Striking Syria–A step back for American Foreign Policy?

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syria-460_1015646c.jpgSunday’s strike of a compound in Syria by American Special Forces, purported to have killed important Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) smuggler Abu Ghadiya will have broad strategic consequences for America and the Middle East as a whole.
In a fascinating article, The New Republic yesterday described how Sunday”s strike is part of a wider effort from the White House, which has recently given US Central Command jurisdiction to conduct attacks on the sovereign territory of other countries, ranging from Pakistan and Syria to Somalia, Yemen, and even potentially Iran.
The reasons for this move are unclear. Historian and Iraq expert Juan Cole, who consistently offers some of the best insight into Iraq and the Middle East, believes the strike was designed to warn Syria against sheltering Al Qaeda elements. Somewhat more cynically, he also suggests that it could be meant to influence the upcoming Presidential elections, by keeping Al Qaeda from staging attacks in Iraq before next week.


Joshua Landis at Syria Watch suggests that the strike was meant not only as a warning against Syria, but also as a reaction to Syria’s recent unwillingness to share intelligence and cut down on insurgents crossing the porous border with Iraq.
Yet the distressing aspects of the raid are not the motivations behind it, but rather the direct outcomes the raid may have on the region and its implications for the future of American policy in the Middle East.
As Cole points out, the attack on Sunni militants in Syria could in part destabilize the country, which is 80% Sunni but controlled by Ala’wites, a small Shi’a sect. This is a legitimate fear, but I am far more concerned that the attack, meant to scare the Syrians, will simply lead to a hardening of attitudes toward America.
Syria has already shut down an American school and cultural center, and aid groups, many of whom help Iraqi refugees, are worried about potential backlash from the government.
The raid has also raised potential problems in Iraq, with Iraqi politicians condemning the raid as the United States tries to hammer out a Status of Forces Agreement governing the operation of American troops. By using Iraq as a base to attack Syria, we damage Iraq’s ability to negotiate with its neighbors, raising the specter of more, not less, insurgent violence as a result.
Further, Syria plays an important role in Middle Eastern politics; its alliance with Shi’a Iran bolsters Hezbollah, and they are currently in negotiations with Israel for a possible peace treaty. Engagement with Syria thus could potentially (by no means a guarantee) shore up Israel’s position in the Middle East, pushing it away from Iran and thus diminishing the power of Iran and terrorist groups in the region.
Of late, Syria had made conciliatory gestures towards the west (such as engaging in diplomatic talks with France) and had increased its intelligence sharing with American forces. But by violating Syrian sovereignty, America takes away the incentive for The Asad regime to cooperate, as it shows we cannot be trusted as an honest broker that is willing to provide for Syria’s security.
In threatening to destabilize the country, we run the risk of driving Syria closer to Iran, as America eventually draws down its troop levels and Iran solidifies its power in the region.
Isolated strikes to kill or capture Al Qaeda leaders can be an effective tool in weakening the organization. But by wantonly violating Syria’s sovereignty purely to send a message, we risk putting ourselves, our armed forces and our allies in increasingly untenable positions and threaten the future of the security of the region as a whole.
–Andrew Lebovich

Comments

24 comments on “Striking Syria–A step back for American Foreign Policy?

  1. rich says:

    kotzabasis–on the contrary, you’re dead wrong. There is no ‘necessity’ that justifies violating the borders of a sovereign nation without an declaration of war. We lost in Vietnam not because there was a Cambodian sanctuary, but because we entered the war on the wrong side and for the wrong reasons. Of course there was going to be a sanctuary–which clearly was our own doing. Bombing Cambodia was a tactic that exacerbated our disadvantage. Choosing to fight against those who had a moral cause (for nationalism and against colonialism; for their very survival) is a losing proposition. Always. By carpet bombing a neutral country (leaving aside doing same to civilians in the North)—we worsened our position militarily, intensified the resolve of our opponent, lost ‘the war at home’ by over-reaching the limits of Przntl power, and radicalized an as-yet ragtag minor faction known as the Khmer Rouge.
    A more American and more effective course of action would’ve engaged with existing social and political structures, built coalitions, applied just policies, allied ourselves with prevailing opinion, and gotten the hell outta the way of self-governance. Instead, we delivered the Phoenix Program (assassination of democratically elected officials), which became our death squads in El Salvador and the Salvador Option in Iraq.
    Your justification has no realpolitik, moral or legal or political foundation. Because one group violates a border, we can commit the same error/crime they did? That’s laughable. To do it from the position of an occupier is so damaging it isn’t funny. It continues the corrosive practice of committing acts of war, without any Congressional approval whatsoever.
    Tell ya what. When you—our glorious leaders—start entering into wars on the right side of political and moral causes, and do so with formal Congressional Declarations of War, then and only then can you justify pursuing combatants across national borders.
    We read of American bombing raids and predator drones hitting wedding strikes and killing dozens of civilians month in and month out. Don’t you think that has a political cost? Do you think you’ll win any hearts and minds that way? Do you actually think their children will see the light you so patronizingly seek to bring to a civilization thousands of years older than yours? Do you think their children’s children will forget? Forgive you? If an occupying army can’t win over civilians, and has to hunt them down, then we’re doing something wrong. Just by being there.

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  2. Susan says:

    I think this attack on Syria was pure evil. So was the war of aggression against Iraq. The whole bunch of them are war criminals. Saw a bumper sticker today that said “Bush-Cheney/Waterboard 09”

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  3. ... says:

    >>The American strategists have learnt the lessons…<< the american strategists have learned shit and it shows in their boneheaded actions that are supported by a few fascists who think usa empire is the way to rule the world… at least you are consistent kotzabasis. next thing we’ll find out perle is back in the saddle.. he needs to be serving some time with his friend conrad black and the loons running the usa admin at present..

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  4. kotzabasis says:

    Unlike the “litterateurs” in war strategy, like Andrew Lebovich and Juan Cole, the experts in the field, like Anthony Cordesman, chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, gravely consider that a nation that cannot control its own borders from being violated by a motley of jihadists makes it inevitable and necessary that another nation which is involved in war with the latter to chase them across the border and not allow them any sanctuaries. The American strategists have learnt the lessons of the ‘Cambodian Sanctuaries’ at an enormous cost and have no inclination to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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  5. pacos_gal says:

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/251/story/54828.html
    This gives some specific information on the raid and the intelligence that led to it.
    The McClatchy article says the body was taken on helicopter, but I seem to recall that yesterday in the NY Daily News that eyewitnesses said two men had been taken prisoner.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2008/10/28/2008-10-28_al_qaeda_henchman_killed_in_syria.html

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  6. pacos_gal says:

    Officials are saying that the operation into Syria was ordered by the CIA.
    I’ve been trying to figure out if Abu Ghadiya is a Syrian born or Iraqi from Anbar province.
    There seems to be conflicting reports on that issue.
    Jordan tried an Abu Ghadiya in absentia in 2004 for planning to bomb the headquarters of Jordanian intelligence in Amman with chemical weapons. Also tried was al-Zarqawi.
    At that time, Abu Ghadiya was said to be a Syrian dentist.
    The NYT though is reporting Abu Ghadiya as “in his late 20s and came from a family of smugglers in Anbar Province, in western Iraq. He was also suspected of having led an attack in May on a police station in western Iraq that killed 11 Iraqi officers, an American official said.”
    The Long War Journal said that he is from Mosul.
    It also gives some more information the operation and activities on the Syria/Iraq border.
    http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/10/syrian_strike_aimed.php
    So there seems to be some confusion on who he is.
    Abu (meaning “father or father of”) Ghadiya, or Abu has also been used as like a Holy Father.
    This site (the New Republic) gives some information on what I mentioned earlier about what the military can now do. (although that is moot to this conversation if the CIA gave the order)
    http://www.tnr.com/toc/story.html?id=9c613d05-0441-4a14-bf40-ef3ac16a42b5

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  7. annjell says:

    I guess this is the October surprise that John McCain was talking about.
    I am still voting Obama!!! No matter what!!!

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  8. Mr.Murder says:

    We plausibly used Saddam to aid Lebanese terror against Syrians in prior decades.
    Syria was the first country to help us on the very day of 9-11 against Al Qaeida elements, along with Iran.
    This is simply an effort to widen the war and win the fear vote.
    Yes, the AQ boogey man died any timne there was a two year mark, when AMerican elections are going on. He’s a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, being resurrected, only to be confrimed “still dead” every time Bushco. and the GOP need a news bump.
    We’ve always been at war with your Asia. Afghanistan and Iraq are our Asia. You broke it, you own it, and all that. We broke them, and our budget along with it.

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  9. Noam Sane says:

    Weighing the cynicism of Juan Cole against the cynicism of the Bush administration, I would deduce that the election was at least a secondary consideration here.

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  10. Warren Metzler says:

    Am I missing something here? Did we not just come to a common
    ingredient in this country that torture never gives viable
    intelligence? But somehow its reasonable to assume targeted
    assassinations provide viable foreign policy progress????
    Is any one insane enough to believe that assassinating a person
    produces progress, compared to bringing a person to justice and
    have the light of a court procedure reveal the whole truth?
    I’m 61 years old. And in my memory, up to Georgie boy’s and the
    neocon ascendence, normal people recoiled with horror any time
    it was found out that the US government assassinated a single
    person, regardless of how evil was that person. Where has that
    conscience gone????

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  11. annjell says:

    to DaCascadian,
    In response to your post, this is truly not the case.
    If you look at the major cable networks, and local t.v. news, we get Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin, and other things not important….And we hear all this hateful speech from the republican party suggesting that Barack Obama is a muslim, anti-American…
    I have to admit, I have to look at Bloomberg, BBC news to get most of the information I am looking for.
    This is how things work here. Compared to Europe, China, and other countries, we stressed English only, they make it mandatory to speak more than one language from elementary schools.
    Think about it, foreigners know our laws and constitution better than we do. ha ha ha, I bet the foreigners got a kick out of seeing Sarah Palin interviews.LOL
    But anyway, this is how bad it is, I was at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. I was talking to the clerk, and mentioned that Libya was an African nation. The clerk looked at me and said, “African nation?” He looked at me as if I didn’t know what I was talking about.
    So, in essence, our country is more about sex, money, drugs, beauty, power. Knowledge has no place in our society. If you look in your directory of doctors, you’ll see most are from India or Iran. Most of our engineers are from the Middle East or China….I think I’ll stop there.

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  12. annjell says:

    Just a reminder to people thinking of voting independent, Ralph Nader is Lebanese. Also, a consumer activist who manages to always end up on the ballot for presidential elections. As I said before, why not senate or congress?
    Another thing, the U.S. has no idea the anger and hatred they are invoking in the middle east. I recommend people look at these 3 documentaries, 1)death in gaza
    2)gaza strip
    3)iraq in fragments.
    I don’t understand how the U.S. think they can contain terrorism in the Middle East when they can’t even control the street gangs/thugs here on U.S. soil.
    I went to Milan, Italy in 2005. I ran into a guy from Pakistan after getting lost. He spoke perfect English. As soon as I opened my mouth to verify the directions, he noticed my American accent, boy, I felt the anger and hatred for America(n’s) run through my entire body.
    With hatred shown on his face, eyes, and voice, he said, “You’re American. I hate America. I’ve never been, and never will.”
    This incident scared me to the point, I went back to my hotel room, and stayed in the next day which disrupted my travel plans.
    But, now that I look back on it. I am a black female. And, since blacks are considered not worth anything in the U.S. and this sentiment is sent to the rest of the world, that could be the reason why I was able to get back to my hotel room safely.
    After all, I was in a foreign country, and alone. I think that, maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps I was considered worth something, who knows, maybe he would have kidnapped me for ransom or torture, or killed me.
    Since this trip, I haven’t left the country due to the Anti-Americanism – remember, the terrorists said we will not be safe anywhere.

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  13. ... says:

    the usa is a military dictatorship seeking world rule, while masquerading as a democracy…

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  14. daCascadian says:

    Lotta folks here have no idea what is going on in the world nor what goes on “behind the curtain”.
    A shame it is. Maybe you folks need a reality briefing.
    Wise up.
    “…it`s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…” – REM

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  15. Don Bacon says:

    good news from Mail Online:
    Frustrated Pakistani officials have ordered the U.S. to stop firing pilotless missiles(sic) over their territory.
    Pakistan summoned the U.S. ambassador early this morning to protest the missile strikes, led by pilotless U.S. aircraft on the Pakistani side of its border with Afghanistan.

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  16. pacos_gal says:

    Sorry, I wrote the above rather quickly, Abu Ghadiya is said to have died in the area of the Saudi/Iraqi border sometime after the Fallujah assault in 2004. Reported by al-Qaeda in 2006, on one of their websites.

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  17. jon says:

    It’s an act of war and highly provocative. If the US wasn’t an 800
    pound gorilla – and acting like it – there would be a bigger howl of
    criticism.
    How would we feel if Mexico sent two helicopters into Texas ranch
    land and slaughtered a family, because they thought the rancher
    was helping out an armed drug smuggling gang?
    Plus, this doesn’t really help local security in Iraq, and greatly
    complicates things for us within Iraq and regionally.
    Perhaps its a tactical victory for the US. Or it could turn out to be
    like all the wedding party massacres in Afghanistan. But it’s a
    strategic blunder at best.

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  18. Don Bacon says:

    Oh sure, the US will reduce Syria’s influence in Lebanon and drive Syria away from Iran, and then for an encore will colonize the moon.

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  19. pacos_gal says:

    Wasn’t Abu Ghadiya supposed to have died on the Saudi Iraqi according to al-Qaeda? At least that is what they said in 2006.
    I realize that the U.S. didn’t necessarily believe that to be true.
    But then it seems that if you go back through the years, a number of al-Qaeda in Iraq, have been killed numerous times, depending upon which sources are giving out the information.
    I have numerous issues with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One being that I have never believed in the two front scenario as being realist. It has been the downfall of many a government, (Napoleon, Hitler)
    I do not have as much issue with a precise surgical strike, if there is an imminent threat to civilian populations, that can be proven by credible intelligence. However, if the strike, does more harm than good, in that civilians are killed during the operation, political dialague is compromised, then it doesn’t seem that the strike is the best option.
    This particular strike seems to have been as a result of the power of operation given to the military to decide when an operation is necessary and no longer decided at Washington levels.
    That means that a whole section, such as State is left out of foreign policy.
    I think this is a disastrous policy when it comes to operations within a country that we are not at war with or within.
    When you have a dialogue with another country, and by dialogue I mean, a door open to give and take information, then it seems that there are other ways to go about achieving the same means.
    That is one reason that I am a proponent of keeping those doors open with countries who may not be our best friends, but whom it is better to have the ability to talk with than not.

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  20. Andrew Lebovich says:

    EB-
    You’re absolutely right, Syria’s influence in Lebanon is pervasive and distinctly to the detriment of Lebanese and regional security. That said, Lebanon and Hezbollah are entire posts unto themselves, and I wanted to put the strike in a larger context for American Policy.
    Lebanon is a key part of this, though, since a goal of any effort to engage Syria would be to reduce their influence in Lebanon (in part by weakening Hezbollah). However, I think the first step in securing Iraq and restoring a security balance in the region has to start with driving Syria away from Iran, before tackling the wider question of Syrian disruption of Lebanon.
    Thanks for keeping me honest.
    Andrew

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  21. EB says:

    M. Lebovich – a 600-word post that does not have a single word about Syria’s destructive role in Lebanon over the years (just a quick and utterly insufficient mention of Hezbollah) is quite something. Don’t you see the irony here? Syria violates Lebanese sovereignty every day it allows arms shipments to get into Lebanon and has killed many Lebanese officials, journalists and others.
    Not a word!

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  22. Don Bacon says:

    It’s the new Obama Doctrine — get used to it: “I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. . .my strategy will be to build our capacity and our partnerships to track down, capture or kill terrorists around the world . . .If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

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