NATO Secretary-General: No Intervention In Syria

Yet another sign that international intervention in Syria is most likely never going to happen.

 

The Secretary-General of NATO seems to be ruling out any possibility of a Libya-like operation in Syria:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Western alliance had no intention of intervening in Syria even in the event of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, and urged Middle East countries to find a way to end the spiraling violence.

Rasmussen told Reuters Friday he also rejected the possibility of providing logistical support for proposed “humanitarian corridors” to ferry relief to towns and cities bearing the brunt of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“We have no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria,” Rasmussen said in an interview, during a visit to mark the 60th anniversary of Turkey joining the alliance.

(…)

Asked if NATO’s stance would change if the United Nations provided a mandate, Rasmussen was doubtful.

“No, I don’t think so because Syria is also a different society, it is much more complicated ethnically, politically, religiously. That’s why I do believe that a regional solution should be found,” he said.

Daniel Larison notes that Rassmussen did say something similar about Libya last year, and than NATO ended up being the vehicle through which the U.S., Britain, and France carried out the no-fly mission over that nation. Things are different this time for several reasons, though. For one thing, it’s been eminently clear for months that military intervention in Syria would require something far different than the relatively straightforward no-fly zone that was imposed over Libya beginning in March of last year. For one thing, the vast majority of the military action there is taking place on the ground, so a “protect civilians” no-fly zone would be of little or no effect. Second, even leaving that fact aside, the geography of Syria makes launching an air campaign more difficult than it was in Libya. Only a small portion of the country borders the Mediterranean Sea, so absent the ability to use Turkish bases for the mission (which is by no means guaranteed), that means spending at least some time flying over Lebanon, where Hezbollah and other militias are armed with all manner of surface-to-air rocketry. How long would it before an allied plane went down in the Bekaa Valley?

The main reason we’re unlikely to see military intervention in Syria, though, is because there’s simply no international consensus to support it. The crackdown has been going on for the better part of a year now, and the world has basically done nothing but wring its hands. Even something as minor as a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning the violence couldn’t make it past a Russian and Chinese veto. The idea that there’s going to be any kind of consensus for real military intervention in a situation that is far more complicated and far more dangerous than Libya ever was is simply silly. There’s little consensus for it in Europe, where the idea for the intervention in Libya was hatched, and there’s none in the United States notwithstanding the persistent effort of people like John McCain to get us involved in yet another foolish foreign adventure. More importantly, though, there’s simply no way that we’re going to see a United Nations resolution like the one that launched the Libya intervention.

In the end, this is the wise decision. Intervening in Syria would require us to take sides to any even larger degree than we did in Libya. Instead of just “protecting civilians,” we’d actively have to engage against the Syrian military. From the air, most assuredly, but also possibly on the ground. How much appetite would there be for a war in a country that has no real impact on American security when coffins start returning to Dover AFB? Not much, I would bet. This isn’t our fight and we just need to stay the heck out of it.

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FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    Syria borders on Israel, too. Maybe they can trade air passage rights over Israel for planes bombing Syria for air passage rights over Jordan or Saudi Arabia for planes bombing Iran.

    /snark

  2. Hoyticus says:

    I agree, I see no reason for us to kill pe

  3. Hoyticus says:

    I agree, I see little reason for us to kill people to stop them from killing other people. Especially considering in the grand scheme Syria is insignificant other than being a conduit for Iran and Hezbollah. On top of all of that Congress has the authority to declare war so who cares what the imperial presidency wants.

  4. steve says:

    It is hard to take sides effectively in a civil war. Also, Syria has a real army, unlike Libya.

    Steve

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Given the fact there’s no oil in Syria the chances that Cameron and Sarkozy would want to use force there never amounted to much more than zero. Obama “leads from behind,” so with Cameron and Sarkozy not ginned up to intervene that’s all she wrote. To which I have no particular objections. We have much bigger fish to fry than mini-Asad.

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    It’s a pity we can’t find some way to slip these guys some small arms, anti tank weapons etc via the good offices of a reliable or not so reliable intermediary so it leaves no fingerprints. Where’s the ISI, MI 6 and the Mossad when you need them?

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Obama “leads from behind,” so with Cameron and Sarkozy not ginned up to intervene that’s all she wrote.

    Cameron and Sarko wouldn’t have had the will or the means to intervene in Libya without us. Sometimes staying in the background is the best policy. I realise this is sometimes hard for those who prefer to run around the stage wearing jesters hats with bells to understand but it is so.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.
    Sun Tzu

  9. Dazedandconfused says:

    Who would we be giving these weapons to? @Brummagem Joe:

    Who exactly are the “these guys” you are referring to?

  10. Nightrider says:

    Not that it is news, but it does show that every time we claim to intervene somewhere to protect civilians or promote democracy, that isn’t the reason, or else we’d be doing it here, no? Is it that we and/or Israel actually fear whatever would replace Assad even more?

  11. Nightrider,

    As I said last April, the “Responsibility To Protect” doctrine that was used to justify the Libya intervention is a fraud.

  12. Hoyticus says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Agreed. It’s quite sad how “humanitarian intervention” has basically been fetishized by American elites. They now see intervention as an end to itself without much thought of consequences.

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    Who exactly are the “these guys” you are referring to?

    I would have thought it fairly obvious. The guys who are trying to overthrow Assad. We’re not talking about cruise missiles here but the means to defend themselves against Assad’s militias. It’s fairly obvious his army who are being asked to fire on their relatives isn’t too enthusiastic about this.

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Hoyticus:

    They now see intervention as an end to itself without much thought of consequences.

    A gross oversimplification. If we can remove anti American dictators at little or no cost I’m all for it. Just because this makes sense doesn’t mean high cost invasions make sense. Ever heard of cost/benefit.

  15. @Brummagem Joe:

    Bashar Assad is no real threat to the national interests of the United States. There is no justification for going to war against him.

  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As I said last April, the “Responsibility To Protect” doctrine that was used to justify the Libya intervention is a fraud.

    Actually Doug this was as a practical matter fairly illogical. Getting rid of Ghadaffi at low cost made entire sense and was wholly successful. Just because getting rid of Assad is a more complex undertaking doesn’t mean the president was or is morally bankrupt just because he’s being more circumspect. It’s easy to make the perfect the enemy of the good but that doesn’t make the good isn’t something we should celebrate. This eagle scout stuff may be appropriate in the legal milieu in which you operate (although I find that unlikely) but it certainly isn’t appropriate for how we conduct our foreign policy.

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Bashar Assad is no real threat to the national interests of the United States. There is no justification for going to war against him.

    Actually he is a threat to the national interests of this country, albeit a relatively minor one. And I haven’t suggested going to war against him, just that we take advantage of a situation and at low cost use some proxies to ease him. And maybe even in the process assist our image in the muslim world. Cost/benefit.

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    From the US council on foreign relations. I’d say they were a threat to US national interests albeit a relatively minor one as I said.

    http://www.cfr.org/syria/state-sponsor-syria/p9368

  19. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Defend themselves from militias? Looks like Type 63 107mm rockets and 122mm artillery to me. What would we give them that could reach out and touch those baby’s? (about 4 klicks)

  20. Kolohe says:

    “It is hard to take sides effectively in a civil war.”

    On the contrary, it’s very easy to take sides effectively in a civil war. It’s just hard to figure out which side is ‘the good guys’, esp when there potentially ain’t none.

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    Defend themselves from militias?

    His militias are his most loyal troops. Assad’s army isn’t reliable. Where the heck do think all these small arms are coming from to enable these insurgents to maintain some resistance. Deserters. His regime like Ghadaffi’s is a house of cards. Once the army (which is conscripted) starts to encounter serious resistance they’re not going to try too hard. This is basically street fighting with some mortaring. There’s a limit to how much they can use heavy weapons because the casualties would be huge and likely to provoke mass uprisings.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Kolohe:

    It’s just hard to figure out which side is ‘the good guys’, esp when there potentially ain’t none.

    Good guys exist in the eye of the beholder. Who were the good guys in our civil war? As far as the US is concerned it comes down to whether we consider it more in our national interest to ease Assad out or to leave him in power. On balance we’re better off with him gone. At worst any successor govt is going to have its hands full for years to cause us any trouble and at best we could see a neutral or even modestly friendly govt take over. We don’t have much to lose (it’s hard to imagine a more anti American regime) and possibly something to gain.

  23. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Check your information, the towns are being shelled. Just like in the 80’s when Assad’s dad flattened Hama.

    http://www.stateondemand.com/Latest-Stories/satellite-images-of-syrian-military-artillery/s/63057bec-e32d-4bee-9d9c-ba8531a3a90a

    The Alawites know they have no place to run if they lose.

    I’m all for RtP, but it’s seldom that simple. It doesn’t assume that intervention is always wise, it only declares that if something can be done that doesn’t make the problem worse, than it should. The opposition to Assad is split, and Assad’s forces are ginormous. The regional players will have to assess how big a price they are willing to pay to take out Assad. Also, his cronies must assess if they might be better off Mubarak-ing him.

  24. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    Check your information, the towns are being shelled. Just like in the 80′s when Assad’s dad flattened Hama.

    I didn’t say they were not using artillery but that there was limit to how much they could use heavy artillery. Are you suggesting that it’s a viable option for Assad today to completely flatten Hama and kill 200,000 people?

    The opposition to Assad is split, and Assad’s forces are ginormous. The regional players will have to assess how big a price they are willing to pay to take out Assad. Also, his cronies must assess if they might be better off Mubarak-ing him.

    They’re ginormous on paper but it’s a conscript army. He’s encountering desertions. And as you say if the stakes get raised his cronies may decide to dump him. At the end of the day do you think it worth a modest investment to get rid of him.

  25. WR says:

    @Brummagem Joe: “Who were the good guys in our civil war?”

    The ones who weren’t fighting for the right to keep other people as property. Now try a hard one.

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    “The statesman’s task is to hear God’s footsteps marching through history, and to try and catch on to His coattails as He marches past. ”
    ― Otto von Bismarck

    Flexibility,matching ends to means, nuance, caution, restraint….We do what we have to do to advance US foreign policy goals and interests. If there’s not outside intervention Assad probably stays in power and we live with the consequences. Just because we did something rather stupid in Iraq doesn’t mean we should be paralysed nor does it mean it’s remotely sensible to consider starting a war against Iran. Each situation has to be considered independantly. Ends/Means. If we can get rid of this guy on the cheap via proxies it makes entire sense to me.

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @WR:

    .

    Now try a hard one.

    It may not be hard for you or me but for quite a lot folks?

  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    His dad only killed around 10-20K at Hama. 200,000? Hyperbole. If there are mass desertions in the army, they have not been reported. You mentioned Assad was fighting with “militias” awhile ago. This raises a question. What sources of information are you using?

    As yet, I haven’t seen any indications that defending these rebels from massed artillery would be cheap or easy. Your reply to my question of who exactly these rebels are was “the people who are fighting him”. Apparently you are unaware that they are not under united leadership, and even determining who is fighting under which of the various entities has been very difficult. This situation is very unlike Libya. Militias and mass defections from a disloyal army applied to that place but Syria is a different kettle of fish.

  29. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    You mentioned Assad was fighting with “militias” awhile ago.

    Actually all I said was that his militias were his most loyal troops and that the loyalty of his largely conscript army was suspect which in fact has been commented upon reasonably widely.

    If there are mass desertions in the army, they have not been reported.

    I didn’t say there had been mass desertions from his army but that there have certainly been desertions and they have been reported. In fact I was watching a report on NBC last night showing deserters engaged in street fighting against the army.

    at Hama. 200,000? Hyperbole.

    Do you know what the population of Hama is?. You suggested he would use heavy artillery to flatten the place so what would the death toll be if he

    flattened

    the place. I said that’s not a viable option really.

    Apparently you are unaware that they are not under united leadership, and even determining who is fighting under which of the various entities has been very difficult. This situation is very unlike Libya.

    And apparently you are unaware that those fighting against Ghadaffi were not under united leadership either. In some respects the internal situation in Syria is more clearcut than Libya, what makes it more complicated is geography and the proximity of other sensitive areas.

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    at Hama. 200,000? Hyperbole.

    Btw to save you the trouble of googling it I believe it’s around 750,000 people. So if Assad flattened (your word) the place with heavy artillery what would your estimate of the casualties be?

  31. Ron Beasley says:

    I agree that we should not get involved. This isn’t what it seems. It’s an inverse of Iraq – Shiite leadership and a Sunni majority. This is not so much a civil war as a religious one.

  32. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    If there are mass desertions in the army, they have not been reported.

    Well here’s one report from Reuters of thousands of desertions

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/13/us-syria-defections-idUSTRE80C2IV20120113

  33. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Your guess of the Hama massacre was 750,000 because “flattened” must mean everybody was killed?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hama_massacre

    Definitely there are desertions, but even if that article is accurate, a couple thousand that would be less than 1% of his army. If they just need small arms, the Saudis, Turks and Jordan can do that without us. Lord knows the Saudis are not short of cash. We would need their cooperation to stage our own supply operation. Not going to be doing it through Iraq or Israel. Iraq likes Assad, and Israel hasn’t apparently decided which way they want this thing to go yet. It’s a mess.

  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    Your guess of the Hama massacre was 750,000 because “flattened” must mean everybody was killed?

    Now you’re starting to distort. I never said 750,000 were killed but that the population of Hama is around that number and if the city was in your word flattened this would cause very high casualties and asked you to provide an estimate which you refuse to do. The entire point which you’re also refusing to recognise is that in fact there are heavy constraints on Assad in the use of heavy weapons.

    Definitely there are desertions, but even if that article is accurate, a couple thousand that would be less than 1% of his army.

    You said there weren’t any being reported. And the article says 20,000 not 2000 which is about 8% of his army.

    If they just need small arms, the Saudis, Turks and Jordan can do that without us.

    This is precisely what I was suggesting but with some gentle nudging from us that leaves no fingerprints. Viz.

    It’s a pity we can’t find some way to slip these guys some small arms, anti tank weapons etc via the good offices of a reliable or not so reliable intermediary so it leaves no fingerprints.

  35. superdestroyer says:

    The easiest thing to do when it comes to such issues is apply the Powell Doctrine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powell_Doctrine

    And getting involved in Syria violates virtually every tenet o the Powell Doctrine. No national security interest, no clear objectives, no exit strategy, no internal support

  36. Nightrider says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    His dad only killed around 10-20K at Hama. 200,000? Hyperbole.

    That is still several 9-11s. We’re talking about people’s lives, not just a data point to stick in front of the letter K.

  37. Rob in CT says:

    Good. We have no business intervening.

    Unlike Joe, I don’t want the CIA, Mossad, MI6 or anybody else arming the rebels. Aside from the fact that it would be widely known who was doing it, there is the real chance that all it does is make for a bloodier civil war that the rebels still lose.

    Go back to Kosovo. Remember the KLA, those wonderful folks we ended up backing?

    ENOUGH OF THIS. Stay out of it.

  38. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    @Nightrider:

    I quite agree.

    Have to look at my comment in the context it was made. It was about Joe’s comment about why there were not 750,000 casualties in the Hama massacre. This was questioning my point about how bad Hama was, and how ruthless this regime can be. If we are going to arm the rebels like he wishes we would, there needs to be some thought about exactly what types of weapons they would need.

  39. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Aside from the fact that it would be widely known who was doing it, there is the real chance that all it does is make for a bloodier civil war that the rebels still lose.

    But then there’s an equal chance it could end more quickly with Assad gone. We don’t know of course. The argument we should stay a million miles away from this entirely legitimate but it’s corollary is that Assad almost certainly stays in power and the influence of Russian/China in the region is elevated.

  40. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Looks like that’s the way we are going to play this, for now.

    Dempsey did a pretty good job of explaining that on CNN last weekend. While McCain and Graham may be screaming we should leap in, it’s pretty clear our national policy is going in a much more restrained and thoughtful direction. I suspect Obama will have to maintain the old “all options are on the table” stance though.

    This thing has acquired all the makings for a whale of a blood-bath. Have to hope the Russian are right, but they may not be.