The only effective option in Syria: Humanitarian Intervention through the direct use of military force

To believe that simply getting the parties to the conference table would quickly lead to a settlement would be like believing that a giant rabbit would suddenly appear on top of the conference table and pull a full resolution to the conflict out of his giant hat.

In a word, while diplomats dither, al-Assad kills.

Yesterday we described the new game in Syria, and suggested that the option of simply arming the rebels is out-of-date. Now, with al-Assad gaining momentum, and allowing for inevitable delays in inplementation, much more will be required to bring his barbarism to a halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The new game in Syria and the only real option now: the direct use of military force,” June 11, 2013.

For a glimpse into how much the battlefield has changed, with Hezbollah sending up to 15,000 fighters from Lebanon to participate with al-Assad’s forces in the fighting for al-Qusair, see David Ignatius, “In defeat at Qusair, Syrian rebels’ painful failings,” Washington Post, June 6, 2013 (10:06 PM EDT).

For further background and context, see also the Articles on Syria Page. Because that page has not yet been completely updated, you may also wish to see the Posts in Chronological Order Page, or scroll through the main (top) page of The Trenchant Observer.

The only effective option: Humanitarian Intervention through the direct use of military force

While members of the Obama administration have thrown up a lot of worst-case scenarios or “straw men” to suggest the United States and its allies have few military options in Syria, two columnists have laid out some of the specific military options that are available to President Barack Obama in dealing with the Syrian crisis.


Brett Stephens, “What to Do About Syria; Act now against Assad or risk chemical weapons falling into terrorist hands,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2013, (7:05 p.m. ET).

Charles Krauthammer, “Message from the ruins of Qusair,” Washington Post, June 7, 2013 (12:33 AM EDT).

Stephens lists a range of military options the U.S. could implement without putting “boots on the ground”:

So what should the Obama administration do?

(1) Disable the runways of Syrian air bases, including the international airport in Damascus. A limited military strike prevents the regime from deploying jets against its own people. It prevents Iran (and Russia) from supplying it (and Hezbollah) with arms. And it enforces U.N. Resolution 1701, which bans weapons transfers to Hezbollah, and No. 1747, which bans Iranian arms exports.

(2) Use naval assets to impose a no-fly zone over western Syria, including Aleppo, Syria’s largest (and most embattled) city. A U.S. threat to shoot down Syrian military aircraft, including helicopters, will keep the Syrian air force grounded without requiring the U.S. to destroy Syria’s sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities.

(3) Supply the Free Syrian Army with heavy military equipment, including armored personnel carriers and light tanks… posing little risk that the equipment could someday be used by terrorists or threaten Syria’s neighbors.

(4) Throw money at Jordan, no questions asked….

(5) Be prepared to seize and remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, even if it means putting boots (temporarily) on the ground.

(6) Read “Underground,” Haruki Murakami’s journalistic account of the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway… (Stephens includes exceerpts from an eyewitness account of the subway attack).

Krauthammer summarizes the policies of the Obama administration toward Syria, and their consequences, as follows:

Assad, in contrast, has a real friend. Putin knows Obama. Having watched Obama’s retreat in Eastern Europe, his passivity at Russian obstructionism on Iran, his bended-knee “reset” policy, Putin knows he has nothing to fear from the U.S. president.

Result? The contemptuous Putin floods Syria with weapons. Iran, equally disdainful, sends Revolutionary Guards to advise and shore up Assad’s forces. Hezbollah invades Syria and seizes Qusair.

Obama’s response? No warning that such balance-altering provocations would trigger even the most minimal American response.

Even Obama’s chemical weapons red line is a farce. Its very pronouncement advertised passivity…

And when that WMD red line was finally crossed, Obama went into lawyerly overdrive to erase it. Is it any wonder that Assad’s allies are on full offensive — Hezbollah brazenly joining the ground war, Russia sending a small armada and mountains of military materiel, Iran warning everyone to stay out?

Obama’s response is to send the secretary of state, hat in hand, to Moscow. And John Kerry returns actually thinking he’s achieved some great diplomatic breakthrough — a “peace” conference that Russia will dominate and use to re-legitimize Assad and marginalize the rebels.

Press reports suggest Obama is once again considering supplying weapons to the insurgents in Syria, and other military options. 

Lacking any experience in military combat or operations, Obama’s approach to military issues throughout his administration has been intellectual in nature. This time, he is likely once again to split the difference, adopting half-measures that are “too little, too late”–actions which don’t get the job done.

President Obama is looking at two years’ of abject failures in his Syria policy, and the consequences of those failures.

Can he now change his approach, his thinking, and his decisiveness of action?

Presidents have surprised us before, as with Nixon’s trip to China, or Reagan’s arms control agreements with Gorbachev.

If he is to salvage his place in history on foreign policy, Barack Obama needs to surprise us now.

The Trenchant Observer

Next: The Legitimacy of Humanitarian Intervention to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.