Below is the first installment in a series of three posts looking specifically at the prevailing debates on Syria and what to do about the situation there.
In mid January, I wrote a piece on The Atlantic titled, “It’s Time to Think Seriously about Intervening in Syria.” I am gratified that in the ensuing seven weeks there has been a robust debate on the op-ed pages, blogs, Twitter, Beltway roundtables, and within the Obama administration about what to do about Syria. No doubt, this has less to do with my 1500 or so words than the deteriorating situation on the ground in Syria, especially the onslaught in Homs. As the debate suggests, this is not an easy issue. As I mentioned in the article, “Syria has become a place where violence, colonial legacies, the mistakes of the recent past, and the hopes for a better Middle East have collided to create layers of complications and unsettling trade-offs for policymakers and outside observers.” It is all these things and much more—the Syria issue intersects with great power politics, international order, the United Nations, the use of military force, and philosophy. I’ve been struck by the way in which proponents and opponents of intervention have used precisely the same evidence to marshal support for their claims. For example, Moscow’s support for the Assads is leveraged in a way both to suggest that only force can stop the killing and as a reason not to intervene because with the help of the Russian (and Chinese and Iranians) whatever force that is brought to bear will do little to bring Assad down while killing a lot of people. This is not a function of muddled thinking. (There are many very smart people who are engaged in this debate.) Rather, we are dealing with a complex problem, with little information, faulty analogies, and fresh memories of a searing decade of violence and intervention in the Middle East. Unlike Libya, Syria is hard. Read more »