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No, Really, Syria Isn’t Bosnia

The Wall Street Journalrehashes bad ideas for intervention in Syria, complete with misleading Bosnia references:

A Bosnia-style air campaign targeting elite Syrian military units could prompt the general staff to reconsider its contempt for international opinion, and perhaps its allegiance to the Assad family. Short of that, carving out some kind of safe haven inside Syria would at least save lives.

Safe zones inside Syria would save lives only if they were properly defended. Otherwise, they would become more convenient targets for regime violence. Who exactly would be establishing and protecting these safe zones? How far would they be allowed to go in retaliating against attacks from regime forces? How would these safe zones not morph into a much larger commitment over time? Advocates for these things rarely have good answers to this, and the WSJ editors are no exception. Most of them will just say, “Let’s do what we did in Bosnia!” Which just reminds us that they don’t rememberwhat happened in Bosnia.

The Bosnian War ended with “little cost in Western lives,” as the editors put it, because Croatian and Bosnian soldiers were the ones attacking Serb positions on the ground in Operation Storm and Operation Mistral*. Absent that offensive, which displaced hundreds of thousands of Serb civilians, it is doubtful that NATO airstrikes would have done very much to hasten the end of the conflict. There is no credibility to the argument that the U.S. and its allies could intervene in Syria “Bosnia-style,” because the political and military conditions that brought the Bosnian War to an end are nowhere to be found in and around Syria.

While I’m on the subject, it is worth noting that NATO finally intervened in Bosnia because there was a fear that the alliance would be seen as irrelevant and useless if it were unable to respond to a conflict in Europe. That wasn’t a very persuasive argument then or in 1999, but at least NATO intervention in Bosnia was theoretically tied in some way to the interests or reputation of the alliance. That isn’t the case in Syria. That is one reason why there is no support for intervention inside NATO. Regardless, any intervention technically carried out under NATO auspices would be fought mostly by Americans, since most of the European governments that participated in the Libyan war are in no shape to fight another war so soon.

* Thanks to this commenter for his correction pointing out the greater importance of Operation Mistral for Bosnia.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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