A Philosopher's Blog

Winning in Syria

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 6, 2013

As a general rule, it is a wise idea to properly consider victory conditions before engaging in military action. This consideration also involves assessing the means by which to achieve the proposed victory and the consequences of both success and failure.

In the past, we have gone off to war without proper consideration of the victory conditions and with delusions regarding how the war would play out. Iraq is, of course, the blood-stained example of this.

In some ways, Syria is reminiscent of Iraq: we have a president proposing military action based on claims about weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Iraq, we never found any such weapons. In the case of Syria, it seems rather certain that chemical weapons are present. It also seems likely that they have been used by someone. It is certain that thousands have been killed and millions of people have been displaced. There is obviously a need for something to be done regarding Syria, but what remains to be determined is what can be done and what should be done.

Because of the American experience with Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama has been proposing a very limited approach with no “boots on the ground.” The main objectives are to punish the government for allegedly using chemical weapons and to thus deter it from using them again (assuming they were used before). As such, one victory condition would be to punish Syria and another would be to deter the use of chemical weapons.

On the face of it, blowing stuff up would be punishment—so that is an easy condition to meet. Of course, there is the question of whether or not the punishment would be just. Deterrence is rather more difficult to achieve, although these seems to be no new evidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons again (assuming they were used once). One rather important matter is that even if the Syrian government were deterred in regards to chemical weapons, they would still presumably be free to continue the battle with conventional weapons. As such, victory would seem to be that Assad’s forces are killing people with bullets, shells and bombs rather than killing them with chemical weapons. I suppose that might be seen as some sort of victory.

There is also the broader goal/victory condition of regime change. Although the proposed attack is not supposed to be aimed at toppling the government, one objective seems to be to get rid of Assad. This raises numerous concerns.

One is, obviously enough, determining what it would take for him to relinquish power. Can he be removed by diplomacy or will force be required? Another is, also obviously, what would happen if he leaves or is removed from power. As it stands, the opposition to Assad is divided into various factions and each has its own distinct agenda. If Assad left or was removed, then that victory could lead to some rather negative consequences. For example, the civil war might shift to a battle between the various opposed factions and the killing would continue. As another example, an extremist group might eventually take power. As another example, Syria might become divided into zones controlled by various factions—perhaps similar in some ways to the divided Somalia.  A failed state would obviously be a problem for everyone with interests in the region.  There is also the real possibility of significant outside intervention as well. Iran, Russia and China certainly do not want Syria to collapse and Israel certainly does not want to allow its bitter enemies to gain a solid base of operation in Syria.

One thing is rather clear—we cannot bomb Syria into becoming a democracy. It might also be the case that the only way for us to not lose in Syria is to not become entangled in the civil war. While it is horrible that people are being slaughtered and displaced, we most likely lack the capability to make things any better in Syria. After all we also cannot bomb Syria into becoming a stable, war-free country.

What we can do, which we are already doing to some degree, is to provide humanitarian aid to those who have been displaced by the war and to protect them from violence. After all, by leaving they have made it clear they do not wish to be part of the civil war and keeping them from being murdered would not be morally ambiguous.


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25 Responses

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  1. Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

    How do we know the rebels represent the majority in Syria?

  2. Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Nearly unspoken of is the fact that this war is yet agains breaking down into sectarian violence, the template for violence in this region for decades. The Iran/Iraq war was a sunni/shia fight, the insurgency in the second Ira

    • Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      lost connection…Iraq war was a sunni/vs shia fight. Assad is Shia and al-Qaeda is largely Sunni. Shia Iran backs Assad.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

        Is the majority in Syria Shia or Sunni?

        • Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm

          Syria is majority Sunni, led by a Shia elite, just as was Iraq.

          • Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm

            Excuse me, not Iraq–Iraq is majority Shia.

            • Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm

              Iran and Iraq are the only majority Shia countries.

          • Douglas Moore said, on September 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm

            Syria is like Iraq in that a sunni-led insurgency is trying to gain power from a shia majority. Saddam was Sunni; when he fell, Sunnis didn’t want shia in power, so many joined al-qaida in Iraq to gain power for themselves

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    The US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, UK, France, and Israel started the war. These nation have no humanitarian interests… quite the opposite: they have only the will to power… the lust to dominate.

    You will find that if you take everything the media-government says and turn it around so that this becomes the exact opposite of what the media-government says, you will find the truth.

    For example: “Assad gassed his own people” really means “US sponsored Al Qaeda “rebels” gassed Assad’s people”

    See: Homeland Security Newswire – Rebels, not the Syrian army, fired last week’s chemical weapon: experts (published 25 March 2013) – http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20130325-rebels-not-the-syrian-army-fired-last-week-s-chemical-weapon-experts

    The point of the Middle East wars (and the Arab Spring) are to destabilize and created never-ending chaos within the orderly and stable nations that are unfriendly to Israel and greater US geo-strategic interests (= Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran).

    The goal has never been to liberate and democratize these nations, nor has the goal been humanitarian. These are simply media-government lies, a clever guise for what the real purpose actually is.

    1996 – “Rather than pursuing a “comprehensive peace” with the entire Arab world, Israel should work jointly with Jordan and Turkey to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” those entities that are threats to all three…”

    Key words: “entities”, “threats” “contain”, “destabilize”, “roll back”… “Israel”, “Jordan”, “Turkey”

    “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (commonly known as the “Clean Break” report) is a policy document that was prepared in 1996 by a study group led by Richard Perle for Benjamin Netanyahu, the then Prime Minister of Israel. The report explained a new approach to solving Israel’s security problems in the Middle East… Rather than pursuing a “comprehensive peace” with the entire Arab world, Israel should work jointly with Jordan and Turkey to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” those entities that are threats to all three.”

    See: A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clean_Break:_A_New_Strategy_for_Securing_the_Realm

    For example: There was no Sunni al Qaeda in Iraq, until now. And now they blow up Shia targets on a daily basis. This is the same goal the US has in mind for Syria: chaos and death.

    Nations with endless internal chaos are no threat to Israel and the US. Stable nations are a threat to both.

    See: F. William Engdahl – Is Obama arming Al Qaeda to topple Assad? – http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/06/25/is-obama-arming-al-qaeda-to-topple-assad/

    AUDIO – F. William Engdahl – War in Syria & Manufactured Conflicts – http://www.redicecreations.com/radio/2013/09/RIR-130902.php

    See: Egypt’s Revolution: Creative Destruction for a ’Greater Middle East’?, by F. William Engdahl – http://www.voltairenet.org/article168381.html

    AUDIO – F. William Engdahl on Greater Middle East Project – http://youtu.be/Ib-BddeuVOI

    Engdahl: Arab Spring a western ploy to control Eurasia

  4. T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    If there is one lesson that Iraq taught us it is that the U.S. is not omnipotent. I don’t think anyone was prepared for how difficult it would be to reconstruct the country after getting rid of Saddam.

    Look at what is happening in Lybia. Mike, should we have just left Iraq after capturing Saddam and let the country descend into chaos the way we have done in Lybia?

    • WTP said, on September 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      The lesson Iraq, and ‘Nam and A’stan, etc, etc. etc. is war is not for pussyfooting around. You go to war, you go all in. No light footprints, no limited engagements. You explain to the country, in no uncertain terms what the concrete full objective is. You get commitment from congress, after explaining to the pussies therein what war means and make sure they understand (and why you should have to do this is beyond me) that people are gonna die. Once you have that commitment, you make your enemy understand this either by word or deed. If words fail, you kill as many of them as you can. Their innocents die because they choose to fight. Hell, most of our enemies over the last 80 years have had less concern for the well being of their own people than we have. We make more effort to protect their innocents than they do. Anything less than this is not worth risking American blood.

      But even before any of the above, you must commit to building a society that understands the real world. Not this pie-in-the-sky modern philosopher crap. We can’t continue to mis-educate our children and our children’s children with weak, muddle headed BS like that which is taught in our schools today. There is our problem. Not our strategic plans, not our diplomacy. Our will and our faith in who we are and why we are who we are.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 6, 2013 at 10:23 pm

        WTP, did you ever read “A Tale of Two Americas” by Michael Barone?

        One of the peculiar features of our country is that we produce incompetent 18-year-olds and remarkably competent 30-year-olds. Americans at 18 typically score lower on standardized tests than 18-year-olds from other advanced countries. Watch them on their first few days working at McDonald’s or behind the counter in chain drugstores, and it’s obvious that they don’t really know how to make change or keep the line moving. But by the time Americans are 30, they are the most competent people in the world. They produce a stronger and more vibrant private-sector economy; they produce scientific and technical advances that lead the world; they provide the world’s best medical care; they create the strongest and most agile military the world has ever seen. And it’s not just a few meritocrats at the top: American talent runs wide and deep.

        Why? Because from the age of 6 to 18, our kids live mostly in what I call Soft America–the part of our society where there is little competition and accountability. In contrast, most Americans in the 12 years between ages 18 and 30 live mostly in Hard America–the part of American life subject to competition and accountability; the military trains under live fire. Soft America seeks to instill self-esteem. Hard America plays for keeps.

        Fighting back. Soft America for a long time has been running most of our schools. Since early in the 20th century, as Diane Ravitch has shown in Left Back, educators have had a mistrust of testing and competition and a yearning to protect children from their rigors. Educators ban tag and dodge ball, because some kids lose. Teacher unions seek tenure, higher pay, and lower accountability. Parents’ expectations are often low: Mom and Dad, busy working in Hard America, don’t want to notice that their kids are not learning much. There are exceptions of course: Many schools do a good job despite all this. But for most kids who are not on the track to the relatively few select colleges, junior high and high school are something like the Soviet system: They pretend to teach, and we pretend to learn.

        Then at 18, kids encounter Hard America–competitive colleges and universities and community colleges, competitive private-sector employers, training institutions from McDonald’s to the military. Some fall behind and don’t get much of anywhere. Others seek out enclaves of Soft America–soft corners in the civil service or corporate bureaucracies. But most figure out pretty quickly that how they do depends on what they produce. They develop skills that astonish those who knew them at 18. That is what we have been seeing in the American military forces in Iraq.


        • Douglas Moore said, on September 7, 2013 at 7:27 am

          I like this.

        • WTP said, on September 7, 2013 at 7:38 am

          TJ, that’s interesting and to some extent it fits in with the old adage, oft attributed to Bismark though the trend today is to attach such foggy origins of quotes to GK Chesterton, that a man in his 20s who’s not a socialist has no heart and a man in his 30s who is still a socialist has no head. My concern is these days that too many in there 30s still are living in Soft America to some extent. They’re in and out of their parents homes, with families even. They’re being supported by others. So many are on SSDI that are not seriously disabled. They have the cushy jobs in the soft corners of bureaucracies. Many have criminal records that make them unemployable for anything more than a $10/hr job. At one time, at least they were too lazy to vote. but now they see where their bread is buttered and they are in such numbers that they can elect the naieve Kerry’s, the Clinton’s, the obamas, and (God help us) worse.

          But as your excerpt piece somewhat states, much of this is attributable to our weakening educational system. As Twain once said (or was it Bismark or GK) it is easier to fool a man than it is to convince him he’s been fooled. Did you see the story about the MSU professor that I linked on the Democrats at Work thread?

        • Douglas Moore said, on September 7, 2013 at 7:42 am

          But TJ, I still think it’s worse than you imagine. I have to work in an army that panders to women this stupid.

          • WTP said, on September 7, 2013 at 8:06 am

            Thought that was great. I’m saying Fake, though. OTOH, the stories I could tell…

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 7, 2013 at 8:48 am

              It is pretty funny, but I think probably fake as well.

              “She twerks hard for her money”

            • WTP said, on September 7, 2013 at 9:10 am

              Actually, it ending with the pants on fire, perhaps the artist was making a not so subtle political point about how youth culture is all a big lie. Dog whistles and all such, you know. OTOH paranoia strikes deep. Ah, who’s to say….

            • Douglas Moore said, on September 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

              I laughed my ass off. I know I’m evil because I hope it’s real. Yes, possibly fake…:(

            • WTP said, on September 7, 2013 at 10:11 am

              Whilst in a lighter mood, perhaps you’ve seen this? Apologies if I got it from you, TJ or magus, can’t recall where but it’s worth a repost…

              The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

              The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

              The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.

              Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

              The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

              Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels ..

              The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

              Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be right, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

              John Cleese ,
              British writer, actor and tall person

              And as a final thought – Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.

              Life is too short…

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm

              Funny, but also fake. Not written by John Cleese.

            • WTP said, on September 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm

              A sign of the times. The piece stands on its own as funny and true. Why lie about the source?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on September 11, 2013 at 7:31 am


    • Douglas Moore said, on September 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

      This hits them where they live. But they’re an utterly shameless lot. This’ll bounce off those it applies to.

  6. Douglas Moore said, on September 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Shameful that Vladimir Putin is able to articulate a logical position better than our president.


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