The Spectacle Blog

An Alternate History of the Syrian Civil War

By on 6.19.13 | 6:13PM

Regarding my analysis of Syria, I didn't want to go off on a long tangent in the piece itself, but it's worth addressing an objection that I anticipated (and have in fact gotten) from both opponents of intervention and advocates of aiding whichever side is losing: The argument that it's naive to think there was ever a chance that even the most competently executed policy might have yielded a remotely benign post-Assad political order. (Marco Rubio got a lot of pushback to that effect when he said Sunday on This Week that if he were setting Syria policy "we would never have never gotten to this point.") It's impossible to know for sure, of course, but it is possible to speculate.

Imagine a robust intervention in 2011, combining direct US engagement with the secular opposition and the full might of US airpower. Assad might have been toppled in months, and the prestige accrued through their roll in bringing the US into the fight might have given the secularists a political advantage -- such prestige was exactly why the pro-Western government in Libya was able to beat the Islamists at the ballot box.

Of course, the analogy to Libya cuts both ways: Our allies in the Libyan government don't actually have total control over their country, and, as we saw at the consulate in Benghazi last September, the place is crawling with heavily-armed radicals. Losing Assad would not prevent Tehran from making at least some trouble in Syria, and any government in Damascus would likely have to fight to maintain power.

Still, it's not impossible to imagine that such a fight could be won, or at least contained, by a US client, and with less human cost than the last two years have exacted. At any rate, it's now moot: Whether or not this counterfactual seems plausible, it's become almost inconceivable that the future of Syria will bring anything but misery.

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