I don’t often agree with former Clinton State Department spokesman James Rubin (no relation). But he’s making a lot more sense than some on the right who don’t think Syria or Syrians are worth lifting a finger to spare from years of bloodshed. (Henry Kissinger’s missive was comically obtuse. Intervening in Syria would cause international unrest, he says. As opposed to that sea of calm under Bashar al-Assad’s watchful eye?!)
Rubin argues: “It is the strategic relationship between the Islamic Republic [of Iran] and the Assad regime that makes it possible for Iran to undermine Israel’s security. Over the three decades of hostility between Iran and Israel, a direct military confrontation has never occurred — but through Hezbollah, which is sustained and trained by Iran via Syria, the Islamic Republic has proven able to threaten Israeli security interests.” (A nuclear bomb would make Syria a bit player, but first things first.) So, Rubin, asserts (contradicting Kissinger):
The rebellion in Syria has now lasted more than a year. The opposition is not going away, and it is abundantly clear that neither diplomatic pressure nor economic sanctions will force Assad to accept a negotiated solution to the crisis. With his life, his family, and his clan’s future at stake, only the threat or use of force will change the Syrian dictator’s stance. Absent foreign intervention, then, the civil war in Syria will only get worse as radicals rush in to exploit the chaos there and the spillover into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey intensifies.
Moreover, Rubin makes the point, as have many on the right, that we can accomplish a lot with relatively little risk:
Arming the Syrian opposition and creating a coalition air force to support them is a low-cost, high-payoff approach. Whether an air operation should just create a no-fly zone that grounds the regimes’ aircraft and helicopters or actually conduct air to ground attacks on Syrian tanks and artillery should be the subject of immediate military planning. And as Barak, the Israeli defense minister, also noted, Syria’s air defenses may be better than Libya’s but they are no match for a modern air force.
The larger point is that as long as Washington stays firm that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed, ála Kosovo and Libya, the cost to the United States will be limited. Victory may not come quickly or easily, but it will come.
As I argued yesterday, we had a greater array of options a year ago, but the president dawdled. Nevertheless, if we show some leadership, we can act without the United Nations or Russia. (Rubin suggests reaching out to “Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey” — a coalition of the willing!). We have both strategic and humanitarian interests at issue. And, as President Clinton did in the Balkans, we can accomplish our aims without a long slog on the ground.
The impact on Iran of such action could be significant. You see, using force smartly in a limited context sometimes can help avoid the need to deploy massive force elsewhere. And the reverse is also true. Does anyone imagine that if we fail to oust Assad, the Iranian mullahs will voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons program? Of course, they will not, for having seen the American president cower from a manageable fight, they will never be convinced that he would undertake a far more complicated and potentially deadly altercation with them.