Muftic: Conflict resolution in Syria (column)
April 11, 2017
History will judge if the missile strike in Syria was the right move. It was a moral action, justifiably a dramatic way to object and to deter further use of chemical weapons, but will it lead to a resolution of the conflict? There could be some positive outcomes. At least it did not start World War III. It could induce Russia and Syria to begin considering a political solution; makes the use of chemical weapons too militarily costly to be used by even the most evil leader; sends a message to North Korea that they should not take comfort that their nuclear threat to the US west coast will be ignored. It could motivate China to put more pressure on the crazy North Korean leader to cool his ICBM nuclear plans because he will not know what that unpredictable Trump will do next, especially since a US missile carrying fleet has moved near the Korean peninsula.
US military intervention is not the solution to Syria. There is real fear that if Syrian President Assad is taken down, those who fill that vacuum could be worse. There are those who oppose even a threat of military action because they support peace. Peace is a goal, not a strategy. For those who believe in peace, how we get to peace should be the question. Empty threats and name calling accomplish very little in convincing those to change their ways when they do not see peace supporting their personal or national interests.
To reach peace, we could take a page from the 1990s in the Balkans. Bosnia had a large Muslim resistance movement which NATO helped with military aid and by taking out the Serbian air force which resulted in the Dayton Accord peace settlement. Unlike Bosnia, the resistance in Syria is fragmented and contains even those we are fighting, including ISIS. The hope is that the Syrian Sunni population gets assistance from the Saudis, Jordanians, and Gulf States and they become the non ISIS military resistance on the ground, leading to a stalemate or power shift resulting in a diplomatic settlement.
There are other means to force a diplomatic solution such as placing economic sanctions on the offending regime or its allies. That pressure is already being hinted with threats of more economic sanctions beyond those already imposed on Russia, the Assad regime's enabler, for their stealth invasions of Crimea and Ukraine.
The risk with threats to use military force to reach a peaceful resolution is that if the threat is not backed up, threats in the future lose their effect as a credible tool later. President Obama came under extreme criticism for not taking military action when Syria crossed the red line when they used chemical weapons, Russia negotiated their removal to stop the US threat in 2013. Obviously they failed to get them all removed.
But striking Syrian airfields and taking out the Syrian air force is risky business, putting us in direct military conflict with Russia's military presence there. So serious are such repercussions, that Congress is correct in demanding approval first to authorize further military action. Relying on a past authorization of the use of force early in the Iraq invasion is not enough because the risk of war with Russia was not a factor then.