Gen. Keane and Danielle Pletka imagine worst-case scenarios for Syria without U.S. intervention:
Play this out: Assad wins and Iran’s most important Arab alliance is preserved, with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad back on the gravy train of international terrorism. American credibility is shot. Or, the conflict continues, and the spillover into Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Turkey escalates. Is conflict between Israel and Iran over Syria a ridiculous notion? How about the fall of the Jordanian king? More fighting between al Qaeda allies and Hezbollah in Lebanon? The collapse of Iraq? None of our business? Never going to draw us in?
Some of these are pretty far-fetched and the bit about American credibility being “shot” is ridiculous. It’s important to note that the military action Keane and Pletka want could just as easily have disastrous effects. Internal conflict continues to afflict Iraq, and the Syrian conflict seems to be making this worse, but it is alarmist to talk about Iraq’s “collapse.” Spillover into neighboring countries is happening, but the remedy for that would be providing assistance to those countries to cope with the influx of refugees from Syria rather than military action that will create more of them. Then again, if regional instability is so dangerous, how does it make sense to help prolong the conflict? Keane and Pletka want to prevent victory by Assad, and in order to do that they want the U.S. to contribute directly to the ongoing destabilization of the region. The dangers they identify are all likely to be made worse by the course of action they recommend. They appear to be completely oblivious to the possibility that this is so.
Consider the Israeli-Iranian conflict scenario they mention. Why would Syria be the cause of this conflict? Would Israel be foolish enough to interfere after Hizbullah has committed itself openly to a prolonged fight against Assad’s internal enemies? That seems doubtful. Iran and Hizbullah are going out of their way to make themselves regional pariahs with their support for Assad. Why would Israel want to distract attention from that? If ensuring the stability of the Jordanian government is the issue, creating even more regional instability through Western military intervention is hardly the answer. As a U.S. client, the king of Jordan could face a serious domestic backlash from another U.S.-led military action.
As we review their worst-case scenarios, we see that Keane and Pletka have inadvertently acknowledged that the U.S. doesn’t have anything significant at stake in Syria itself. The Syrian conflict endangers U.S. allies and clients only insofar as it spreads beyond Syria’s borders. The right answer is not to start a U.S.-led war against the Syrian government, which further internationalizes the conflict and makes us a party to the conflict, but to try to mitigate and contain the damage that the Syrian conflict does to the country’s neighbors. That would involve greater humanitarian assistance and cooperation with neighboring governments to prevent them from being drawn into the conflict. Bombing Syria will do nothing to contain or limit the destabilizing effects of Syria’s conflict.