Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chemical weapons in Syria

THE USEFUL WEBSITE Democracy for America asks us where we stand on Syria, meaning of course where we stand on the question of military intervention in that sad country, and provides an opportunity to express our views. This is what I think:

The United States should take this opportunity to change the rules of the game completely, moving the rationale for maintaining a huge and expensive military toward its only possible moral purpose.

The president should immediately invite other nations to help enforce the Geneva Accords by seizing and destroying the chemical weapons.

This should be announced as the objective at home, making clear their danger even to American citizens domestically (remember the Tokyo subway?). It should be announced at the UN and at NATO. And it should be stated in clear terms to the Assad government and all rebel forces.

Then we should direct our forces to seize and destroy the weapons.

Of course I realize this is a difficult objective. It would require an operation similar to that that assassinated Osama bin Laden, writ immensely larger. But it would not be an Iraq War, let alone Afghanistan. It has a clear objective and end strategy. It has nothing to do with regime change or taking sides. It would not be directed against the Middle East or any of its nations, and would involve occupation only as long as needed to dismantle the weapons.

Neither China nor Russia would agree with the concept, aware of their own stockpiles. North Korea would bluster. Iran would likely take notice and further re-think her position within the global military context.

We would demonstrate that military force can be used for pacific goals, and that we and others are serious about WMD. Perhaps we could turn next to controlling and stopping their manufacture and sale.


Vincent said...

This sounds like an admirable objective, but I would add a few observations.

(1) If it could be done at all, it could be done by the US acting alone. In this way, it could be done swiftly and secretly. For all we know, it's already the favoured plan. cf the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

(2) The doability of such a plan depends on accurate intelligence.

(3) It might not be doable at all without major losses to the US forces involved

(4) It might not be doable at all without significant loss of life to innocent Syrian civilians

(5) the process of recovering or destroying in situ the chemical weapons might set them off, especially if they are booby-trapped.

(6) the expedition might easily fail.

But I'm sure you have thought all these things yourself.

Curtis Faville said...

"Surgical strikes" have come to be viewed as the "clean, hygienic" alternative.

We send drones over Pakistan--a nation with whom we are not at war--run remotely from basement bunkers in Virginia apparently.

At the beginning of the Iraq war, and later, we watched in disbelief as our rockets took out private vehicles on empty roads, or whole city blocks in Baghdad. All very clean if you were sipping coffee in a basement in Virginia. Not so clean if you were under those explosions.

There is no such thing as a surgical strike where chemical weaponry is involved.

If we could simply walk in and load these drums into trucks, and drive them onto huge transport planes, we could as easily depose Assad himself. Isn't that the real purpose in all this hand-wringing?

The moral point here is that the Geneva Convention protocols are not a pretext for the invasion of countries, or for any peremptory military action.

These civil wars are very troubling. We can expect such conflicts throughout Asia, South America and the Near East for the next 100 years. Should we expect to engage our forces in all of them? If we don't, is it likely that China will instead? Right now, they seem content to let us do this, while they wrap up extractive contracts throughout the third world. They're really smart; they're beating us at our own game.

Meanwhile, our government dithers.