It is interesting to note that the debate concerning any intervention into Syria is a binary one, where we debate either using hard power to ‘punish’ the Assad Government for use of chemical weapons, or we do nothing. This is interesting because somehow we are unable to publicly consider using soft power in this instance–we are unable to conceive alternate courses of action that circumstance demands from us.

Look at where the world is right now. First, at the UN Security Council Russia and China will block any punitive measures against the Syrian Government. Their reasons for this are varied, but we would be remiss to not acknowledge that Libya and Operation Unified Protector are not ancient history. Their begrudging acquiescence to western intervention was, from their perspective, too much. We shouldn’t now nor should we into the future count on any approval from the UNSC for military interventions in the old Soviet sphere. Syria is not a big enough issue to eschew the auspices of the UNSC, especially in light of the importance placed on UNSC authorization by NATO and the western powers in Libya.

While this may cause some teeth grinding among many, it should not. After all, the US was the cornerstone in designing the UNSC, and Russia and China are well within their rights on the UNSC to do as they do. So, what’s next? Something short of direct application of hard power.

The argument could be made that the transfer of small arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Syria is the ethical thing to do in light of our own forces not being permitted to take any action. However, taking such action does not lead directly enough to a desirable end-state for the current civil war in Syria. It leaves open too many outcomes and flies in the face of lessons learned from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

So, what is a best case for resolution to the Syrian civil war–what should we work towards?

In short, we should work towards: A much more friendly neighbor for Israel in any new Syrian government, Iran losing their proxy, Russia has loosing the lease on their naval base, the Russian strategic communication strategy they’ve employed being turned around and used against them, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s ability to handle situations like Syria being strengthened, and lastly that the United State’s position in global leadership reestablished.

Israel has spent the last two years in the eye of a hurricane. Most of Israel’s neighbors have experienced some degree of revolution and civil war. However, at least in the public’s eye, Israel has remained passive and not gotten involved in the Arab Spring. But, in regards to Syria, Israel has a real opportunity to change the dynamic on their Northern border. In fact, Israel has already begun to do this. Israel has spent much of the last 15 years on the wrong side of the news cycle in the Arab world and in the West. The pictures and videos of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at Israeli tanks can’t come across in favor of Israel. The narrative this has fomented has not been to the benefit of Israel, and yet it is not an accurate portrayal either.

Israel must do all it can to connect with the Syrian people by helping their refugees and victims of the civil war. This is vital because it enables another narrative to emerge that can in turn become the foundation upon the next Syrian government being friendly to Israel. In the best case, it would also allow for a new dialog to emerge with the Palestinians and others that to date have not had enough evidence for Israel to be an acceptable neighbor to them.

If Israel can build enough confidence with the Syrian people the likelihood of Iran maintaining their proxy in Syria becomes much more unlikely, and makes serious headway towards containing Iran’s influence to the Gulf. It is at this juncture that the interests of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council converge, and it behooves both to work together towards their shared strategic goals. What’s more, the relationships established here between Israel and the GCC can be built upon in the future as needs arise.

Russia is attempting to rebuild their naval influence, and it is in the interest of the US and west to counter Russia’s waxing influence on the world stage. The Borei class SSBN, Bulava class SS-N, Neustrashimyy FFG, and missiles like the SS-N-26 and the jointly developed Brahmos missile all put into action the words of the Kremlin. This growing naval clout will depend on a Mediterranean port to extend Russia’s influence outside of the Black Sea. With a very real chance that Russia’s Navy could outnumber all other nation’s navies in the Mediterranean. If Russia seems assertive with their oil and gas reserves towards Europe, what will they do with the strongest Navy and a port in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Russia’s newly waxing influence on the world stage is in the interest of the US and West to counter. Over the Syrian civil war we find a moment to counter Russian moves. Russia has positioned itself through rhetoric as being against Western and US imperialist inclinations. The narrative they draw with their words is backed by the numerous interventions the US and West have been involved in since 2001. They are able to play against the sensitivities many citizens in the West feel for their Governments seemingly constant need to use hard power in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

In addition, Russia has been able to set out a predicted course of action that the governments of the West will take in dealing with Syria. However, in Russia’s most recent remarks they unintentionally highlight their own hypocrisy regarding Syria. The rhetoric from the Kremlin speaks only towards maintaining the status quo in Syria – a civil war that has caused upwards of 100,000 deaths; while also positioning itself to be the mediator (with the US following their lead) in any final peace settlement. The words they speak to the public are backed by their actions in supplying the Syrian Government with weapons.

The United States must take a global leadership role in resolving the Syrian civil war. However, as outlined above this leadership will not encompass hard power being directly applied against the Assad government. In assuming a global leadership position the US needs to build a coalition of nations to deploy humanitarian aid around the Syrian borders and augment the humanitarian efforts already underway there. In seeking to do as such, the US is assured to build a very broad coalition of Nations.

Any deployment of medical and humanitarian teams to include hospital ships would naturally need to have security provided for them. With having refugee camps and a robust security presence in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel the pressure on the Assad government would be great and the ability for any outside sources of support to smuggle in weapons to government forces would be greatly reduced. The presence of coalition forces along the Syrian border would approximate the desired outcome of hard power being directly applied.

In taking real action to support the victims of Assad’s government we are doing more than what the Syrian government’s supporters are willing to do. We highlight the hypocrisy of their words and place them on the defensive, having them to defend why they are willing to allow the disintegration of the ‘Paris of the East’. We bring the World towards examining the motives behind why China and Russia are willing to allow a country that holds chemical weapons to disintegrate into a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. And most importantly we place doubt in the world regarding the future of a world that has Russia with a fascist like Putin at helm.

Russia is content to allow Syria to destroy itself before they go ahead and try to broker peace. They are content with having a failed state far from their borders, but figuratively in the lap of the West. It is time to get ahead of their decision making cycle and help the Syrian people and thereby ensure that Russia does not enjoy undue influence over the Levant at the expense of the US, Europe, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Between Europe, the US, Israel, the GCC there are many points where strategic interest converge. In years past, capitalizing on these shared strategic interests was the hallmark of American global leadership. The strategy I’ve laid out here can bring the US back to the role that so many other Nation’s admired in the US. This strategy does not rely on any direct application of hard power against the Syrian government. But, it also does not have the US and the West standing idly by as weapons of mass destruction are employed in a near-failed state.

Through our actions we must move our position on Syria from the very nebulous gray area that other nations exploit to weaken US position. We must, through our actions, demonstrate our willingness to limit suffering and for regional stability. Such actions are good for the US, for Europe, for Israel, and for the GCC, and certainly for the Syrian people. It increases our cooperation with allies and partners, it diplomatically isolates our competitors, and it takes the initiative from those who are willing to watch that part of the World burn.

Posted by YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Foreign Policy, Hard Power, Innovation, Soft Power

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  • crabtrem8

    This is an interesting development. It could well be the start of World War III if the powers that be aren’t careful. What is confusing to me, is why Obama considers those forces against Assad are our friends, or allies. The truth is, the rebels are likely funded and trained by Iranian backed forces, the Arab Brotherhood. Egypt and Libya should show us that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. In fact the Cold War was entirely based upon that. Stability, and balance of power is crucial for the Middle East at this time. Syria is no threat, but if they fall, Iranian Influence in the Western Middle East will be complete. Russia has a long history with Assad and Syria, so I can understand their stance. What I really don’t understand is the US stance, and call for action. It doesn’t make sense, especially after the Iraq and Afghanistan policies. The policy outlined by Obama just doesn’t make sense to me. Even if they confirm the use of chemical weapons, what will military strikes accomplish? Will the goal be to punish in general? Who will be the target of these attacks? Will they reduce the ability to use chemical weapons? Will Assad be a target? Will his family? What is the goal of such actions? What will it accomplish? None of these answers have I heard concerning the Presidents call that military action is needed against Syria.

    • YNSN

      Uh, do you care to comment on what I had to say, at all?

      • crabtrem8

        As I said, it is an interesting situation. I agree, the issues are very complex, and bridge over vast historical, religious, and idealogical roadblocks. I enjoyed your use of the term binary logic concerning the apparent decision making process. It is true, there is a normalization (get it) of political, business, and military leaders that make decisions, they truly believe encompasses all data. But, they only assess metrics, from limited samples, derived from unknown, unvalidated, and as with any database incomplete information. I do not believe Syria is a definable situation. I do think that any direct involvement by Israel will only lead to a negative backlash against them. I lost count of all the major factions in Syria at this moment, which only makes any peaceful resolution post Assad doubtful. I don’t think we want another Egypt or Libya, whose outcomes are still in question. I personally feel, that even as useless an organization as I feel the UN is, they are the best hope Syria has at the moment. As you said it is the model that we (the US) put in place. Let’s make any discussion about Syria, and any action concerning Syria a UN issue.

  • Godblessourchildren

    Let us keep in mind Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. We have no high moral ground to preach from. Our policies have ended in failure and the alienation of most of the world. Our allies are beginning to loose faith in our policy making and why? It doesn’t work. When we hand out a fig leaf, there is always an unacceptable condition attached to it. We have made zero effort to negotiate a settlement to this conflict with all parties concerned. We require that Assad step down, that we select the next government before we can talk. That’s no different than a burglar demand that you hand over all of your valuable possessions and only then will he consider, mind you, not promise, but consider to not burgle you. We are no longer the only bully on the block, not the only super power. Keep in mind that we are purchasing Russian military hardware and engines because it costs far less than for us to produce them, and they are reliable. We can’t take care of our citizens, our Vets, our institutions, our infrastructures, but we can afford another trillion dollar war, if this is prolonged, and you can bet that it will be. Everyone gets it now, fight back, prolong the war. We will have to put boots on the ground again. Syria is of no strategic interest to us, but to the oil industry which wishes to build a pipeline going through Syria. Chemical weapons have nothing to do with this new round of threats. It has all to do with Israeli oil.

    • YNSN

      No one, no nation, no peoples are perfect. The reason why Russia is confident in their pontificating to the West in regards to intervention is because they willfully ignore their moral shortcomings without batting an eye.

      I am not saying that the US and the West need to do the same thing. But, I am saying that if we commit ourselves to assisting the Syrian people in anyway we can, to include humanitarian aid, then we are taking steps towards placing ourselves back on a firm moral footing.

      On an aside, I have never understood the point of underscoring moral or ethical shortcomings from one’s past. I can appreciate the need to be cognizant of when mistakes we made. But, more often than not, the way it’s usually put forward (the way you put such forward) is that every future action is predicated upon previous moral shortcomings. People and organizations change, learn and evolve. Yet, stating that “We have no high moral ground to preach from.” gives the sense that moral high ground isn’t a relative thing, that can be lost and regained. It’s not a binary relationship, it’s not something that can never be re-earned.

      What I’m putting forward is a way to re-earn just what you lament.

  • ADL

    Palestinians throw a lot more rockets at Israeli citizens than they do tanks. The Palestinians are not the neighbors of Israel they are a fifth column effort to eliminate the state of Israel – you need to brush up on history, a lot..

    The answer to Syria is not even remotely close to what you have sketched out (nothing new just a bunch of cheap shots at Israel and a lame attempt to push them towards more concessions, there 1995 concessions didn’t work out very well). The real answer is to negotiate with Bashar Assad to turn over governance of Syria to a caretaker government in return for the Jihadists laying down their weapons. Do that and you’ll see who can be trusted and who can’t.

    Before you claim this has been suggested, it hasn’t..

    • YNSN

      No, I am completely mindful of how Israel came to be. What I am positing is a way for Israel to make more friends of their neighbors. If you had read my words more closely, you will see where I said that Israel is not what the media has made them out to be. Perception matters, and Israel has the chance to change that perception in a way that is not possible very often.

      • ADL

        Israel is not the one that needs to make more friends.

        Israel’s neighbors follow a political ideology which prevents them from making friends with Israel or anyone else that doesn’t follow their specific flavor of Islam. The US may think that those countries which refuse to be friends with Israel are our friends but I wouldn’t want to be the one that had to put that theory to the test.

        Israel can no more change the perspective of its neighbors than a rabbit can change the perspective of a pack of wolves.

        Israel is gaining friends because it is collaborating with Egypt in the Sinai to fight off the Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist network that is operating there and has become a mutual problem. A week or so ago we saw intelligence officers from Egypt and Israel laughing it up together after a joint conference.

        It’s pure wishful thinking that the aggressive, destroy Israel at any cost, Palestinian (terrorist aligned) government and their satellite operations outside of Israel will respect anything but force. It’s also wishful thinking that any of Israel’s neighbors will respect Israel on the basis of increasing the already extensive humanitarian work they already provide (hasn’t changed many minds so far).
        Israel is also gaining friends because it provides a security blanket to the Saudis (against Iran) with its nuclear arsenal.

        If the US steps out of the middle east the players there will turn to the most capable, stable and reasonable government in the region for military support and that is Israel.

        Israel is extremely collaborative and willing to work with any of its neighbors including those that refuse to sign peace treaties with it.

        The whole middle east would work a lot better if every request that came to Washington passed through Tel Aviv first.

      • ADL

        If you actually understand the creation of the state of Israel why would give credibility to the Palestinian effort to steal the tiny remaining portion of the British mandate?

  • The Navy’s Grade 36 Bureaucrat

    YN2, well done! You’ve pointed out quite accurately how we’ve backed ourselves into a corner and not considered a wider range of options. We as a nation seem to have forgotten how to conduct information operations, and instead of controlling the narrative we’ve limited our options and let the narrative control us. Sending a hospital ship would change the game in Syria, and it would help counter the narrative that all the US wants to do is punish Syria.

  • Walter Jarrett Kerbel

    Thank you for this very enlightening and helpful essay!

    • YNSN

      You’re welcome 🙂