The pressure is mounting on the United States to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Yesterday the New York Times ran an op-ed from Bill Keller proposing the following plan.
“President Obama articulates — as he has not done — how the disintegration of Syria represents a serious danger to America’s interests and ideals. The United States moves to assert control of the arming and training of rebels — funneling weapons through the rebel Supreme Military Council, cultivating insurgents who commit to negotiating an orderly transition to a nonsectarian Syria. We make clear to President Assad that if he does not cease his campaign of terror and enter negotiations on a new order, he will pay a heavy price. When he refuses, we send missiles against his military installations until he, or more likely those around him, calculate that they should sue for peace.”
To his credit, Keller recognizes that success is not guaranteed. “It might well be that the internal grievances are too deep and bitter to forestall a bloody period of reprisals. But that outcome is virtually inevitable if we stay out.”
In short: these terrible things will happen without American intervention. Thus we should intervene regardless of our ability to stop them from happening. That would seem to be a self-refuting argument.
I would prefer to be constructive. Keller’s plan leaves six unanswered questions.
- What do we do if Assad does not negotiate?
- What do we do if Assad retreats into the Bekaa Valley under pressure from U.S. airpower?
- With whom does he negotiate?
- Should the negotiations succeed, how do we keep the rebels from fighting among themselves?
- How do we keep government supporters from continuing to fight even if Assad chooses to surrender?
- How do we prevent ethnic cleansing in Alawite territories?
These questions may have answers, although I fear that they will involve boots on the ground and a whole lot of money. I also fear that they may not have answers. Failure, we should remember, is an option.