If it’s a mistake to argue for arming Syrian rebels as a means to weaken Iranian regional influence, there’s an even more wrongheaded view that Russia can somehow be cajoled into supporting Western goals in Syria by threatening a full-scale invasion of the country. Christopher Chivvis and Edward Joseph write:
Changing the Russian position means changing Moscow’s calculus on Syria. And that means presenting the Kremlin with an alternative that it finds more unpalatable than the status quo: a NATO-backed, Turkey-led military coalition invited by the Arab League to intervene in the Syria conflict [bold mine-DL]. If Turkish leaders are as serious about taking action as their recent statements suggest, they should be willing to back such a strategy. In addition to Turkey, this force would be made up of key regional actors, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, Jordan, and Egypt. The coalition would train and equip selective opposition militia, while setting the stage for direct military intervention, such as air strikes aimed at Assad’s air force. The United States, France, and Britain would play essential supporting roles through NATO, as the United States did for France and Britain in the NATO phase of the Libya intervention.
Even opening discussions about the formation of such a coalition would be difficult for Moscow to swallow in the wake of NATO’s successful intervention in Libya. Russia would be confronted with the prospect of seeing its erstwhile ally ousted with the backing of NATO and without the express backing of the Security Council.
Many Westerners often fail to anticipate how Russia will react to something like this, which is what leads the authors in this case to err in believing that a threatened NATO-backed invasion of Syria would make Russia more cooperative. It would almost certainly have the opposite effect. Each time Russia has vetoed a U.N. resolution on Syria, it has done so on the pretext that it will not support anything that will create a foundation for later military intervention. Explicitly stating that military intervention is being seriously considered will confirm Moscow’s assumption that Western interest in the Syrian conflict has been leading to that policy from the beginning. Russia will redouble its opposition at the U.N., condemn the threatened invasion, and pose as the defender of international law. If the threatened intervention goes ahead over their objections, relations with Moscow will sour and there will be even less cooperation. We know this because this is exactly what Russia has done each time that the U.S. and its allies have taken military action that Moscow opposed. This was the response to the Kosovo war, the Iraq war, and eventually to the Libyan war as well. The U.S. probably can’t persuade Russia to pursue a goal in Syria that it doesn’t share, but it will certainly fail to persuade if its sole means of leverage is to threaten a war that will alienate Russia even more.
For that matter, the threatened invasion won’t impress the Russians, because they will assume rightly that it is an empty threat. Russia may find Western-backed military intervention in Syria unpalatable, but then so do Turkey, the U.S., and most of our European allies. Most Turks don’t want their country to go to war in Syria, and they aren’t satisfied with the extent of Erdogan’s support for the FSA as it is, and very few of the other regional governments that the authors mention would have any interest in participating in an unauthorized invasion of Syria. Fortunately, there is no political consensus in any of the democratic countries that there should be an outside military intervention in Syria’s conflict, and there is no political will in any of these governments to launch an invasion.