A strategic U.S. strike to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad is not just justifiable, it is also essential.
The United States has come a long way since it first intervened with force on foreign shores to maintain international principles and defend its interests.
That was at the beginning of the 19th century, when it operated off the North African coast to wipe out the strongholds of pirates who had been striking fear in the area. The Americans landed a crushing blow and then withdrew.
That was the start of the strategy of power projection, which guided the country for some 200 years. Over these years, the United States paid a heavy price for its efforts to maintain its principles and interests, as well as those of the world. It also made a valuable contribution to humanity.
Contrary to the traditional imperialist approach involving permanent rule over other peoples and countries, the United States did not establish colonies, instead making an effort to limit its military presence to the minimum required. As an alternative, it exercised military power subject to agreed-upon international arrangements (which permitted its presence in Europe, Japan and Korea in the aftermath of World War II and beyond).
The lessons drawn from its military involvement in the last few decades, in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – for which it paid with the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers as well as economic damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars – accompanied by public protest and a change in the nature of warfare, brought the era of ground-based military involvement to a close.
It also brought about a realization that the simplistic idea that one can impose democracy through short-term military action designed to overthrow a regime and establish alternative institutions is not realistic. There are no shortcuts, and what might have appeared at the beginning to be a real accomplishment later turns out to be a bloody failure.
There is no magic solution in rehabilitating “artificial” countries that were stitched together following the breakup of old empires. When it comes to countries such as Iraq, Syria and also Yugoslavia, when the powers that concocted them from the outside and the domestic forces that supported them weakened, they no longer had a right to exist.
The early stages of the breakup are blood soaked and their redesign is by necessity prolonged, and no foreign power can really have a major influence on the process. Just as Iraq is turning into three political units and Yugoslavia has already broken up into seven pieces, Syria, too, will seemingly ultimately break up into three, or perhaps four, political units – the Sunnis in various combinations, the Alawites and the Kurds.
So what is left for the United States and other Western countries, as well as neighboring states, to do? The first task is to ensure that the wars related to the breakup of these artificially created countries does not seep across the borders. In other words, steps must be taken in self-defense in accordance with clear rules.
Second, with the help of appropriate preventative steps, it should be ensured that the forces of evil operating in the countries breaking up during the period of chaos don’t disrupt the world order. That can be accomplished through existing means and close international cooperation, and without introducing ground forces.
And in some cases, the wise use of force from the air will be required, as occurred in Serbia and Libya, using modern technology.
After all this is done, however, when it comes to rulers like Syrian President Bashar Assad, who will not refrain from using any means at his disposal to stay in power – even if it takes all of us back to the dark days of mass murder – the need exists to act in a surgical manner and carry out a targeted killing.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews would have remained alive beyond July 1944 if the attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler had been successful. It is inconceivable that, 70 years after the end of World War II, the world would reconcile itself to the absolute rule of a mass murderer who kills his own people.
Every bloodthirsty dictatorial autocrat must know that his life is not secure, and all those who wish to succeed him must also know that their lives, too, will always be in danger. What is needed at this time, therefore, is a lightning strike, and the United States under President Barack Obama’s leadership has the ability to carry it out.
The writer is a Middle East expert who served for many years in the defense and intelligence communities. He was the director general of the Foreign Ministry between 1988 and 1991.
By Reuven Merhav | Aug. 28, 2013 | 2:17 AM