April 11, 2018

Goals for Syria

As I write this, the country is waiting to learn what, if anything, President Trump will do in response to the most recent use of chemical weapons in Syria by President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. This is tricky business, and it is difficult to be sanguine about Trump’s ability to act wisely. Were I advising the president, I’m not sure what advice I would give. If we are capable, destroying Assad’s ability to deliver poison gas would be a good place to start. I don’t know how to do that, and our military may not know either.

In any case, what the president does in the next 24 hours is a tactical matter. More important is our strategy in Syria, which seems nonexistent. What are we trying to accomplish there that could be considered a reasonable goal?

As we consider strategy, we must acknowledge that there are no good guys in the fight. Trump was not out of line in calling Assad an “animal,” and most of those opposing his regime are religious zealots. Even the Kurds have less than pure motives and, in any case, are hardly strong or numerous enough to rule Syria. Russia doesn’t want to lose an ally and certainly not a naval and airbase. Iran is seeking to achieve hegemony over the entire Middle East.

If I were God, I would probably break up Syria. Give the Kurds much of the country, as well as parts of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Let Iran and Iraq split up whatever is left over. I am not God, however, and none of this is going to happen.

If we are to be realistic, we have to choose between Assad and his enemies. There is no candidate to take over the country and to rule in a non-homicidal fashion. Frankly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine why anyone wants to govern Syria; there isn’t much left to govern. Can a whole country be sold for scrap?

Since we clearly do not want a Syria run by religious extremists, Assad seems to be the only game in town. I suggest that our we should work for a stable Syria that includes the following:
  1. Assad remains in power but is chastened by the international community and is disinclined to pursue genocide against his own people.
  2. Russia retains Syria as an ally, retains a naval base, and withdraws all its airpower resources.
  3. Iran is chased out of Syria.
  4. Jihadists are decisively defeated.
  5. Kurds work out whatever deal they can get, perhaps regional autonomy or even a homeland carved out of Syria and parts of Iraq. I wish them good luck.
  6. Syria is at peace and begins to rebuild.
  7. Syria is a democracy, in principle, if not in practice. (“In practice” is unlikely.)
A strategy that seeks a stable result that looks like the above might be achievable. I don’t think we can ask for more.

I don’t have a plan to achieve these goals, but I do think that devising such a plan is possible, though perhaps not be the current American administration.

Pray for Syria.

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