March 9, 2012
By, Gen. Wesley Clark
As the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria mounts, so have the calls for military intervention. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been brutal, calculating and impervious to world opinion; with the assistance of Russia and China, it has dodged a U.N. mandate to halt the attacks on its own people.
The now-familiar pattern of the Arab Spring — popular outcries for freedom provoking hideous repression, which we saw in Libya in 2011 — seems to warrant military intervention to stop the slaughter in Syria. But first we need answers to some hard questions. Please.
We have just exited Iraq after 8½ years, a cost of more than $1 trillion and a loss of some 5,000 U.S. service members. And Iraq is still a cockpit for sectarian struggle and violence.
In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, strong Islamic sentiments have inevitably surfaced despite the democratic and Western-oriented facade of the initial Arab Spring uprisings. The future orientation of these states is likely to be less helpful to U.S. aims and policies in the region than their predecessors. And overshadowing Syria is the worry of Iran’s nuclear ambition, and the fact that “all” options must be kept available in case diplomacy fails there.
So, in the case of Syria, we must ask, first, what are the U.S. national interests at stake? What is our objective? Then, how would the use of force attain that objective? How much force, how applied, at what cost? What is the end state we seek? What basis in international law is there for action? Which allies will help us? And, when all is said and done, have we actually achieved what we set out to do, and at a cost and risk proportionate to U.S. interests?
In addition to humanitarian concerns, there are significant U.S. strategic interests at play in Syria. The Syrian regime is a “front-line” state to America’s ally Israel, and so is critical to lasting peace there. And while the Syrian regime has flirted with a peace agreement, it has also served as a conduit of Iranian influence and threats.