Why the U.S. Military Can’t Fix Syria by Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, New York Times
The State Department “dissent channel” memo on the United States’ policy in Syria, leaked last month, is just the latest expression of a widespread belief in and out of government that American intervention in Syria is necessary and would be successful.
After five years of brutal, grinding war, this view is understandable. The idea of the United States saving the Middle East from itself appeals to liberal hawks and neoconservatives alike. Unfortunately, when that notion has carried the day — as it did in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 — regional security and stability have worsened. Indeed, in light of Syria’s geopolitical circumstances, intervention along the lines suggested in the memo could produce consequences more dangerous than those of the two previous adventures.
The memo’s authors and other interventionists fail to recognize that the United States in fact has effectively weakened President Bashar al-Assad already. In 2015, the administration’s aggressive covert action program facilitated significant gains for the opposition in northern Syria, exposed Latakia — the regime’s heartland — to attack, and diminished the Syrian military position in the northwestern province of Idlib.
But these losses were also key factors in Russia’s decision to enter the Syrian fray after years of sitting on the sidelines. This gives the lie to the interventionists’ belief that “judicious” airstrikes could somehow disempower the Assad government, sap Russian resolve and improve prospects for a negotiated solution…