A practical guide for avoiding fallacies on Syria

Shadi Hamid writes: Military action does not equal regime change. The two, understandably, have become conflated because of the Iraq war. But military action can help, rather than undermine, diplomatic efforts. It is abundantly clear that the Assad regime will not negotiate in good faith or make any significant concessions on its own. We’ve hoped for that since the earliest Arab League efforts in 2011. The credible threat of force (or its use) is the only thing that is likely to change Assad’s calculus. If his survival isn’t at stake, he has little reason to negotiate much of anything.

Not everything is Iraq. There is the danger of seeing airstrikes as a low-risk catch-all solution, a kind of military pixie-dust. At the same time, though, not everything is an Iraq-style invasion. America has any number of choices in between these two models of engagement. In Bosnia, air power forced the Serbs to the negotiating table, eventually leading to the Dayton Accords (a key example of military action in the service of diplomacy). Similarly, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime showed an openness to talks only after the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, with Qaddafi envoys engaging in cease-fire talks within weeks.

The fallacy of anti-interventionism. The presumption is that not acting is neutral. But it’s not. “Do no harm” can do tremendous harm. In the case of Syria, it has. Deciding not to act in the face of war crimes is a very conscious decision. Just as we judge the consequences of intervention, we must be willing to judge the consequences of non-intervention. [Continue reading…]

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