In earlier blogs I advocated that President Obama submit for congressional vote his announced plan to “punish” Assad with military action and suggested that diplomatic efforts be initiated to achieve a ceasefire in the civil war. After some fumbling with the issue, the President asked Congress to postpone a vote that appeared likely to be negative on his plans and instead sent the Secretary of State to negotiate with the Russians and others a diplomatic solution to the problem. As a result of his efforts, Russia initiated a plan that with our support and that of the United Nations, China and our Western European allies resulted in Syria agreeing to destroy its chemical weapons. The international inspection appears to confirm that Syria has carried out this undertaking. With UN sponsorship a peace conference may ensue.
In light of the weakness of the non-sectarian revolutionaries whom we support and the more active and powerful Sunni Islamist revolutionaries who despise the West, Assad probably sees this as an opportune time to make a deal under circumstances more likely to preserve some position for himself and his family in a new government. This outcome portends a dour future for the revolutionaries we’d like to succeed Assad. In reality our favorites in this struggle never had much of a chance for success, the brunt of the fighting borne by the Islamists rather than the secularists whose leaders live outside Syria. One of the lessons we learned in Iraq (I hope we learned it!) is the difficulty of regime change in the Shia/Sunni struggle for the Middle East. Our threatened military attack on Assad would only have killed more Syrians and cost money we have trouble finding to support the needs of our own people.
I see one positive result from the events of the past several weeks: the State Department and diplomacy still have a function in the twenty-first century. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and increasingly Obama have, in my view, sought military solutions to diplomatic problems without fully engaging the State Department. When asked, the military has responded as best it can. Our presidents are in charge of both the Defense and State Departments but the lack of military experience of our last three presidents has inclined them to acquiesce to military suggestions without adequate consideration of the effect such actions may have on our relations with other countries. Our military forces and their leaders are well trained, highly capable, and successful in defending the United States and killing its enemies. They are not trained nor do they have experience as diplomats in other methods of conflict resolution. A class at the military academies touching on these subjects is not “experience.” Their military services and standing for election to public offices of our present Secretaries of State and Defense provide valuable perspectives for their present jobs.
Will we and other world powers strive for diplomatic solutions to conflicts before resorting to military actions? I hope so.