Hello, reader(s), it’s the day after Monday the Thirteenth, Garfield’s least favorite day of the year. For the rest of us, it’s Valentine’s Day. The only thing I’m crossing my fingers on, concerning the 14th, is a lack of bloody Valentine lore involving Syria. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely given Assad’s “emboldened” approach since the infamous double veto in the UN Security Council. This failure has brought us a wealth of material in the blogosphere, focusing on R2P and where America should go from here. The most discussed route at the moment is arming the seemingly fractured Syrian opposition, to provide self-defense and the tools for a miracle. This humble blogger would like to suggest a less destructive track. I’m talking about negotiation. Yes, I know the opposition claims they won’t sit down and talk unless Assad’s exile is on the table, but we shouldn’t allow a belligerent to make such demands at the expense of the people’s immediate safety. As it stands, I couldn’t find much literature on forcing a non state actor to negotiate, so for blogging sake, I will assume it’s possible. Negotiation also allows us to gather much-needed intelligence on the Syrian opposition, to which we can better work with(or ignore) should talks break down. Bargaining during this phase we can assume to be ex ante should call for a ceasefire. The observance of this could save a massive amount of lives as those with the means make their way to refugee camps outside of the Syrian state.
Before I get into the negotiation, I’d like to talk about R2P for a moment, since it is with its passing moment in the saga, that brings us to the current dangerous juncture. The idea that America, the international community, has the responsibility to protect is something I don’t agree with. I feel that it implies that it’s in the job description and the only job they have is to advance their own interests. America isn’t putting its job security at risk for ignoring Darfur. It may be the right thing to do, and something I’d like, but I feel considering it as a responsibility puts too much blood on our hands. The international system already provides enough incentives, punishments and other conflict reducing mechanisms to make most world leaders play fair. Repeated use of R2P is a doctrine suitable for an empire, and the United States is not that. We are currently experiencing the waning years of the US’ uni-polarity(There should still be at least two decades of US dominance to go, just not immediate post cold war levels). If it was an empire, states would not be able to pursue their own interests. During the US uni-polar moment, there have been attempts to expand beyond its reach and it espoused values it wished were universal. This does not equal a peaceful time for the pole, history shows us a nation the spent most of its time at war. A quarter of our history of war, were spent in the last twenty years.
The Obama administration and the ones to follow are not ignorant of a hegemon’s heavy hand. It’s no wonder Obama speaks of “leading from behind”. If these foreign conflicts taught us anything, it is the truth of the multipolar/multicivilizational world Samuel P. Huntington spoke of. A world where the core states of civilizations gain power relative to the US after exhausting itself in two extended conflicts and a financial crisis that some think it will never fully recover from. If we are to believe we can’t force our values on civilizations outside of ours with hard power(Iraq, Afghanistan taught us that), intervention loses its attractiveness. It’s less attractive because R2P can be a costly doctrine if you are not advancing your own interests. Now if we are shown a window where intervention is presented as an attractive option, it would almost have to look similar to Libya. Gadhafi may have been inching towards Benghazi, but the progress previously made by rebels presented a situation where we could be close to certain that providing a no fly zone would eventually bring victory and regime change. R2P without boots on the ground, arming rebels, would have nowhere near the desired effect for Damascus. For more on the subject, I would suggest reading Dan Trombly’s excellent post on arming the Syrian opposition and other options. If we are to accept a multicivilizational world and the coming of multipolarity, R2P’s implementation will continue to be rare and not a viable option for Syria. Instead, the “responsibility” to protect should lie within the core states of civilizations in the future — as it may be in their best interests. The Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, if this doctrine means anything to them, should take the lead on belligerents in their sphere of influence. In the present, intervention is not an option or a costly one to anyone but the United States and NATO. Despite a go at the UN security council, I do not believe intervention was the US’ intent because the level of commitment/difficulty conflicts too much with its interests.
On the subject of arming rebels, refer back to the Dan Trombly piece or anyone else you hold in high regard. Those for and against arming the opposition believe it will lead to a complete mess. This is why I am proposing negotiation. I understand that I’m not onto anything groundbreaking even though no one seems to bring this up. There’s a healthy chance breaching the subject would reveal one as slow of the mind if previous posts didn’t already do the trick. That’s okay because this blog will not haunt my career should I be blessed to have one. The Opposition said they will not sit at the table until it is certain that Assad will be stepping down. There’s nothing saying that this will change, but are good reasons to make the attempt.
Lets say we exhaust every diplomatic option in trying to get the Free Syria Army and Assad to sit at the table. What does Russia say then? This is what they asked for and when we know this to be impossible, under what pretense do they veto another security council vote? The attempt of negotiation may be precursor to international action via UN. Now lets say negotiation is possible. Negotiation should provide a ceasefire that opens the door for the exodus of Syrians who may have been trapped in their suburbs. It may temporarily stop the bloodshed and in the best case, stop it completely(aside from minor non state actor skirmishes involving minorities). Negotiation allows us to see just how unified the opposition is. Some believe it’s just a collective of armed men, working in their respective area, answering to no one. The Negotiation would allow us to figure out just who we will be working with in the future, assuming they eventually succeed. Negotiation allows us to feel out the level of blowback we could be facing in arming them. Finally, who knows, maybe the Alawites give Assad up in hopes of not being slaughtered. It’s currently unknown how each side would feel about concessions (discussed at length in link) with the dismissal of Assad(I am still assuming there’s a dictatorship), but it’s worth looking into. I’m just throwing it out there, because I believe it’s an important part of the process that is somehow missing. To skip this step and fan the flames of war seem pretty irresponsible to me. Everyone knows this, but we assume we can’t get these two sides to sit down, so lets hope that they’re wrong. I’m not that enthusiastic about the future of Syria with or without Assad, I just want what’s best for the people.