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A Bad Idea: Using Military Force to Aid Syria’s Population | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

A Bad Idea: Using Military Force to Aid Syria’s Population

Syrian rebel

A member of a Syrian rebel group throws a handmade weapon in Aleppo, June 11, 2013. (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

Here’s a really, really terrible idea from two otherwise progressive thinkers: let’s use military force to aid Syria’s civilian population.

Like many liberal interventionists, often called humanitarian interventionists—in true, oxymoronic fashion—Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi believe that it’s time to invoke the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) to go into Syria with guns blazing, if need be. Writing in an op-ed in The New York Times, they say:

We should invoke the Responsibility to Protect, the principle that if a state fails to protect its populations from mass atrocities—or is in fact the perpetrator of such crimes—the international community must step in to protect the victims, with the collective use of force authorized by the Security Council. And if a multinational force cannot be assembled, then at least some countries should step up and organize Syria’s democratically oriented rebel groups to provide the necessary force on the ground, with air cover from participating nations.

Indeed, there’s a bit of a fight at the United Nations Security Council right now, with Russia and China looking askance at Western efforts to pit forward a UNSC resolution that would open the door to getting aid into Syria by force, though it doesn’t say so directly—and, if it did, it would be vetoed by Russia in a New York minute. But, in any case, the Russian and Chinese delegates stayed away from the UNSC session on the measure. Said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to Reuters:

Our Western partners in the Security Council…proposed that we cooperate in working out a resolution. The ideas they shared with us were absolutely one-sided and detached from reality.

Instead, Russia wants stronger efforts to support a cease-fire in Syria and to halt the delivery of arms to the Syrian rebels, part of which is the object of just-resumed peace talks in Geneva between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the anti-Assad opposition. Not without reason, Moscow says that its military aid to Syria is legal, on a state-to-state basis, while American, Saudi and other military support to the rebels is illegal.

The Geneva talks, which are in their second round, are off to a slow start once again, but in fact the talks represent the only hope of stabilizing the crisis in Syria, and if it’s possible to arrange even local cease-fires for the delivery of humanitarian supplies, then lives will be saved.

Another hopeful sign, often overlooked now, is that Syria is quietly divesting itself of chemical weapons stockpiles, in a deal brokered by the United States and Russia last September. Both the local cease-fire hopes and the chemical arms transfers might be upset or destroyed if the United States barged into Syria with guns to deliver aid.

And, as The Los Angeles Times reports, despite enormous problems there is still hope that a recent accord to get supplies to blockaded areas around the Syrian city of Homs might work.

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Meanwhile, along with the liberal hawks, the conservative hawks—the usual kind—are demanding tougher action by the United States. Marco Rubio, the right-wing senator from Florida and a would-be presidential candidate, says that the United States ought to “overtly” supply arms to the anti-Assad forces. According to Defense News:

The potential Republican candidate, in a statement issued late Wednesday, revealed an interventionist flavor to the foreign and national security policy approach he would bring to the White House Situation Room.… “It is time for the administration to increase pressure on Assad instead of giving him more room to maneuver,” Rubio said, in an apparent reference to Obama’s decision last year to hold off on air strikes when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons.

Rubio made it clear that he, as commander in chief, would not hesitate to plunge the United States into other nations’ internal conflicts.… “There are concrete actions that we should be taking immediately rather than placing our hope in endless negotiations and counterproductive agreements with a mass murderer,” a muscular-sounding Rubio said.… Specifically, the likely GOP candidate signaled a major departure from Obama when he said the United States “should overtly provide lethal support and increase non-lethal support to carefully and properly vetted elements of the opposition, especially those who are fighting al-Qaida affiliates.”

Rubio may be “muscular-sounding,” but there’s little indication of brain-cell activity. The real danger is that liberal interventionists and old-style conservative ones might make common cause. If so, they’d probably find an ally in Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s wanted to bomb Syria for a long while—despite President Obama’s opposition to the idea.

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on The Washington Post’s call for a war ultimatum for Syria

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