Obama Was Right Not to Get Involved in Syria

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Charles Krauthammer comments on the war in Syria:

Look, the most important thing here is that this cease-fire, to the extent that it holds, is not a result of clever diplomacy. It’s what the Romans called “the peace of the grave.” The rebels were dealt such a huge defeat in Aleppo, they are in no position to carry on the fight in the same way as before. This is a Russian victory. The mantra out of this administration always was, “You can’t solve a civil war militarily.” The answer is, you can.

It’s worth clearing this up. Obama and his team did indeed say this in various formulations over the past few years. But any honest reading includes the following implicit qualifiers:

  1. Obama said you can’t solve this civil war militarily, not civil wars in general.
  2. He said there was no ultimate military solution in Syria.
  3. And in the short term, he said there was no way for us to help the anti-Assad rebels to victory without an enormous commitment of ground troops.

You can argue with #2 and #3. But I’d still put my money on Obama being right. Syria is likely to be unstable for a good long time, and I doubt there was anything we could have done to defeat Assad that didn’t include a serious invasion force. This was an asymmetrical conflict from the beginning, and Assad had a real army at his disposal. I’ve just never bought the idea that we could have won if only we’d armed the “moderate” rebels back in 2012, or put up a no-fly zone, or anything like that.

Putin apparently decided that assisting Assad was worthwhile because (a) Assad could win with a modest additional reinforcement, and (b) in return Russia got better access to its Tartus naval facility, their only port on the Mediterranean. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon Assad gives Putin permission to upgrade Tartus so that it can handle larger ships.

Would it have been worth a massive American presence to prevent that? I suppose Krauthammer would say yes, but I’m not sure how many Americans would agree with him.

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