Romney and the Syrian Dilemma

On Monday, Mitt Romney made clear his intention to intervene in Syria should he become president. As usual, how exactly he would do that remained vague.

In the meantime, events in Syria are moving fast. The suicide bombing at a branch of Air Force intelligence at a base in Hrasta near Damascus showed that the regime is gradually losing its grip in Syria. The group that claimed to have been behind the explosions is Nusrat al-Islam (aid to Islam), considered by Washington, D.C. as an al-Qaeda affiliate. That Muslim radicals are carrying out efficient large scale bombings of Syrian government facilities raises some red flags with analysts.

Romney’s conviction, expressed in his Monday speech, that he could control who got the better weapons among the Syrian groups is probably not realistic.

In other Syria news, on Tuesday Syrian revolutionaries took the town of Maaret al-Nu’man, in the hinterland of Idlib. If they kept it the rebels would be in a position to control the trade in and out of Aleppo. The Syrian regime is sending troops up to try to to take the area back.

Meanwhile, Turkey continued to return fire across the border into Syria. Ankara received backing from NATO, of which it is a member, on member states coming to Turkey’s aid if necessary. Romney on Monday also talked about “our ally Turkey” being attacked by Syria, and seemed to imply that the US would intervene in Syria on behalf of Turkey. Turkey will likely attempt to keep its involvement limited, having little taste for all out war. But what if Ankara called Romney on his pledge?

It is in fact a source of shame to our major world institutions that they are allowing a government to use military weapons against its own civilian population. But there is only one redress for this situation, which is the UN Security Council. It has remained reluctant to take a pro-intervention stance, stymied by the Russian and Chinese veto.

In the absence of a UN Security Council resolution, however, intervening militarily would be a huge risk, since things could easily spiral out of control and the US would be acting illegally and without international support.

The option of a ‘no fly zone’ would be extremely difficult to implement in Syria. A lot of regime tanks are inside cities, where trying to bomb them could well produce large numbers of wounded civilians. (the US never bombed the tanks attacking Misrata because they were too far inside city limits and the danger of friendly fire was too great.

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16 Responses

  1. Me, I’m against going to any part of the Middle East, period. For any reasons. But I’m curious Prof, lets say you could peer into the future and find that the stance of the China and Russia re UN ‘resolutions’ of any type, has not changed. But the attacks on civilians keeps up. What might be your position?

  2. “It is in fact a source of shame to our major world institutions that they are allowing a government to use military weapons against its own civilian population.”

    I guess that means that you’re not a COIN fan. Counterinsurgency doesn’t work for you. There goes some great US military history, into the bin.

        • If they begin waging a war, it would be legal to use military force against them under international law.

          Although it’s also worth noting that there are large holes in the Geneva Conventions protections when it comes to rebellions within a country.

  3. Weapons proliferation and war is opposite to peace and the trust among peoples needed to keep Earth alive -specifically related to increase of heat and loss of Earth ecosystem.
    According to a Summary of what’s happening in Middle East from yesterday in the Guardian, the attack on the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Agency HQ, which is known for ruthless behavior was done by two brothers in suicide bombings 20 minutes apart. Ambulance attacked those coming in response.. Syrian freedom fighters main group doesn’t communicate with the group responsible and didn’t know what was coming and it asks to end suicide attacks; war crime..

  4. SecDef Panetta acknowledges that US Special Forces have been in Jordan since at least THIS Summer:
    link to

    “… the small team of planners were not engaged in covert operations and have been housed at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, north of the capital of Amman, since the early summer.”

    He states a reason. Maybe that is the reason, maybe not.
    He states how long they’ve been there, kinda. Maybe it’s been longer.

  5. It may be a time for a “carrot and stick ” approach to UNSC members China and Russia, as it was when they dropped their opposition to intervention in Iraq.

    Give them some trade benefits and they will be happy to vote an abstention so the Security Council can authorize intervention.

    The “attack against one is an attack against all” credo of NATO could provide a basis for NATO forces to intervene.

    Remember it was the downfall of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin when a neigboring country invaded and ended the reign of human rights abuses by his regime.

    • “trade benefits”? More jobs sent overseas, or cheap junk sent here….so we can get them to allow us to intervene where we don’t belong in the first place? Yup…sounds like that last 40 years of US foreign policy.

  6. Google map of Maaret al-Nu’man shows couple of interesting things. It’s on the main roadway from Damascus to Aleppo (M-5 and M-4/5). There appears to be a good sized lake nearby and a green-colored sploch that usually indicated national parks or areas of preservation and interest. Seems there is a Crusader-Castle there built by the Hospitlars back in 1160-90 and fought over several times. Seems there is a river valley from the uplands near the Turkish border and the Med that makes this a traditional invasion route (crusaders used it). Wikipedia also notes that oil pipelines traverse the area.

    A video of the ‘capture’ shows insurgents firing madly into the air around a dead tank. My long ago experience indicates that they would only be doing that if they were very well supplied with ammunition. (Could only carry about 5-600 rounds of 5.62 for M-16 in rucksack; didn’t waste any you might need!)

    The insurgents claim they previously held Maaret al-Nu’man in June and July but had to give it up under pressure. If they’ve retaken it, it’s obviously with the intention of holding it if possible. So they have progressed to the stage of guerrilla war that they begin to hold their own territories and maintain supply lines. Mao (my guerrilla guru) would say that Assaad’s gov’t is doomed.

    Thanks Dr Cole! You’re so good at pointing your readers down paths that enlighten the “news”.

  7. Oh! And before I go:

    1. The British totally pegged Mr Romney. He’s a twit! And…

    2. As mentioned above, the US should absolutely NOT PUT BOOTS ON THE GROUND in Syria and NOT throw advanced weapons into that caldron. Damn! Have we gotten stupider as time has gone on?! Did we enjoy Afghanistan mujahadin -> 9/11 the first time and think we could improve on it?!

  8. Not that I necessarily favor it, but what would be your thoughts on a true no-fly zone? One that expressly ruled out attacking tanks, artillery, command and control, etc? My understanding is that the Russians and Chinese were dismayed by the Libya effort in part because they gave an inch and we took a mile, attacking tanks, etc. Would a tighter mission scope make it harder for them to oppose international action?

    • You have to assume that opposition to intervention is the Russian and Chinese default. Libya was an extremely unusual situation. Russian and Chinese opposition to intervention in Syria is just a reversion to the norm.

    • A ‘no-fly’ zone necessarily involves eliminating the anti-aircraft infrastructure of the targeted nation. Some of these are mobile. These mobile radars, missile batteries and such are protected by tanks and infantry. Attacks on such formations are necessary and inevitable.

      Altho a ‘no fly’ zone might seem to be a useful half-way step, it is in fact a way of declaring that we are at war with the nation that is targeted. Should Asaad and his gov’t survive, it would be a defeat. We would be allying ourselves with the insurgents. That would involve some degree of post-war commitment.

      You are wise, Mr Mann, to not necessarily favor it. Wiser than the present Republican candidate.

  9. >But there is only one redress for this situation, which is
    >the UN Security Council. It has remained reluctant to take a
    >pro-intervention stance, stymied by the Russian and Chinese

    That’s the core problem. We pretend that dictators represent people. We need democratic reform of the UN, specifically…

    link to


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