FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Syrian Quandary

Donald Trump’s threat of another missile attack—or any attack—on Syria cannot improve the rebels’ position on the ground, affect use of chemical weapons, change Russia’s and Iran’s policies, or alter Bashar al-Assad’s tenure. A US attack may make Trump feel like a commander-in-chief at a time when his own rule is endangered, but it can backfire in multiple ways, not least a direct clash with Russia. The administration needs to work through the UN and US allies, provide a convincing report on the latest chemical weapons attack, and take appropriate collective action—including economic and political sanctions—to punish the responsible party or parties.

The human interest in Syria must be the highest priority. Simply put, it is: stop the killing, save the children. We are long past the time when overthrowing Assad was a possibility, just as we are long past the time when a US commitment to full-out war in Syria—the only way to get regime change—was even thinkable. But the time is not yet past when arrangements with Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers can be made to allow all those who still wish to leave Syria to do so—and with assurances that their refugee status will be honored and funded.

At this point, US leverage in Syria is very limited. Two other ideas that may have a chance to work have been proposed by Ambassador James Dobbins and Jeffrey Martini. They argue that “The absolute minimum condition compatible with America’s honor and credibility is to help its Kurdish allies negotiate an arrangement with the Damascus regime (and with Turkey) that affords them some degree of political autonomy and allows them to continue to secure their population in the east of the country.” Dobbins and Martini also believe Assad would be amenable to an agreement on withdrawal of all foreign militias now in Syria. Such an agreement should cover no further Israeli air attacks.

Trump was right to say he wanted US withdrawal from Syria. It has been an expensive and largely fruitless intervention—as usual, without Congressional authorization—even though ISIS has been badly hurt. Launching missiles, insulting Assad, and threatening Russia reflect animus, not strategic thinking. They ensure the further destruction of the country and a widening of the war. Protect innocent civilians, gain the removal from Syria of as many occupying forces as possible, let Assad learn what it means to be dependent on Russia—these are all that is left of a Syria policy.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail