#Syria: We never had control

We have said it before: the best outcome for the West in the Syrian civil war would be for the war to continue for so long, and be so destructive, that it doesn’t matter which side wins: there will be so much death and destruction with which the winners will have to deal that they will not have the time, money or other resources to make problems outside of Syria. Well, whether by accident (more probable) or design (far, far less probable), the United States’ policy seems to match what The First Street Journal has advocated. From The Wall Street Journal:

Behind Assad’s Comeback, a Mismatch in Commitments
Regime’s Survival Seen as Example of America’s Inability to Steer Events From a Distance
By Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman | Dec. 31, 2013 1:32 p.m. ET

In the early days of the Syrian rebellion, U.S. intelligence agencies made a prediction: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days were numbered, an assessment repeated publicly by President Barack Obama and top U.S. intelligence officials.

Mr. Obama said so as recently as March 22, at a press conference in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah: “I’m confident that Assad will go. It’s not a question of if, it’s when.”

Behind the scenes, though, U.S. intelligence services had already begun to pick up indications that this long-held assumption was wrong.

That winter and early spring, U.S. and Israeli spy agencies received intelligence that Iran and the Assad regime were pressing the reluctant leader of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon to commit to sending his fighters into Syria en masse, current and former U.S. officials said.

The resulting Hezbollah surge to bolster Mr. Assad represented a turning point in the Syria conflict, giving the Syrian leader enough strength to survive, though not enough to prevail.

More at the link. But that final quoted paragraph puts the situation as being about the best for which the civilized world could hope.

Naturally, the foreign policy mavens worry:

Now, at the end of 2013, Syria stands as a tale of mismatched commitments, and an example of America’s inability to steer events from a distance. In many ways, Syria as it was known before simply doesn’t exist any longer, U.S. officials say. Its place has been taken by a shattered state riven into sectarian enclaves, radicalized by war and positioned to send worrisome ripples out across the Middle East for years to come, say current and former officials.

Perhaps, but your Editor doesn’t see it that way. “Worrisome ripples” don’t occur without actual people to generate them, and the Syrian civil war is going to leave a lot of the most worrisome ripplers injured, maimed or dead. The participation of Hezbollah in the civil war means that fewer Hezbollah fighters will be alive after this mess finally ends. And as more of the fighting-aged men are removed from the population, the remainder of the population will be less eager, overall, to want to fight somewhere else. The enemies of civilization are busy killing each other in Syria; why would we ever want to stop that?

The Journal reported that recently departed CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell briefed some congressmen in private, and said that the CIA estimated that the civil war could drag on for another ten years or more, with President Assad unable to take control of the entire country, but with the Islamist/al Qaeda controlled areas landlocked between eastern Syria and Iraq, and frequent ethnic and sectarian squabbling going on in those areas.

Much of the article, however, is less about the conditions of the fighting than the diplomatic and military maneuvering by forces outside of Syria to try to aid one side or the other. The article noted that Saudi Arabia is very displeased with the low-level of the American commitment — a small supply of weapons to some of the rebel groups — and that Secretary of State John François Kerry, rather than recognize the Saudi’s real concerns, simply wanted to place the onus on Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Prince Bandar, on the other hand, appears to have a rather low opinion of both Mr Kerry and his boss, President Obama.

The First Street Journal shares Prince Bandar’s low opinion of Messrs Obama and Kerry, albeit for different reasons. However, this situation illuminates a lesson which the United States was starting to learn in the 1960s, with our failures in Vietnam: sometimes that United States simply cannot control what happens in other countries. As early as 1949, there were bitter recriminations in the United States about “who lost China,” when the old “China hands’ couldn’t keep Chaing Kai-Shek and the Nationalists from losing to Mao Tse-tung and the Communists in the civil war there, a notion which assumes that the United States could have changed the outcome by an effort short of direct military intervention. The war in Vietnam pointed out, rather dramatically, that even with direct military intervention, the United States might not be able to direct the outcome. The war in Iraq proved that we might be able to depose a brutal dictator, but we might not be able to control who takes power after the dictator is gone.

Your Editor was tempted to credit Secretary of State Kerry for having realized this, following his experiences in Vietnam, but declined; the Secretary’s performance when it comes to negotiations with Iran leaves me with little doubt that Mr Kerry simply does not understand the motivations of power and of non-Western leaders. If Mr Morell was correct, we can look forward to perhaps a decade of Islamist and Syrian government fighters disappearing into the meat-grinder of the civil war, and that’s a good thing, but The First Street Journal will not credit either the Secretary or President Obama for having directed it; the best that can be said, now, is that they haven’t fouled it up . . . yet.

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