Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Syria at the tipping point
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Chances for a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war are fading as the forces aligned with President Assad gain ground on the battlefield. President Obama’s announcement last week that the U.S. would increase “the scale and scope” of its military assistance to the rebels has been widely derided as too little, too late, and unlikely to shift the balance of power back to the rebels.
Polls show the American public has little interest in getting more deeply involved in Syria, and Obama’s ambivalence is obvious. It’s as though he keeps one foot on the brake even as he authorizes an escalation of U.S. military aid. Military historians call it the “Spanish Civil War dilemma,” where fascists were fighting communists, and given the choice, the U.S. didn’t want to help either one. And we didn’t, but it was a lot easier for FDR to sit that one out than it is for Obama to stay out of the Syrian conflict.
FDR faced the risk that if the fascists won, which they did, they would join forces with the Nazis since it was the Germans who helped them win. But General Franco, who was a fascist and who came to power as Spain’s dictator in 1936, did not align with the Nazis, thereby vindicating FDR’s decision.
Obama is unlikely to get so lucky as a result of his decisions with regard to Syria. The civil war appears to be at the tipping point with the rebels on the verge of collapse. Short of some major intervention by the West, or from neighboring countries Turkey or Jordan, forces loyal to Assad are close to declaring victory. Establishing a no-fly zone or supplying heavy weaponry to the rebels to counter Assad’s gains stirred little interest when the European allies gathered in Northern Ireland this week for the G-8 summit.
The possibility of stepped up military action by the allies seems even more remote after the allies met than a week ago when the Obama administration made public its belief that the Assad government had used chemical weapons on several occasions in small quantities, causing the death of some 150 people and crossing what Obama has called his red line.
From a military perspective, it looks like the tipping point has been reached in Syria, and absent intervention, Assad has won his bet to stay in power. The situation is analogous to what happened in Libya, when Gadhafi was winning and hundreds of thousands of Libyans were hunkered down in Benghazi under threat of government assault. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made a vigorous case to Obama for humanitarian intervention, and Obama went forward with a no-fly zone under the authority of NATO.
Gadhafi was ousted from power, no American lives were lost, and the operation was considered a great military success. The aftermath of the intervention has proved problematical, but the fact remains that without outside intervention, Gadhafi might still be in power.
The Syrian situation is almost identical from a military point of view, but the political context is very different. Almost a hundred thousand people have died in Syria, but it’s been a slow-moving humanitarian disaster, harder to pinpoint and assign blame, and harder to make the case to a war-weary American public that this is their fight. The administration is still focused on convening a peace conference in Geneva this summer, but peace conferences only work when your adversary is losing, or when both sides are exhausted. That’s not the case in Syria, and as long as Assad is winning, getting all sides to the table will have little meaning in a conflict that’s rapidly being decided on the battlefield.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND