the U.S. take action to protect Aleppo?

  1. Óscar Palacios

    So what are American options at this point, short of a direct military confrontation with Russia? The US dreamed of being almost everybody’s ally in its endeavour to control the Middle East and isolate and ultimately degrade the Russia-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis: its an ally of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, the Kurds, Pakistan, India, the Afghan government, the Iraqis, the so-called “moderate” Syrian “opposition”, the EU, NATO, etc. But their allies’ interests are now evidently at odds. So what next? What would a productive engagement look like? They can’t please everybody. Moscow understands this and they’re acting accordingly; Russia (and therefore, the Assad regime) thrives in America’s quagmire.

  2. Syd

    I’m sorry you feel I wasted your time. This will be my last comment.

    The effectiveness of a military strategy can’t be assessed on the basis of the worthiness of its non-military goals…. It needs to credibly show how this would work rather than simply why it should be undertaken.

    Exactly! But you go on to say that any one who doesn’t want to get more involved in this war must be reflexively anti-interventionist.

    Just a little over 2 months ago you were posting articles by Lister and Orton claiming that there are 70,000 moderate rebels in Syria. (Orton was particularly obnoxious about it — saying that anyone who doubted this didn’t know what he was talking about.) That claim was false. Do facts matter? Does this change anything in your view? Who is being reflexively ideological?

    It’s not just the Tony Blair foundation claiming that there are not many moderates among the rebels. Former Syrian ambassador Robert Ford — “one of the Syrian rebels’ loudest cheerleaders in Washington” — said last summer that there were “fewer than 20,000” moderates. General Petreaus tacitly admitted that moderates were a minority when he said that we should work with “moderate Al Qaeda” fighters. If the rebels win, will their authoritarian governance bring peace and stability? “Do you think that’s what’s going to bring peace to Syria?” Or Lebanon?

    The fact that there are “active conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq… and Libya” should be more than enough evidence that US military intervention is not helping. No, we’re not the only reason the region is on fire, but our military is not helping. We’ve been in Afghanistan for over 14 years. What lasting good have we done the people there? Do you have to be reflexively anti-interventionist to look at this record — and the extremism of both sides in the Syrian war — and say no, we should stay out of it?

    I am done.

  3. Paul Woodward Post author

    “I’m sorry you feel I wasted your time” — as opposed to being sorry about wasting my time. Had the latter been the case, you might have spared me yet another comment.

    You assert emphatically that the claim on 70,000 moderate rebels “was false” and yet point to an article that doesn’t substantiate your claim. I always find it strange when people do this — use a link to another article to back up a point, as though the link constitutes the proof rather than the text it’s pointing to.

    What happens in Syria doesn’t stay in Syria — as the whole of Europe knows. Those in the U.S. who cling to this notion “we should stay out of it” have what might be called the two-planet mentality: there’s planet America and planet the-rest-of-the-world and each orbits independently around the sun.

    Staying out of it, isn’t actually an option. Neither should this be reduced to a binary question about U.S. military intervention.

    In an exercise in mass magical thinking, the vast majority of Americans have spent the last five years acting as though if they keep their eyes and ears closed for long enough, Syria will disappear. It hasn’t. Denial doesn’t work.

  4. Paul Woodward Post author

    One option is humanitarian aid in the form of airlifts. The Berlin airlift demonstrated what can be accomplished even when at the point of initiation it wasn’t clear how or if it would work and how long it would continue. Some would argue that if the U.S. engages in a humanitarian intervention of this type then aid is being politicized, but the UN is already accused of complicity with the Assad regime when it delivers aid to regime-controlled areas and not those under rebel control. The Russians might not be cooperative since this kind of operation would challenge Assad’s siege-warfare strategy, but I doubt they would start shooting down unarmed cargo aircraft. See this.

Comments are closed.