Syria And The Magic Pony Interventionists

Earlier today Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center and one of the leaders of the R2P interventionist current in foreign policy thinking, tweeted a link to John Mccain’s call for military intervention in Syria with the message that it should be “judged on its merits”, not on whether people liked McCain or not. The trouble is, on its merits Mccain’s statement is long on aspiration but short on actual details. And the devil is definitely in the details.

Syria is not Bosnia – McCain’s chosen comparison – or yet Libya. Any intervention there would have to be closer to the one in Iraq, and we all know how swimmingly that went. Syria’s air defenses, according to General Dempsey, are five times denser than Libya’s, over a smaller area. Russia reportedly just upgraded Syria’s air defense radars, showing that it’s willing to take concrete military action to preserve assad’s regime. Dempsey also said that, because the US is the only nation with the ability to degrade such a tight air defense net, it would be going it alone no matter who was nominally an ally. DefSec Panetta admits there would be “severe collateral damage” because Syria’s major defense centers are all in built up areas. And according to CNN, the US military estimates it would take upwards of 75,000 ground troops – i.e. an invasion – just to secure Syria’s chemical and biological WMD stockpiles. No wonder the DoD is pushing back hard on calls to intervene. I asked Shadi Hamid about all of this by twitter. So far, he’s had no comment.

Just as Iraq and Libya interventionists had no real conception of what would be involved in military action, or in the aftermath of such action, advocates of “doing something” in Syria are likewise ignorant of the way the real world works.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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  • …from representing a militarily significant upgrade to Syria’s air defence capabilities. That presumes that it happened in the first place, which given that the source is Debka may be a bridge too far already…

    Those interested in Syria’s network should look to Sean’s page – I’m sure poking about would be rewarding (I haven’t spent much time with it over the last little while):

    From the conclusion ( ):

    Syria’s SAM network is very robust on paper, and would appear to offer a significant degree of protection at first glance, but this is not necessarily the case. Against a limited incursion, the Syrian air defense network remains capable, despite the reliance on aging Soviet-era systems. This is one likely factor which drove the Israeli Air Force to circumvent SAM-defended areas when striking the Dayr az Zawr suspect nuclear facility in 2007. Said reliance on Soviet-era SAM systems will provide a serious handicap when facing a major air incursion by a modern opponent. It is time for Syria to modernize its strategic SAM defenses if it desires to retain the ability to defend its airspace in the 21st Century.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

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