Small Wars Journal

Loose Talk on Intervention in Syria

Tue, 03/13/2012 - 2:13pm

Ryan Evans blogs at the Center for National Policy about the talk of intervention in Syria and the rigor yet to be applied, citing Col John Collins' (Ret) checklist for considering military intervention.  Evans argues that these points have yet to be fully explored and that any serious advocacy of intervention must answer these questions before we expend any blood and treasure on an ill-defined impulse.  Read more here.


There is a lot of loose talk on intervention in Syria. Various commentators, government officials – former and current, and analysts are calling for some sort of US military involvement in the blooming civil war between the Alawite Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Recommendations range from arming the opposition to providing special operations and air support. Many of their arguments make a compelling moral case for intervention. Some even provide an operational framework for what military support for the FSA might look like. The trouble is, very few advocates of intervention have taken the time to: 

(a) Provide a strategic rationale for intervention based on US interests, 
(b) Identify what circumstances would merit a commitment that would place American military lives at risk, 
(c) Explain the criteria for disengagement if the conflict endures beyond our expectations, 
(d) Explain how the likely alternatives to Assad will be better for the United States.
(e) Explain what success looks like and what comes next .
Categories: intervention - r2p - Syria


Scott Kinner

Wed, 03/14/2012 - 12:39pm

I have to agree with Bill and Ken on this - for slightly different reasons.

With Bill - for indicating the ideology that drives much of current interventionist thought - modernization and societal change along Western lines.

With Ken - for indicating the cynicism and arrogance that underlies pursuit of "modernization and societal change along Western lines."

I spent a good portion of my time in our educational system learning that the concepts and execution of Manifest Destiny and the White Man's Burden were flawed. I don't know if it is ironic or tragic to find them resurrected with new catch phrases. I do know that pursuing these same concepts under a new guise and new ideology is just as likely to lead to the same unwelcome results and continued conflict we've seen in the past, while sewing the seeds of new conflict for the future.

For context:

The purpose of R2P -- much like the purpose of BPC -- is to facilitate the modernization of the state and society along western lines.

In cases where R2P is contemplated, we believe that we have little hope of achieving our goals via the standing regime and, therefore, look toward opportunities that may present themselves in efforts made by various population groups.

In cases where BCP is contemplated, we believe that we have regimes that we can work with to achieve our goals and that various population groups, in these instances, pose the primary challenge to our achieving our objective.

Thus, military forces utilized via the R2P concept are used to help "friendly" population groups overcome regimes that tend to stand in the way of the state and societal changes that we desire.

Likewise, military forces deployed in the BCP mode are utilized to help, in these cases, "friendly" regimes overcome those various population groups who might oppose the modernization of their state and society along western lines.

Ken White

Tue, 03/13/2012 - 5:09pm

In reply to by Stan Wiechnik

Stan Wiechnik:

Public loss of "validity" is highly dependent upon the segment of the public to whom one talks. For every person who believes in a 'responsibility to protect' and / or the worth of 'humanitarian interventions' I suspect you can find about 1.5 others who do not agree. That 'validity' is also, sadly, rather dependent here in the US upon domestic political party favored or on general ideological bent.

Regardless, your comment that these are "...often interventions of choice" is distressingly correct. What is even more correct is that not one of those interventions you cite has been truly effective in achieving its originally stated goals. None. Zilch. That, to me, does not argue for more of the same, YMMV.

Just saying no has little to do with whether the "military wants to stay relevant." Rightly or wrongly, there is and will remain a need for armed forces for the foreseeable future and thus, the relevance is assured and a fact of life. What will destroy that relevance is frittering it away on stupid (if psyche satisfying to some) endeavors that almost invariably do more harm than good. Wasting people and resources tilting at windmills is the most sure way to destroy the relevance of the US, not just its forces.

So perhaps Mr. Evans is correct and strategic interest should be the <i>only</i> reason we should get into wars these days -- we certainly have not been well served by the approach some advocate in those interventions of choice...

Stan Wiechnik

Tue, 03/13/2012 - 4:19pm

I think Mr. Evans is trying hard to make an argument that is losing validity with the public. Strategic interests are not why we get into wars these days. The post cold war era is dominated by 'wars', or more often interventions, of choice. These include no-fly-zones and humanitarian interventions. I don't think "just say no" is going to work forever, not if the military wants to stay relevant.