Years ago, a gentleman training me in Mediation, Bruce Berquist was so unhappy with the world that he decided to stop paying attention to the news. He just took a sabbatical – figured that if anything really important was happening, one of his colleagues or his wife would tell him. This was during the Lewinski-Impeachment-Semen Stained Dress period of American history. Anyway, of late I’ve been thinking about it, and I decided to take a similar sabbatical. Syria Today as Envisioned in HR Wells, Things to Come 1936
Among the things I’ve been trying to do is catch up on films. I finally watched the longest current surviving print of Metropolis, and was underwhelmed. However, I recently saw Things to Come, and while a less visually interesting film – Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon all over the silly thing – it got me thinking and helped me clarify some concerns. The Syria debacle really has bothered me; when you have no good choices, don’t freaking choose. Seems simple as a dictum, but for some reason we have stumbled into a time warp where we can’t do that. Syria is an absolute snake pit already without our holding our nose and jumping in; chemical weapons are a reasonably vile upping of the ante, but we’re already talking about two million refugees, four million internal displacements, 100000 casualties and who knows what other insanity. There are no players in the entire debacle that are particularly appealing and a number who are as appalling if not more so than Assad. What the hell? At times like this, I really wish Colin Powell had become President. If the US had followed the Powell Doctrine consistently since 1995, we’d be a happier, stronger and far more united nation and more perfect union. As you may recall, the Powell doctrine was fairly simple – Prior to committing US Forces to action, we need to have satisfactorily answered the following questions:
Is a vital national security interest threatened?
Do we have a clear attainable objective?
Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
Is the action supported by the American people?
Do we have genuine broad international support?
The Wiki piece on this tends to say there are a lot of exceptions including such things as humanitarian support wars. I don’t necessarily see that as a good idea. While it might prohibit some action in cases like Syria because of the question of vital national interests, one may reasonably argue that incidents like Libya and Syria are definitely in our geopolitical interests. However, it becomes reasonably obvious that none of our recent conflicts actually fit this model. Iraq was totally off the scale on the side of not fulfilling these criteria. We now know with a solid base of assurance that there were no vital interests of the United States involved in Iraq; on the contrary, it was counterproductive. When Powell refers to objective, he wasn’t referring to the political objective so much as the strategic military objective combined with the tactical objectives supporting it. If you can’t develop a reasonable objective, don’t commit. Risks and costs were completely disregarded; there was no pressing need to attack when we did. There was no reasonable Exit Strategy, and let me add a corollary—an exit strategy that ends up requiring 10 or 20 or 30 years continued stay is not a particularly meaningful strategy. The consequences predicted for the Iraq war were silly at best; the ultimate result was a nightmare. The American People supported the war initially but that was based on the same lies that got Secretary Powell on board. There was no real International Support for this war. It was a nightmare from start to
finish; a wholly preventable nightmare. Colin Powell[/caption] Syria is so similar as to be dumbfounding. We do have a vital national interest in not letting the region descend further into hell. However, the Arab League, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel have much more vital interests. If the Alawites become marginalized by Sunnis, Iran has a more pressing problem than Assad presents opportunities. The Gulf States have concerns about Iran and about the basic dominance in the region by l Qaeda and al Qaeda clones. Finally, as the guardian of nonproliferation and the enforcement of international norms, the UN has a vested interest here that far exceeds that of the individual members.
Chemical weapons are bad. We agree on that. However, the ability of the Syrian military to disperse delivery systems, stockpiles and command and control centers make limited strikes really ineffective. If we want to take out the power grid in a nation, that’s easy. Individual missiles, launchers and so on, not so much.
What the threat of military action has done is energize the world in seeking some diplomatic solution. In terms of exit strategy and solutions, the use of cruise missiles and air strikes provides neither. Unless someone is going to put boots on the ground to enforce UN mandates – which isn’t going to happen with the makeup of the Security Council – we are not looking at appropriate force and an exit strategy so much as at the technological equivalent of magic beans as a key to Never Land. Air strikes and cruise missile strikes don’t change the battlefield in and of themselves.
I sum up the Powell doctrine relatively simply: Clear, workable and defined Objective; Commitment of verwhelming, appropriate and effective force; and, Defined, workable exit strategy and time horizon. The Syria plan fails. Drop it.
Putin undoubtedly felt his cred as hemispheric godfather threatened and is reacting to prove he’s the Alpha dog. Let him. No American blood and treasure for Syria; logistics support for the UN or regional coalitions, perhaps. But as it stands, we have no dog in this fight.