Noe in Huff Post: “The False, Perilous Choice Of A ‘Limited’ American Bombing Campaign In Syria”
I am posting – quite late – my June 28 critique of Thanassis Cambanis’s Century Foundation report on Syria that appeared in The Huffington Post:
My own Century Foundation white paper recommending a different approach to Lebanon appeared in February 2009, for those that are interested:
Re-Imagining the Lebanon Track: Towards a New US Policy
A few excerpts from my June piece:
“…There are, of course, many arguments to be made about the merits and dangers of such an approach (I warned against escalating the conflict in The Huffington Post in May 2011 and again in The New York Times in February 2012). But there is at least one problem of form – i.e. the position of the messengers themselves rather than the content of their arguments – that all observers concerned with the future of Syria should consider at the outset when weighing any purportedly “new” approaches to a hellish situation: The vast majority of intelligent, compassionate individuals arguing for intervention possess little, if any, experience or training in military affairs, strategy or history.
Not surprisingly, one result of this deficit has been analyses that are extremely thin – as was the case with one 2015 report by the venerable International Crisis Group (ICG) – when it comes to unpacking the precise mechanics and limitations of military action.
Moreover, and despite widely held bona fides in political science and international relations, most of the people making the case for intervention also tend to omit any serious discussion of the kinds of counter-force that some actors would likely bring to bear to protect self-declared “existential” interests.
Unfortunately, it is within this context that last week’s report by Century Foundation (TCF) Fellow Thanassis Cambanis should be read…”
“…Of course, Cambanis may be correct in all this. Perhaps Russia will only fume if it’s allies’ advantage and maneuverability is shown a John Wayne? Maybe Assad will dramatically reduce his barrel bombing campaign? And surely there is a strong analysis that Putin does not want a war with the U.S.
But like the earlier ICG report (which saw fit to mention the word “Russia” only a few times in 42 pages when calling for U.S.-led attacks on Assad and his allies), no arguments are actually presented that one could weigh in answering these questions. There is, in short, no way for the reader to determine whether Cambanis has a convincing case upon which many lives, including American lives, should be risked.
As a corollary to these omissions, incredibly, the report also makes no reference to any statements by Syrian, Russian, Iranian or Hezbollah leaders. No reference is made to any of the vast literature and debates from within these societies about what a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria might mean for them. Cambanis talks to no officials in order to at least gauge the official rhetoric he hears (but does not tell us about), despite his having been in regime-controlled parts of Syria and residing in Beirut.
Moreover, no direct attribution is made – save for one discussion of game theory – to the Western debates on the subject. Obama administration arguments go unquoted, while no reference at all is made to substantial U.S. military and intelligence community opposition to a “limited” intervention…”
“…Perhaps because he thinks Syria can be put back together – after an unspecified “messy” reconciliation that will never amount to the pre-2011 state in any case – Cambanis fails to explore an alternative track for addressing the moral and strategic calamity of the Syria war.
Such an approach would recognize that, sadly, Syria is already de facto partitioned and that the prospects of melding Assad and his powerful allies back together with their opposite is wholly unrealistic absent major geo-strategic changes in the region and the world (for some arguments about this assertion look here and here).
Given the vital need to wind down the conflict for Syrians and their neighbors, as well as to focus more resources on ISIS and other like-minded actors, a temporary partition should therefore at least be considered, argued over and eventually fleshed out…”