The U.S. needs to find a smarter solution to the Syria problem

Syria is like a lump of raw meat dangled in front of a predator. A thinking nation would ignore it and go straight to the source, Iran. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, August 26, 2013 — The use of sarin gas in Syria makes that country the focus of international media interest, and it is fueling the propaganda machines. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s concern about the “moral obscenity” of gas warfare, there are no innocent parties in Syria. The Syrian government has had a stockpile of sarin gas since early in the Iraq War, and al Qaeda has been manufacturing sarin of its own for at least a year.

The use of WMDs provides a great pretext for military intervention, but the hundreds of deaths caused in Damascus last week are just a tiny fraction of those killed by conventional means without provoking a reaction from the U.S. and its allies.


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The importance of an alliance in defense of Syria is being heavily promoted by the Russian propaganda machine and its surrogates in other nations. Promoting the idea that an array of nations including Iran, Russia, India and China are prepared to come to Syria’s aid is in itself an act of provocation.

It’s a believable line of argument, because there is a lot to be gained by these international players from more open conflict in the region. Iran’s territorial ambitions are well established. India would love to neutralize Pakistan with Iranian assistance. The Chinese have been looking for opportunities to get a foothold in the region since the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Does this threat, coming mainly from Russia, make it impossible for the United States to back down without losing its stature as an international power? The Israelis are pushing as hard as they can for intervention in Syria. They have placed the blame for the use of sarin directly on the Assad regime. They insist that aggression now will provide a check to the expansionist ambitions of opposing powers in the region.

What does the United States have to gain from an intervention in Syria? What do we risk if we do not intervene? Secretary Kerry’s talk of “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people” is meaningless.


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The prime consideration in American foreign action should be whether it is in defense of American territory, citizens or interests. The administration has not even attempted to justify action on these grounds, instead manufacturing an emotional argument of outrage over the use of WMDs.

The public is not buying that argument, with opposition to intervention at over 90 percent in polls over the weekend.

If the administration feels that we must go into Syria, they must take that argument to Congress. If we are to go to war, authorization must come not from the U.N. or NATO, but from Congress. Only Congress can legitimize military intervention, and it will require more than an emotional argument.

The administration will need to lay out the costs and the benefits of military action, explaining how we can afford to get involved in what may become a massive multinational conflict while still recovering from the expense and depletion of our military resources of the interminable entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan.


SEE RELATED: Chemical weapons use in Syria is irrelevant


If we must intervene there should be clear rules of engagement. We should strike quickly and decisively with no long-term commitment of men or resources. Having no direct interest in Syria, we should have no direct involvement there once the objective of moving the conflict towards a resolution has been achieved.

We can leave our regional allies and their opponents to hash out the future of Syria.

It may be unrealistic with the bellicose ham-handedness of the current secretary of state, but through all of this we should have been looking for an intelligent diplomatic solution for the region. Talking to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey isn’t going to lead to anything but more U.S. money and escalation of conflict.  

Kerry has been treating Iran as a target; he should be looking towards it for a solution.

Iran is in the key middle position. Without Iran’s regional territorial ambitions and their relationship with Syria, the conflict there matters far less. Without Iran’s involvement there is less at stake for larger international powers.

Israel understands this and would love us to back them in a direct attack on Iran. A smarter administration would see this and take the diplomatic initiative directly to Iran, especially with Russia making clear how high the stakes are.

Rather than considering military intervention we should be looking at opening up direct bilateral diplomatic engagement with Iran. They have been our enemy since 1979 and their regime is seriously flawed, but they remain the most sophisticated and politically viable nation in the region and the closest thing to a true democracy aside from Israel.

Neutralize Iran and we change the entire dynamic in the region. Win them over and make them into allies and we end most of the violence in the region and actually open a path to peace. We’re not very good at this kind of diplomacy. Our lazy solution of just buying off a country’s leaders probably won’t work with Iran. 

The basics of diplomacy should still apply: Find out what they need; figure out how to get it for them; do it at a cost we can afford to pay. If the result is a growth in Iranian power in the region, that will make then more independent and less likely to draw larger powers into involvement in the region.

We should treat Syria as the distraction and provocation that it is. It is a lump of raw meat dangled in front of a predator. We should show we are a thinking nation, ignore Syria and look for a direct solution with Iran.


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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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