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Is there not a fourth option?

Reader comment on item: Support Assad

Submitted by R. Craigen (Canada), Apr 19, 2013 at 15:48

A very thought-provoking post, Daniel.

A few things -- first ...

Second, has the best option evolved over the course of this conflict? Was there not a time that supporting the rebels was both the tactically and morally superior option? Or perhaps we ought to remain agnostic on that point, as there is little clarity, even now, as to the nature of the rebellion forces at the start.

And third, as I see it you lay out an apparent trichotomy: remain neutral/uninvolved, support Assad, and support the rebels. I find it frustrating not to have a fourth, or fifth, option on the table because none of these are palatable.

I needn't lay out such options here because I think you don't lack for imagination on such things and you would surely articulate them better than me anyway. I want to say, though, that while I understand and largely accept your points, there is something repugnant in the position that strategy should override morality. Kissinger's line is very clever but it masks a horrendous attitude toward human suffering: long, prolonged conflicts can be worse than even tyrants coming to or holding on to power.

Balance of power works when its point is to maintain peace -- as in the iconic nuclear standoff between the Soviets and the West. But balance of power in a hot war is the worst of worlds in terms of multiplying human suffering. I am nauseated by those who speak about (for example) the Israeli "disproportionate use of power" against aggressors. What would they want? That Israel pare down its arsenal to small rockets and fire them indiscriminately into Gaza civlian neighbourhoods? That instead of quick, decisive, powerful action that brings immediate hostilities to a close, they mete out responses only at a level equal to the aggression against them, so that the aggressors control the thermostat in the conflict, escalating and deescalating as they find advantage?

Long, drawn-out hot wars are the worst sources of anthropogenic suffering. Nothing compares, not even massive campaigns that crush an opponent overnight. Or I should say, "especially not". A fast war in which one side has overwhelming force (regardless of the moral validity of their cause) are intrinsically less harmful than generations-long nightmares of attrition. The long conflicts also devastate the environment in ways that fast, hot, decisive wars do not.

So, if we must promote the "support the weaker side in order to prolong the conflict between unsavoury sides" tactic, can we not be honest enough to accept the moral responsibility for the inevitable multiplication of human misery and loss that would not have occurred had the conflict come to a timely end?

Hmm. I'll go back for a sec on not suggesting options. Here's an option: These middle-eastern banana republics were created by the West; given that no players look like viable protagonists, why not simply go in and disassemble them? NATO still has sufficient firepower, if determined and given the authority: tell everyone to go to their rooms, take away their nasty toys, cut the failed state into its natural component parts, placing dotted lines between natural tribal, cultural and ideological groups, put a few peacekeepers on the ground, and walk away. I believe in retrospect this would have been a better option in Iraq and Libya (Egypt is a different story).

What I'm saying is that one alternative to actively engaging to prolong hostilities would be to disassemble malevolent states into manageable fiefdoms who have the choice of entering into their own mini-conflicts of no consequence beyond their borders or managing uncomfortable but peaceful detente amongst themselves.


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