Last year, Steven Cook was one of the first to suggest that the U.S. should consider taking more interventionist measures in Syria. Now he doesn’t see any of the proposed solutions achieving anything except prolonging the conflict:
I once thought the use of American power in Syria could make a difference. More than a year later, I have serious doubts about getting involved in someone else’s civil war. It seems that Syria is a problem that has no answer.
Much of Cook’s original argument involved rejecting objections to military action rather than making a positive case for a Syrian war would be worth waging, which is more or less taken for granted. The original argument anticipated every standard interventionist claim that we have heard over the last fifteen months. We are all familiar with these claims: outside intervention is essential to toppling Assad, the U.S. has an interest in overthrowing him to weaken Iranian influence, U.N. authorization isn’t necessary, Syria is not Iraq, etc. The good news is that Cook no longer makes any of these claims, or he has heavily revised them. Where he was once bullish on the efficacy of military action in Syria to bringing Assad down, he now recognizes that toppling Assad won’t mean an end to the conflict, and therefore won’t “solve” much of anything. Of course, there has always been a contradiction between the one stated goal of toppling Assad and the other stated goal of limiting and ending the conflict. To achieve the first, the conflict would have to be prolonged and intensified. It’s good that Cook acknowledges this, but wasn’t this just as clear last year as it is now?
Cook also rejects a diplomatic solution of trying to reach some accommodation with Iran on Syria, but to my knowledge virtually no one has proposed the “engage Iran to end the Syrian war” option that he rather easily debunks. It is similar to the “work with Russia to end the Syrian war” idea that some well-meaning people have floated over the last year, which doesn’t make sense for all the same reasons that the proposed deal with Iran won’t work. It isn’t just that the other side in the conflict won’t honor a deal with Iran, but Assad’s patrons most likely don’t have the influence required to compel Assad and his supporters to accept the terms of any deal they make.