Syria

No, It's Still Not a Good Idea to Bomb Assad

DC foreign policy gurus still pushing for it.

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Abode of Chaos/flickr

Washington foreign policy gurus still can't get over the idea that we ought to be bombing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Now, like clockwork, another piece has appeared in The New York Times urging aggression against the Syrian regime, this one by Dennis Ross and Andrew Tabler.

According to Ross and Tabler, if Assad doesn't comply with a recent accord struck with Russia that restricts his actions, the United States should "punish the Syrian government for violating the truce by using drones and cruise missiles" to take out sensitive regime targets in areas without a Russian military presence. This, they assert, "should persuade [Russia] to make Mr. Assad behave."

Let's start with the speciousness of their incentive. Assad's regime has been under endless international pressure. It's been threatened militarily by the United States. By 2015, it had lost 83 percent of its former territory. And yet it kept on fighting without any indication it intends to "behave." The one time Assad did comply with American demands was when Russia stepped in and brokered a deal over his chemical weapons, which is probably why Ross and Tabler think Moscow can bend him now. But Assad is in a much stronger position today and he knows the United States must prioritize fighting terrorism over toppling him. So why should he give in to even the most precisely calibrated of threats?

Assad has, as Alexander Cockburn once wrote of Christopher Hitchens, "sloshed his way across his own personal Rubicon." He's reduced his civil war to a choice of total victory or ultimate destruction. There is no going back for him, which is why threats of pinprick Western bombings have failed to sway his behavior. Give it another try—follow Ross's and Tablum's advice—and he'll most likely remain noncompliant, too close to taking Aleppo to stop now. That will mean we'll have to continue bombing, and the mission creep will drag us deeper into a civil war in which we have no compelling option or interest.

John Dickinson's advice that "experience must be our only guide" isn't half-bad when applied to foreign policy. So in America's experience, what will happen if we follow this course and bomb Assad? The deposal of both Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi ripped open vacuums in Iraq and Libya respectively, and extremist militias were happy to fill the voids. Ross and Tabler aren't suggesting toppling Assad, of course, or even severely damaging him, but given the formidable jihadist presence in Syria that's in many cases proximate to Assad's forces, their plan could still end up allowing our enemies to advance.

That means not just the Islamic State, but also al-Nusra, the jihad syndicate that severed its ties with al-Qaeda last month for PR purposes, but hasn't changed any of its aims. To wit: Nusra wants to establish Sharia law in Syria and destroy groups it regards as apostates. It's collaborated with the Khorasan group of western Syria that observers believe is plotting an attack on the American homeland. It's toyed with the idea of declaring its own emirate to rival the Islamic State. It differs from ISIS only in that it's more insidious, ingratiating itself to the Syrian people by setting up food drives and avoiding public displays of brutality—at least for now.

The bomb-bomb-bomb-Assad crowd counters that our options aren't limited to the regime, al-Nusra, and ISIS. There's a fourth alternative to fill any vacuum created by a weakened Assad: nationalist rebels from groups like the Free Syrian Army. The problem is that many of these brigades have already surrendered, and those that remain tend to lag behind the jihadists in training and equipment. This has compelled more moderate rebels to fight alongside the extremists, creating an overlap that's difficult to pull apart.

The Syrian expert Charles Lister writes: "In fact, while rarely acknowledged explicitly in public, the vast majority of the Syrian insurgency has coordinated closely with Al-Qaeda since mid-2012—and to great effect on the battlefield." Today, al-Nusra is at the heart of the rebellion. That means Assad's loss will be the gain of our real enemy, a former franchise of the group that attacked us on 9/11. Russia knows we can't allow this and thus won't enfeeble the regime too greatly, making any threat signaled by bombing somewhat empty.

One more problem: Congress has never approved any authorization for the use of military force against Syria. That makes the action Ross and Tabler are suggesting unlawful. They're right to deplore Assad's brutality and a political solution is still worth pursuing. But no accord is worth an illegal and ineffective military strike that risks the expansion of a vicious jihad gang.

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  1. So suddenly Matt Purple doesn’t think “Nuke ’em all and let Allah sort ’em out” is as valid a foreign policy as that bumper sticker makes it seem.

    And don’t forget, President Hillary is going to have a lot of scandals she’ll need to distract the world from. Don’t take this off the table!

  2. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

    There are two – TWO – viable forces to take the leadership of Syria, Assad and his government and ISIS. Sure, I wish there were other plausible options. I also wish I was a multi-billionaire with a bevvy of supermodels at my beck and call. There aren’t and I’m not.

    Assad sucks. But, he’s almost certainly better than ISIS. Didn’t we learn anything out of Libya?

    1. Us learn something? That’s unpossible.

    2. It’s like you don’t even proxy war, dude.

    3. We learned what smart power at its best looks like, right?

    4. Not. Our. Business.

    5. Yeah, well I don’t see Assad’s dad making the effort to come out here and show his support for Hillary at her rallies. So I think I know which one we’re going with.

  3. Ella . you think Victoria `s storry is astonishing… on saturday I bought themselves a Car after bringing in $7899 this – 5 weeks past and-more than, 10-k last munth . it’s by-far the best-job I have ever had . I began this 8-months ago and almost straight away started to earn minimum $77
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  4. ONLY HILLARY CAN BOMB US INTO A STABLE MIDDLE EAST!!!

    /#NeverTrump

    1. Trump is the REAL threat to national security because he wants other countries to fulfill their treaty obligations and stuff.

  5. Yes, that’s just what we need. Let’s bomb the only plausible alternative to ISIS.
    Actually, let’s bomb everyone until there is nobody left but Western secular liberal democratic pluralistic gay-friendly feminist social justice warriors.
    Bombs for everyone unless they are just exactly like us.

    1. You win a bomb, and you win a bomb, and you win a bomb…

  6. That is definitely some Purple prose.

    *ducks*

    1. *halfheartedly throws rotten cabbage*

      sigh.

      /Commenter ennui

  7. Unless there is a faction that supports free speech and religion (based on what they teach their children) we need to stay the hell out. And we need to stop undermining all attempts at freedom “because if you don’t let us persecute the freedom bloggers then we’ll lose control of the extremists gonna getcha!”

  8. The war drums keep getting beat.

    That’s like nails on a chalkboard. Please to not be doing that again.

    1. You know who else made a big deal of grammar?

      1. A grammar nazi?

      2. Nicole?

  9. Anyone advocating getting involved should be metaphorically hog tied and metaphorically tossed into a metaphorical wood chipper.

    Assad isn’t a good guy but he’s a damn sight better than ISIS and Al Nusra. Also, the Russians have more nukes than we do so bad idea.

    1. Anyone?

      We need more hit pieces on Trump.

  10. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ3fTFHQ0KA. These people are insane.. besides exposing Christians or druze to ethnic cleansing with nusra or isis getting Damascus, Syria war drums will soon turn into Russian war drums..

    1. Yes, what a horrible thing, Russia getting bogged down in Forever War instead of us.

      1. Bogging down Russia just to prop up men loyal to those that knocked down our towers??? Yes that is insanity and the national security state just proposing continual conflict against “enemies” for its own sake and not asking why is it even necessary in the first place..

        There is no harm to our national security if Assad and Russia happen to win the country back.. heck maybe we’ll even get someone to torture people for us again like Clinton and Bush had Assad do.

        1. Seriously. I would be shaking Putin’s hand and profusely thanking him for dealing with ISIS so we don’t have to.

          They’re doing us a fucking favor, and we’re basically being giant dicks in response.

  11. The fixation on Assad as the enemy in all of this is absolutely maddening. I have almost no doubt that Obama is responsible, directly or indirectly, for a false flag gas attack early in the war that killed a couple thousand people. Americans like McCain, Graham and Obama believe that if Assad is toppled, liberal democrats will join together with gay transgender progressives to fill the power vacuum. Those people, if they ever existed in Syria, are gone or dead at this point. People calling for the removal of Assad aren’t just idiotic, they aren’t just pissing away political capital or losing sight of what matters most, they are completely delusional by going so far as to provide military aid to avowed Islamists and jihadists for literally no strategic gain whatsoever.

    1. McCain, Graham, and Obama aren’t that stupid. There has to be some other hidden purpose to our perpetuation of this war. No person intelligent enough to spell his own name believes Assad’s ouster will lead to a functioning democracy in Syria.

      1. Loyalty to Saudi Arabia above US interests? We screwed up and gave Iraq to the Shia and now gulf states demand Syria be placed inside the Saudi orbit for balance..

    2. I think Obama is awakening from his delusions. His rationalizations for “we must keep bombing ISIS relentlessly” are becoming more and more tenuous. He says “they need to control land to attract followers” and then says “as long as this evil ideology exists they will attract followers and we’ll be playing an endless game of whackamole”.

    3. have almost no doubt that Obama is responsible, directly or indirectly, for a false flag gas attack early in the war that killed a couple thousand people.

      No. But ISIS probably is. The gas attack was attributed to the Syrian regime, and at the time, this was before ISIS was a big deal, but it was right on the cusp of when they started to rise. Since the government always denied it an quickly cooperated with efforts to destroy their chemical weapons, it’s not difficult to conclude that it was a false flag.

      But I suspect ISIS because we know that ISIS has no moral qualms about killing innocent people and lying to innocent people about it.

      Also … ding, ding … we know that Saudi Arabia is backing ISIS against Assad. One of the complications of a war in which the allies of our allies are our enemies. So my guess is that after the gas attack Saudi Arabia pulled whatever strings they had to get ISIS to stop using gas.

      1. No. But ISIS probably is.

        Then he’s indirectly responsible. Obama made a promise to bomb Assad out of power if he uses any chemical weapons on civilians. Assad had not used any such weapons in this civil war prior to that threat. Then a few days after Obama makes the clear his criteria for the rebel’s gaining air support from American warplanes, a gas attack happens. And it’s worth noting that since Obama failed to live up to his threats, no gas attacks have occurred since.

        The Assad regime had absolutely nothing to gain from using chemical weapons on some petty village. It served no military or political purpose for him. The only parties that stood to gain were the Obama/Clinton war enthusiasts and the the Syrian “rebels” who wanted to enjoy the same level of air support and decisive results that Libyan rebels enjoyed when the US intervened.

        That Obama’s “red line” speech created a huge incentive for the Islamists and jihadists to gas some people and pin it on Assad, is the most reasonable and most plausible explanation for the gas attack. It’s virtually inconceivable that Assad was willing risk everything over uselessly killing a couple thousand villagers that he could have just easily killed with conventional weapons that wouldn’t have crossed Obama’s red line, assuming that he had any motive to kill them at all.

  12. I think Obama knows this. Last week at the Pentagon briefing he said, “The Syrian Civil War caused by Assad and Putin drives people into the arms of extremists.” In other words, stop bombing ISIS because they will only create more. Hopefully he is smart enough to know that bombing Assad is pointless as well, and for the same reason. Let us not turn into the monsters we are trying to destroy.

  13. “But we gotta bomb someone! Our war boners are going limp and we’re jonesin’ bad for a fix, man!” /war hawks

  14. I predict that Obama will no longer be droning Arabia by the end of his term.

    1. Keep cheering your Master on, shriek.

      1. Actually Cankles wants to keep bombing. She gets angry when I tell her to dial it down.

  15. Oh, Matt Purple, you are so naive. How do you know that the remote, surgical bombing of a Middle East country won’t set things right if we never try it?

    1. Trump: “When I said we’d be better off with Qaddafi still in charge of Libya, I meant I wanted a ‘surgical strike’ on Qaddafi”

    2. Oh, Matt Purple, you are so naive. How do you know that the remote, surgical bombing of a Middle East country won’t set things right if we never try it again?

      FTFY.

      We all know it didn’t work last time because the wrong top men were running it. /Socialists

      1. The irony was more effective the first way.

  16. The problem is this, so many people are going to the polls and blindly voting for team red or team blue. So, in reality, if you vote for anyone else you are wasting your vote, because team red and team blue has such a built in base of support, that the third party candidate never stands a chance.

    Hell, Lincoln only became president because the democrats ran more than one candidate. Since the republicans are trying to do the same, that guarantees a Clinton victory.

    So many of these “experts” are really morons who need to study something other than law and politics. The reality in our 2 party system is that if you vote for the 3rd party, you are really voting for the democrats or the republicans.

  17. “But no accord is worth an illegal and ineffective military strike that risks the expansion of a vicious jihad gang.”

    Vicious jihad gang is precisely the LEAST or the risks of going to war in Syria. In fact it is the entire point of our involvement in the theater. I’m not sure if the author is paying attention to the fact that the U.S. Hawks have had a bee in their bonnet for Syria since the cold war was hot – that the opposision to Assad is historically trained by (Al-Qaeda) and currently armed by (Al-Nusra) the U.S. – that the “viscious gang” is largely our, arguably unintentional, creation – and that the principle ally of Assad is RUSSIA, our historical nemesis, and the second largest nuclear power on the planet.

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  22. Vicious jihad gang is precisely the LEAST or the risks of going to war in Syria. In fact it is the entire point of our involvement in the theater. I’m not sure if the author is paying attention to the fact that the U.S. Hawks have had a bee in their bonnet for Syria since the cold war was hot – that the opposision to Assad is historically trained >>>>

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