Day: June 8, 2012

Implementation is the answer

Kofi Annan complains:

Some say that the plan may be dead.  Is the problem the plan or is the problem implementation? If it’s implementation, how do we get action on that? And if it is the plan, what other options do we have?

He is right.  Those are the essential questions.

The other options are few and risky.  Michael Singh warmed them over yesterday.  Rob Satloff warmed them over today.

Rob’s version has the virtue of illustrating in graphic terms what is at stake for the United States if the Syrian civil war gets worse.  The chem/bio weapons that preoccupy American security agencies would not be my primary concern:  those are more perilous to the people who possess them than to anyone else.  But Syria can export instability to Turkey (via Kurds), Lebanon (Alawites and Hizbollah against Sunnis), Jordan, Lebanon and Israel (by expelling Palestinians).  This would ignite ethnic and sectarian war throughout the Eastern Med and attract jihadist responses.

When he gets to answering Annan’s second question, Rob comes up short with a call for renewed American resolve:

Such resolve could include a mix of cyberwarfare, to interfere with Syrian government communications efforts; unmanned drones, to target key installations and weapons depots; air power, to establish and defend safe zones; and a manned element based in neighboring states, to execute a train and equip mission to support rebel forces. At the same time, it is essential that the United States, teamed with Arab, Turkish and other allies, inject urgency and energy into the task of upgrading the cohesion and message of the Syrian political opposition, so that there is a clear answer to the important question of what comes in the wake of Assad’s demise.

Some of this is already in the works, overtly or covertly. The drone and air power part would require a major military operation.  None of it is likely to accelerate Bashar al Assad’s departure.

So what can be done to get implementation?  Two things:

1.  a credible military threat;

2.  demonstrated commitment to peaceful means, working closely with Moscow and even Tehran while sustaining the civil opposition.

A credible military threat–with credibility demonstrated for example by a cruise missile attack on the presidential palace–would require the United States to buck the Russians and Chinese, who show no sign of weakening their opposition to intervention.  This President Obama will not do, because it would wreck prospects for a negotiated outcome to the Iran nuclear problem.  Moscow and Beijing would withdraw from the P5+1 negotiations.  If you think stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons by diplomatic means is your top national security priority, you are not going to put it at risk in Syria.

The second option, demonstrated commitment to peaceful means, is the more important one. Kofi Annan is proposing that a “contact group” that includes Iran and Russia be formed to help with implementation of his six-point plan.  That strikes me as a good idea.  Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, who are quoted in the press as having rejected it, should reconsider.  The devil is of course in the details, but contact groups of this sort have often proven vital to peace implementation.  The Administration will want to ensure a decent balance in the group, but bringing Iran and Russia into the tent is better than having them do you know what from the outside.

Just as important is signaling long-term support for the opposition.  Here I mean the civil resistance to Bashar al Assad, which organizes dozens of demonstrations every day in Syria and has far greater potential to bring him down than the military effort, which scares people off the streets and helps to consolidate Bashar’s control over the armed forces. These are the courageous people we need to be helping (they are in Kafarsouseh, Damascus, yesterday):



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