Now that the president has decided to seek Congressional authorization for any military action on Syria, we all have some time to breathe and think this through. That is a good thing. Lest we forget, the liberation of Afghanistan began roughly one month after 9/11/01.
So, with that in mind, there are three questions, to which all the answers must be Yes, before I myself would support a military strike – or ask my Senators and Congressman to do the same. They are as follows.
1) Is the President committed to ensuring a non-terrorist regime comes to power in Syria? At present, the Tehran-and-Zhongnanhai-allied Assad regime is very much a terror sponsor. This is the regime that assassinated the Prime Minister of Lebanon in 2005; it has been host and benefactor to Hezbollah; it freely allowed its porous border to be used by al Qaedites and others to kill Americans in Iraq. That said, the opposition is a hot mess at best – emphasis on “best.” Al Qaedites are marbled into them, at the macro and perhaps even the micro level.
The last aforementioned fact has led some to believe the opposition is irredeemable, but history tells us otherwise. A Marxist rebellion in Ethiopia slowly abandoned its Marxism as American support flowed in. Although it was not known at the time, American support in the 1990s greatly helped – and helped to tame – Serbia’s opposition to Slobodan Milosevic. Even Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki began acting like a relatively decent fellow in Iraq during the surge period (when it became clear President Bush the younger would go after al Qaeda and Iran-backed terrorists in his country).
There are Syrians who understand that al Qaeda is bad news. They’re just being asked – in the absence of American support – to choose between al Qaeda and Assad. In fact, the entire country is. We can – and we must – make sure that is a false choice. That won’t happen if we decide it’s just too hard to separate the non-terrorists from the terrorists. A similar lack of attention to detail helped sink Egypt’s efforts at reform – and that’s where it comes back to the president. Does he have the proper goal?
2) Is the President prepared to enact, and follow, a plan that will achieve that goal? If anything, this is harder than the previous one. Saying you want folks who aren’t terrorists running Syria is one thing; helping to make it happen is something else. It requires resources (including military weaponry), the ability to separate pro-Syrian rebels from al Qaeda interlopers, the resolve to walk away (and loudly) if that separation doesn’t come, and finally the patience to let it happen slowly, if it can. It should be clear to anyone that removing Assad and making sure al Qaeda doesn’t replace him will take years – and likely multiple Administrations. Is the president willing, or even psychologically able, to hand over a progressing but unfinished policy to his successor?
3) Will military action actually bring us closer to this goal? This one is where the rubber hits the road, and where we all need to be careful (critics included) before deciding for ourselves what the answer is. I was convinced - absolutely convinced – that the 1999 military action in Kosovo would make removing Milosevic harder, not easier. I was spectacularly wrong. It gave Montenegro its chance to get out from under Milosevic’s orbit – a chance it took with gusto – while greatly damaging Milosevic’s credibility with the nationalists upon whom he relied, at least in part, to remain in power. That said, we should still have the information needed to make an informed decision on this – and I say that as a demand of the president, not an assumption.
As I said, I will only support military intervention if the answer to all three questions is Yes…and I should note, so far, the president has yet to convince me of even one. Yet he has given himself at least a week to try.