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  • Counting heads in Syria

    Posted by Margaret on August 29th, 2013 (All posts by )

    While President Obama has been dithering about Syria, I’ve been nerdishly crunching numbers. On the web you can find every possible opinion about what the US ought to do, ranging from “Nothing,” to “Depose Assad.” Apart from the difficulty of achieving the latter goal, shouldn’t we think about what happens if Assad goes? Long term, some equally nasty types take over, and better-informed people than I can argue about just how bad that’s likely to be. But I haven’t seen any discussion of one likely immediate consequence.

    At the beginning of this year, Syria had an estimated 2.6 million Alawites and 2.3 million Christians. Despite the refugee exodus, I believe most of those people are still in Syria. If Islamist groups like al-Nusra replace Assad,what are their chances of survival?

    100,000 people have been killed so far, and that’s bad enough. But if we do seriously attempt to depose Assad, we should at least acknowledge the likelihood that another five million people will die.

    The Holocaust is credited with six million deaths. Will the deaths of Syrian Alawites and Christians be less tragic because their murderers aren’t as well organized as the Germans? Will this massacre be okay because nobody will take the time to tattoo numbers on the victims’ arms?

     

    12 Responses to “Counting heads in Syria”

    1. Lexington Green Says:

      If we are going to destroy the Assad regime, we should be pushing to break up Syria and create enclaves for the Christians and Alawites, along the lines of Kosovo. Breaking up Syria would not be especially tragic, but the annihilation of 5 million people would be.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      If we intervene, and it’s not obvious we should, we should try to kill Assad and his male relatives and allies. Bret Stephens is right about this. We should also conspicuously destroy his residences, especially the giant palace overlooking Damascus. Whatever the other reasons for an intervention by us, it’s important to make enemy leaders personally accountable, not only to punish them but also to discourage others like them. Of course Obama has been doing the opposite, punishing cooperators like Qaddafi and allies like Israel while tolerating the mass slaughter of ordinary people and letting real enemies like the Syrian and Iranian regimes skate.

    3. PenGun Says:

      “If we intervene, and it’s not obvious we should, we should try to kill Assad and his male relatives and allies.”

      LOL the Israeli way of doing business.

      As the Russians have called an emergency meeting of the Security Council it is probable they now have incontrovertible proof it was a false flag operation. You might remember they showed the rebels were behind previous attacks.

      As Obama very probably was relying on this for his intervention we have a serious spin cycle problem. ;)

      The success of the Syrian army and it’s recent victories have made it plain they are going to win this thing. This is of course why the Saudis, French and the UK are freaking out. The Israelis are somewhat more ambivalent as they are right next door but really they too are behind this all the way.

      Interesting times.

    4. Lexington Green Says:

      “… a false flag operation.”

      This would not surprise me.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      But irrelevant. If we’re going to knock off Assad the reason should be some combination of 1) he’s our enemy and has consistently acted against our interests, 2) he’s an ally of our other enemies and 3) he’s a mass-murderer and it’s in our interest to stop mass-murderers. His use of chemical weapons is a tertiary issue. The people he has shot or blown up are just as dead as the CW victims. His possession of such weapons, however, is an important issue because of the possibility that he will use these weapons against us or our allies or the weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists who will use them.

      The UN is irrelevant and any US official who defers to UN authority should be removed from office.

    6. Lexington Green Says:

      We should not “knock off” Assad. His successor will massacre 2.5 million Syrian Christians. I prefer Assad to having the USA be al Qaeda’s air force.

    7. dearieme Says:

      Hurray! Thank God for that.
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2405633/Syria-conflict-David-Cameron-humiliated-losing-Commons-vote-possible-military-action.html

    8. David Foster Says:

      “The Holocaust is credited with six million deaths. Will the deaths of Syrian Alawites and Christians be less tragic because their murderers aren’t as well organized as the Germans? Will this massacre be okay because nobody will take the time to tattoo numbers on the victims’ arms?”

      Eloquently put, Margaret.

    9. L. C. Rees Says:

      If you could, right this second, push the Easy Button and send our secret arsenal of ophthalmologist seeking cruise missiles to kill every man, woman, child, goat, or telegenic kitten related by blood, association, or unlucky proximity to Boy Asad dating back to the eighteenth century, it would have zero political effect.

      Decapitation attacks might have persuasive value if you could reliably find and kill uncooperatives if they failed to quickly become cooperatives. American military history from Benedict Arnold to Tecumseh to Santa Anna to Jeff Davis to Cochise to Geronimo to Aguinaldo to Villa to Sandino to Hitler to Castro to Noriega to Milesovic to Saddam to Kaddafy to Bin Laden demonstrates our capability to do this in a way that advances our political goals is unreliable and unpredictable. Betting your potential success on a capability to do something you cannot do reliably is as silly, embarrassing, and contemptible as drawing red lines that even Canadians realize are empty gestures. This little war even provides an example of a surgical strike on regime higher ups. Net political report: absolutely nothing.

      Blowing up buildings has zero political effects if no one doubts your ability to blow up buildings or empty tents any time you want to. No one doubts the United States can destroy any building in the world at any time. Blowing up Boy Assad’s presidential palace, Old Man and Older Brother Assad’s mausoleum, or even Boy Asad’s presidential goat’s presidential stable, however conspicuously, has zero political effect unless you conspicuously miss it. Accidental hits have more traction, such as when you blow up embassies (no, they haven’t forgotten). Especially when you go around boasting about how antiseptic your airstrikes are. But that’s the risks you run when you’re conspicuously hitting defenseless pieces of monumental masonry.

      I’ve seen the Alawite takeover of Syria under Old Man Assad compared to the Untouchables of India taking over the premiership of India: here you see the traditional lowest of the low in the greater Syria region suddenly becoming the highest of the high. A tiny minority is in charge of a population that not only has hated it historically but now fears it. If Asad and family fell victim to Assad seeking missiles, the Allawite community would instantly stand some other mustachioed leading man in his place with little change in the fundamental dynamics of the Syrian balance of terror. As long as the Alawites have any grip on their high end warfighting brass ring, they will brutally defend it to the uttermost extremity. The alternative (as already demonstrated) is as Xenophon observed of the Spartan helots: “they would gladly eat their masters raw”). The Alawites realize this more than anyone else: they used to be helots.

      Half measures like cruise missling camels and empty tents in a pique of D.C. clique will achieve nothing. The only way to break Boy Asad and friends is to break the Syrian state. You have to at least reduce the core of the Syrian army to at least parity with the armed mobs they’re fighting against. That involves a relentless and unyielding intention to attrit the Syrian army down to street thug level and kill any Syrians that disagree with your political goals no matter how long it takes or how much it costs. Since neither this administration in particular or post-WWII United States in general has credibly shown they’re willing to do that, it’s best to hold back right now. Especially since, if you’re determined to intervene, intervention will be much easier politically after the massacres start and if the massacres are telegenically more shocking than what you get down at the local matinee. But the people ruling this country aren’t any more competent at throwing a war properly than they are at anything else.

    10. Jonathan Says:

      If you could, right this second, push the Easy Button and send our secret arsenal of ophthalmologist seeking cruise missiles to kill every man, woman, child, goat, or telegenic kitten related by blood, association, or unlucky proximity to Boy Asad dating back to the eighteenth century, it would have zero political effect.

      You might be right if all we did was send off some bombs and missiles in a one-off strike. However, a serious policy of relentlessly targeting the heads of enemy regimes would likely have effect. When the Israelis did this against Hamas in the early 2000s it worked. When narco terrorists did something like this against the Colombian govt it worked, until the Colombians elected a govt that was willing to use overwhelming force against the narcos, which the Syrians can’t do against us.

      My objections to our using military force to try to kill Assad and/or destroy his regime are practical. I don’t think the Obama administration has the will or competence to pull it off. However, Assad has consistently functioned as our enemy and ally of our enemies, and we should continue to look for low-risk opportunities to punish him. Instead we act as though there is a statute of limitations on his hostile actions against us. We could learn something from Putin about being reliable allies and having a long memory about actions taken against our interests.

    11. Grurray Says:

      Not quite been a consistent enemy. Assad the Elder supported the Coalition in Iraq I, Assad the Lesser allowed CIA terrorist “renditions” to his country up until about 2005 or so.

      As recently as a few years ago he was being embraced as a modern thinking partner
      http://oi43.tinypic.com/29yfsiv.jpg

      And as a lynchpin in a Mediterranean Alliance
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/world/europe/14france.html?_r=0

      We have had sanctions against them for quite awhile which are still in place,
      so it’s not like they are our friends either.

      The problem I think is sending messages through bombs. Things get too lost in the translation. Israel is able to do it because they’ve settled into a cold war type structure with their enemies with clear lines and rules of engagement and little ambiguity. Our incoherence is just as likely to make things worse.

      The Kosovo analogy is a really a fallacy. NATO bombs did little military damage because of Serbian decoys and camouflage, so they resorted to soft targets. What really did Milosevic in was he implemented forced conscription which caused a lot of desertions in his army just at the time when we were considering putting troops on the ground. Parallels to Syria are non-existent.

      If we want to protect anyone, it should be the Kurds. Supporting an autonomous Kurdistan was one of the few smart things we have done in the ME over the past few decades. They haven’t sided with either Sunnis or Shias and have established a safe zone in the NW corner of the country. We should follow their lead.

    12. Grurray Says:

      correction –
      NE corner

      http://oi43.tinypic.com/a0e8au.jpg

      Alawites will soon be retreating to the NW along the sea.
      If there was any sense in the world, they would then form a confederation with Northern Lebanon and Cilicia