The 'Keep Calm and Carry On' mantra came from a poster intended to motivate the British public in 1939 just months before the Second World War and in the aftermath of predicted mass air attacks on its major cities.
It is fair to say that the British public has had their share of adversity through conflict over the last century. Whether it's having the homeland pummeled during the Blitz, being held hostage by the IRA for over 50 years, or playing a leading role in supporting the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan - Britain is no stranger to getting its hands dirty.
So is it a surprise that after being duped by Tony Blair in 2003, Members of Parliament (MPs) that approved the motion of invading Iraq and deposing of Saddam and his regime (all 412 votes) overturned the motion to strike Syria? To be candid, the decision should not have come as a surprise - to David Cameron or to Barak Obama.
Reversing his decision not to strike Syria unilaterally, the President has taken the political gamble of placing the decision, for now, with the Legislative Branch. Members of Congress will convene the week commencing September 9 to express their views on what the consequences of US military action in Syria might mean for America's National Security, self-interests, and the secondary effects of regional stability and humanitarian suffering in Syria.
Regardless of justification, the ultimate principle of military action in any shape or form should be to achieve a political objective, goal or aim. As Clausewitz, the famous Prussian military strategist and author of 'On War,' denounced: "No one starts a war-- or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so -- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it."
If we use this notion as the starting point it quickly becomes apparent that there is no discernible Western foreign policy on Syria. So for the purpose of argument, let's assume it is to depose Assad and his regime. As much of a utopia as that might be for the UK and US there are disastrous consequences that are joined at the hip with such an objective.
Afghanistan was lawless up until 2002 when the Afghan National Army (ANA) was born through a project catalyzed by Karl Eikenberry (the former US Commanding General in Afghanistan who went on to become the US Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2009 -2011). Fourteen years later, and at a projected cost (including operations in Pakistan) of some three trillion dollars, and nearly 50,000 deaths, the effectiveness of the ANA and Afghan Police to deal with the Taliban insurgency is, at best, questionable.
Iraq's dictator and regime were obliterated by a decisive Western military campaign that lasted a few months in 2003. It was an impressive show of force by the US led Coalition. Right up to the point that a gaping political and security vacuum opened up like a black hole, leaving the county rudderless and unable to counter the ensuing sectarian violence and Al Qaeda initiatives to pursue an Islamic Caliphate. Over 174,000 violent deaths have occurred since 2003, and recent bombings killing and maiming hundreds of victims in just one day, show no signs of improvement.
To successfully achieve a strong and unified security apparatus in a country there needs to be a fusion between the political and military levels.
If Assad is deposed then who would take his place? The Syrian National Council (SNC) remains the primary (and Western backed) option. But the SNC is also heavily influenced by Muslim Brotherhood representation. Looking to Egypt who have recently pulled back from the idea of dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood as a party, as well as the recent deposition of Mursi and the Brotherhood from power, along with the ensuing chaos that the land of the Pharoes finds itself in, I am not so confident the SNC is a credible option.
But let's, for the purpose of debate, assume the SNC is the appropriate political solution; what uncorrupt and reliable military organizations could it actually fuse with to disable the spread of sectarian violence and prevent the Al Qaeda securing a foothold in the country? Possibly the Free Syrian Army, but not before at least a decade of training by a sizeable coalition footprint in country to train and mentor the rebels, whilst simultaneously being drawn into a long and deadly fight against a metastasizing insurgency.
Would a US and UK a foreign policy that supports an anti-West, anti-Christian and anti-Israel political entity in Damascus really serve America's or Britain's best interests? Probably not, so maybe courting Assad back into political discourse in the international arena could be a favorable, albeit slightly hard to digest, remedy.
The US has embarked upon the Gulf Initiative with Yemen, offering President Saleh, the previous Yemeni dictator, immunity to stand down without degrading the military or police forces. Yemen and a cross-section of its society are now indulged in the National Dialogue Conference that will deliver political options in advance of elections in 2014. The solution is by no means a panacea, and there are worrying dynamics between the North and the South that could implode. But the essence of the notion, if applied to Syria, is to peacefully and diplomatically remove Assad without demolishing the country's security structure.
Despite paralysis at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Syria, the quest for an internationally legitimate solution must still be pursued. Stability in the region requires the support and acquiescence of China and Russia. Undermining the UNSC, the highest tier of international legitimacy apparatus and accountability, discredits President Obama on two fronts: the US is the biggest proponent of the principles of the UN Charter and should therefore lead by example, and the long term attrition of credibility that could render the UNSC ineffective for matters that do threaten national security.
A UNSC resolution proposing Non-military sanctions has been vetoed three times by Russia and China since the start of hostilities - the last being in July 2012. If the combined reports of UN inspectors that recently visited the sites near Damascus do determine that Assad, or at least his regime, were responsible beyond all reasonable doubt for the use of Chemical Weapons, then the UK and US should be unyielding in taking the same UN resolution for non-military sanctions back to the table.
The US does play a regular and similar card in its own self interests on the UNSC resolution condemning the building of Israeli Settlements in Jerusalem, so can we really be surprised that Russia and China do the same?
Iran is also critical to UK and US foreign policy on Syria. Now under new management, the recently elected President Rouhani has proposed a new internal route through his Western educated foreign minister for Tehran to engage in dialogue with the West on Iran's uranium enrichment program. Even without a solid UK and US policy on Syria, future breakthroughs with Iran would be sidelined for years if a military strike were to occur. Escalation through reactive responses by Iran and counters by Israel remain a likely and ugly outcome to unilateral military strikes by the US.
The use of chemical agents is deplorable and the West is right to balk but Syria became a serious humanitarian tragedy when large swathes of communities were being wiped off the face of the planet starting almost two years ago. Military strikes deter UNHCR from addressing the grotesque and ongoing refugee tragedy and prevent NGO's such as Medecins Sans Frontieres from doing their job. The notion of military strikes ameliorating the deteriorating humanitarian disaster is, quite simply, nonsense.
With or without a credible UK or US Foreign Policy, military strikes serve no purpose besides compounding an already desperate humanitarian problem, destabilizing a delicate and fragile political landscape, and weakening a security structure that confronts the objectives of Al Qaeda head-on. David Cameron is the first UK Prime Minister in 150 years to lose a parliamentary vote on military action. Britain may not be the military power it once was but the sentiments of a loyal and trusted ally are worthy of serious consideration by the US's legislative arm. With the greatest of respect Mr President - in the interests of regional and global stability, 'Keep Calm and Pursue Diplomacy.'
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