[Michael Hoffman's Afterword and comments from readers follow this column]
WITH SYRIA, DIPLOMACY NEEDS FORCE
By Michael Ignatieff
New York Times Opinion Pages | OP-ED
February 26, 2014, page A25, New York Times
The trouble is that the conventional wisdom may be fatalism parading as realism and resignation masquerading as prudence.
Any realist needs to face two facts. First, absent the credible application of force against the Syrian regime, a negotiated transition leading to Mr. Assad’s departure is not going to happen. Despite the efforts of the United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition coalition have become a waste of time. The opposition forces have been weakened by military defeats, and Mr. Assad’s strategic advantage gives him no incentive to concede anything.
Second, if Mr. Assad is allowed to prevail in this conflict, he will reimpose his tyranny, and his forces will surely exterminate the remaining Sunni insurgents who make up most of the opposition. Obliterating his enemies, however, will not bring lasting peace. It will only further inflame hatreds. Sooner or later blood will flow again.
Though nominally committed to Mr. Assad’s overthrow, the United States, in doing so little to bring it about, is becoming complicit in his survival. Is there a realistic alternative?
Arming the rebels is not the answer. Providing weapons, as nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done with their fundamentalist proxies in Syria, appears to have only increased civilian suffering without shifting the conflict in favor of the insurgents.
Neither is the solution to create humanitarian corridors or safe zones to protect civilians. Doing so will not succeed unless Western governments commit ground forces, and that won’t happen.
The only remaining option is to use force to deny Mr. Assad air superiority. Planes, drones and cyber operations could prevent his forces from using barrel bombs, cluster munitions and phosphorus weapons on civilian targets. An air campaign should not be used to provide support for rebel groups whose goals the West does not share. The aim would be to relieve the unrelenting pressure on the civilian population and force Mr. Assad to return to Geneva to negotiate a cease-fire.
Last year, the threat of force persuaded Mr. Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons. Applying force now could deny him the chance to bomb his way to victory. Mr. Assad can endure only if he crushes the insurgents. If he is denied victory, his eventual departure into exile becomes a matter of time.
A cease-fire in Syria would likely unleash a chaotic struggle for power, but it is better than slaughter. Syria is bound to look like Libya. International peacekeepers will be needed to prevent revenge killing by the opposition and former Assad allies alike.
The conventional wisdom holds that there are no “good guys” in the opposition, no one we actually want to win. There weren’t many good guys among the Balkan politicians in the late 1990s, either, but by working with them as a special presidential envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke did help bring a stop to the killing. If force were applied to leverage diplomacy in Syria, as the United States did in Bosnia, the dying could stop, refugees could return and negotiations could eventually lead either to partition or to a constitutional transition.
Given the near certainty that Russia would veto any United Nations Security Council authorization of air power, and that the United States Congress, if asked to authorize force, would likely turn President Obama down, stopping the war in Syria will stretch domestic and international legality. But if legality is not stretched, the killing will go on indefinitely.
Every piece of this proposal — using air power, forcing a cease-fire, putting in international peacekeepers — would be a test of presidential nerve and resolve. Military action risks confrontation with the Russians and is unpopular with a recession-weary public in the United States.
Above all, using force would make the president “own” the Syrian tragedy. So far he has tried to pretend he doesn’t have to. The fact is he owns it already. American inaction has strengthened Russia, Hezbollah and Iran. It has turned Syria into the next front in the war with Islamic extremism. And it has put in jeopardy the stability of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey and risks leaving a failed state next door to Israel.
If the president already owns the deadly consequences of inaction, it is only prudent now to back diplomacy with force so that the consequences do not become deadlier still.
(End quote from the New York Times)
Michael Ignatieff is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
MICHAEL HOFFMAN’s AFTERWORD
Nothing from Prof. Ignatieff about “our ally” Saudi Arabia backing Al Qaeda in Syria. Nothing about the threat of extinction of Alawaite and Christian minority communities in the event of a Sunni-Salafist-Saudi overthrow of Assad.
All we get is a simplistic Iran/Hezbollah/Russia axis of evil. We’ve seen this mythology before. It leads to military quagmires that we cannot afford and that earn us even more hostility from the warring parties. US taxpayers may want to encourage Middle Eastern nations to fight their own wars while the US works for peace and justice through foreign diplomacy, and providing food and medical care.
Recent history teaches that American meddling in Muslim civil wars busts our domestic budget and only fuels the bloodbath. The elite would-be shapers of American opinion repeatedly ignore this fundamental truth. Americans are exhausted by foreign wars and the messianic, neocon ideology that promotes them while oblivious to the lessons of the past decade.
Bloodthirsty necons like Ignatieff are basically outlaws and anarchists, opposed to the rule of law even as they pose as the voice of reason. This Harvard elitist writes, "...stopping the war in Syria will stretch domestic and international legality. But if legality is not stretched, the killing will go on indefinitely."
This is pure end-justifies-the-means anarchy, founded on a fallacy: that US military intervention will stop the bloodbath. Tell that to the people of Iraq.
Both the Israelis and the Saudis would like to see Uncle "Sap" pay the butcher's bill for taking the Sunni militants' side in an ongoing civil war in distant Syria. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fox News would love to spend your tax dollars, and expend your children's blood, in Syria. The majority of Americans are adamantly opposed, but we are plutocracy, not a democracy.
NY TIMES READERS' COMMENTS REVEAL
BACKLASH AGAINST MORE NEOCON FOREIGN WARS
The following comments published by the New York Times on its website are representative of the majority of comments we read as of today at 3:15 pm Eastern Standard Time.
FRANK BRODHEAD: Mr. Ignatieff, like many commentators based at elite institutions and "think tanks," was given a platform by The Times and the mainstream media to advocate for using force in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002-03. Now he is back again, treated seriously by The Times as someone who has something useful to say about the problems in Syria. In the eyes of the mainstream media, Ignatieff suffers no penalty by having been so dramatically wrong the last time around. (And now he's a "professor of practice," whatever that is.) Rather than recycle this intellectual and ethical failure, The Times would do its readers a favor by giving a platform to those voices who saw through the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush/Cheney administration, and opposed the Iraq war. There are plenty of them out there, with lots to say.
MARK THOMASON: The author (Ignatieff) was a big supporter of the Iraq War. He has admitted that and apologized in an article published August 5, 2007, in the Washington Post. He said in that it was important to learn from mistakes.
Here, he's doing it again. He didn't learn.
He writes, "The only remaining option is to use force."
That is because he sees it as the problem of the US. Why is it our problem? It is our fault because we don't stop it."Though nominally committed to Mr. Assad’s overthrow, the United States, in doing so little to bring it about, is becoming complicit in his survival."
What made us responsible to stop things in Syria? Why not worse places? Why Syria? That is the underlying neocon fallacy, that we have an obligation to fix wherever they have pointed to, just because not fixing it is our fault.
Furthermore, like the ultimate neocon error, he says we should do this illegally, because that is the only way we could do it. "stopping the war in Syria will stretch domestic and international legality. But if legality is not stretched, the killing will go on indefinitely."
So we must commit crimes because in Syria both sides will go on killing. How about other places? No, just Syria.
When read closely, this just does not make sense. It is nonsense.
Oh dear, are you at it again? Remember this?
Followed by this?
Leading to this?
Americans don't want any more Middle East wars, and neither do Canadians. You advocate "force"? How about you go fight?
PINTOKS: Do tell, how many members of the Ignatieff family does the author offer up for this "prudent" use of force, or does the author prefer, as in Iraq and Afghanistan to again leave that to the little people? Ignatieff in the last decade just can't find a Mideast conflict he's not willing to send your family and friends off to die in.
WOODSBELDAU: ...There are 150,000 Russian nationals in Syria plus a major naval base. The issue of what Mr. Assad does may have more to do with Russia's perception of its strategic interests, than with President Assad's desires for his country. In the early stages of the Arab Spring Mr. Assad offered negotiations, a new constitution and elections. Then violence started. Was the violence caused by the Assad government's desire to punish the people for demonstrating or was it the result of provocateurs that had no interest in the welfare of the Syrian people, but were provoking the government to act with brutal force that evoked a counterforce and led to civil war? Now that negotiations appear to be getting underway and the parties have been signaled that they must seriously start talking, it would be a terribly counterproductive act for the US to unilaterally use force.
HOWARD: Oh, here we go again. Michael Ignatieff, that great humanitarian, paragon of clarity of thought, mouthpiece for George Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, who was so very sure that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he would sell them to international terrorists. He now advocates a US attack on Syria. Mr. Ignatieff, please go and check with the myriad of dead Iraqis before you push for another war. Or better yet, go back to Canada. It eludes me how people like you imagine that foreigners sowing death can bring peace to Syria's long suffering people. It also leaves me speechless that the N.Y. Times would give you op ed space to publish such nonsense.