SYRIAN POWER PLAY

Charles Krauthammer thinks Syria has potential to be a thorn in our side if we’re not proactive because Bashar Assad isn’t as politically astute as his late father and may miscalculate.

What to do? No one wants to invade Syria. No one wants to see the United States occupying a second great Arab capital. To be sure, the very knowledge of that reluctance seriously weakens our hand. Nonetheless, we have coercive power short of invasion. We’ve already employed one, cutting off the pipeline that sends Iraqi oil through Syria. That deprives Assad of about $1 billion out of a government budget of $7.5 billion.

This should be followed by further ratcheting of economic pressure — up to and including a blockade of Syrian ports, if we determine that Syria is actively supporting anti-coalition fighters in Iraq.

We have other instruments beyond economic ones. We should quietly let Syria know that if its provocations continue — if, for example, it does not turn over the Iraqi leaders it is harboring — we reserve the right of hot pursuit, striking at the time and in the manner of our choosing. This does not mean a land invasion. It could mean a sudden taking out of Damascus’s air defenses or destroying one of Assad’s Republican Guard equivalents.

The effect on Assad would be profound: His policy of provocation, designed to show power and command, would instead show weakness and fragility — a potentially fatal demonstration in a regime that, like Hussein’s, rests on brute force, a small ethnic and religious minority and a bankrupt Baathist ideology.

In Iraq, America demonstrated the capacity, extraordinary and historically unique, to destroy a regime while leaving the country intact. Assad needs to learn the lesson of Iraq: Change regime behavior — or suffer regime change.

Certainly, toppling all of the Arab dictators by invasion would be a mistake. But I agree with Krauthammer that our demonstration of capability in Iraq may make lesser means effective in other cases.

FILED UNDER: Middle East
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.