Dueling Naval War College Professors: Nichols vs. Schindler on Syria
Here’s a good post from US Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols, on what he sees as The Realities of the Coming Syrian War.
My list is directed both to pro and anti-interventionists, in hopes of pointing out things that are true and need to be addressed no matter which side you’re on. In the end, I agree with Slaughter’s argument that we’re reaching a perfect storm where all the reasons to engage in military action are intersecting, but herewith some points to consider:
1. Chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian regime against civilian non-combatants.
You’d think that one would be easy, but you’d be wrong, and if you don’t believe that this has happened, you might as well stop reading right here.
More reasonable critics claim a right to be skeptical after the failures of the Bush administration in 2003. But that’s a flawed comparison: unlike the fruitless hunt for Saddam’s WMDs, this is the actual use of WMDs. It’s not notional or hypothetical. Of course, Bashar Assad could hold up a sign on CNN saying “I did it,” and some in the tin-foil hat crowd would claim it’s a put-up job.
There is a question out there whether Assad gave the order, at least according to Noah Shachtman’s piece today in Foreign Policy:
“It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?” Perhaps it was a lone general putting a long-standing battle plan in motion; perhaps it was a miscalculation by the Assad government….”We don’t know exactly why it happened,” the intelligence official added. “We just know it was pretty fucking stupid.”
Here’s the point: it doesn’t matter. Indeed, it’s almost worse if Syrian generals are slinging chems around, because that would mean the regime has lost operational control of its own stockpile. But chemical weapons, delivered by rockets only the regime has at its disposal, have been used.
This is just the first point; you should read the whole thing.
Nichols makes a strong case for intervention, but I remain unconvinced. Another USNWC professor, John Schindler, seems more opposed to a wider intervention but still sees a necessity for action: Thinking Strategically About Syria.
7. Putting Western boots on the ground in cultures where we and our values are hated is a bad idea unless you are willing to play by their rules, ie be highly brutal on a grand scale towards even civilians. Better not to do it.
8. Never, ever stop thinking about the value of the object, ie what do we really want here? Negative aims are fine, but not having clear, achievable aims is a good way to lose quick.
9. Certain cultures are not impressed by “surgical strikes.” They use mass brutality and think anything less is weak, even effeminate.
10. US and NATO are very good at ISR and precision strike, we have learned an enormous amount about the tactics of hi-tech killing over the last dozen years of war in CENTCOM. But this is not the same thing as strategic wisdom or political insight. Strategy trumps tactics in the long run, always.
Again, read the whole thing, not just my excerpt. Meanwhile, here’s a thread to discuss the troubling prospect of another war in the Middle East.