Another claim in James Rubin’s demand for U.S. interference in Syria doesn’t stand up to scrutiny:
The larger point is that as long as Washington stays firm that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed, à la Kosovo and Libya, the cost to the United States will be limited. Victory may not come quickly or easily, but it will come.
Rubin has no way of knowing that victory (i.e., toppling Assad and his regime) will come, and if “victory” does eventually come it could be many years away. In the meantime, what Rubin proposes would fuel a sectarian war that would lead to the deaths of many thousands more civilians and combatants. This is really just an attempt to minimize the costs of intervention at the beginning to try to lure the government into taking more aggressive measures. Once the U.S. has directly committed itself to backing Syrian opposition forces, it will be under constant pressure to increase its involvement until it will have to at least threaten the deployment of ground forces, and once it has made the threat it may find itself pressured to follow through on it.
Towards the end of the Kosovo war, U.S. and allied governments were contemplating a ground invasion, which Milosevic’s Russian-encouraged capitulation rendered unnecessary. Had the Libyan war continued for a few more weeks or months, the official opposition to using ground forces (in addition to to the allied special forces that already were in Libya) would have eroded. What Rubin proposes is that the U.S. become involved just enough to contribute actively to a sectarian civil war with all that this entails, but refrain from doing more than that. Of course, it will be just a matter of time before interventionists come back to demand even greater U.S. involvement when arming the Syrian opposition does not produce “victory” quickly enough to satisfy them.
Just as he minimizes the costs, Rubin overstates the “payoff”:
And the payoff will be substantial. Iran would be strategically isolated, unable to exert its influence in the Middle East. The resulting regime in Syria will likely regard the United States as more friend than enemy. Washington would gain substantial recognition as fighting for the people in the Arab world, not the corrupt regimes.
All of these promises prove to be hollow ones on closer inspection. As we have already seen in the months since the end of the Libyan war, the U.S. has not benefited from an improved reputation among Arab nations, and it has never made sense why militarized American interference in the affairs of predominantly Arab countries would generate goodwill among most Arabs. No matter the reason for the intervention, the U.S. will be seen as acting for its own purposes, and its motives will understandably be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Assuming that a post-Assad Syria remains intact and a single central government is established in the aftermath, the resulting regime in Syria probably will not see the U.S. as “more friend than enemy.” It might not be aligned with Iran, but it doesn’t follow from this that it will see the U.S. as its friend. To the extent that the next Syrian government is representative of popular opinion, it is unlikely to be all that favorably disposed to the U.S. Iran’s post-Assad isolation is similarly overblown. There is still an Iraqi government that will cooperate with Iran, Iran still retains better relations with Turkey than it had a few years ago, and it will still retain influence in Lebanon via Hizbullah regardless of what happens in Syria.
Interventionists made arguments that were virtually identical to Rubin’s in support of the Iraq invasion and the bombing of Libya. They said that the wars would lead to the establishment of more “pro-Western” governments, the isolation of hostile states, and they would put the U.S. on the side of freedom against despotism, etc. All of it proved to be simply untrue or deeply misleading, and there is good reason to think that the promises of what would follow intervention in Syria are just as false.