A Modest Proposal: Break Ties with Syria

by Mark N. Katz

President Obama has announced that he intends to launch a military strike against Syria in response to his strongly held conviction that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its people. It is not at all clear, though, when or even if he will receive approval from Congress or from many (indeed, any) other governments for his initiative.

Regardless of whether he receives domestic and international support for military action against Syria, there is a more modest but symbolically important step that the Obama administration could take that does not need congressional approval: breaking diplomatic relations with Syria.

Such a move, some might say, will do little to weaken Damascus. But so would, arguably, a military strike that leaves the Assad regime and its security forces intact.

Breaking diplomatic relations with Damascus has several advantages. First, such a move would not require congressional approval. Second, breaking diplomatic relations involves minimal costs. Third, this is something that other governments might be more willing to undertake than a military strike. Fourth, governments that do not join the U.S. in rupturing ties with Damascus will attract negative attention, and while this will not embarrass countries like Russia and Iran, it will weigh heavily upon others and may well influence their subsequent relations with Syria.

Besides all this, it’s simply odd that Washington is maintaining diplomatic relations with a government that it believes has used chemical weapons against its citizens when the U.S. does not have them with other governments (including Cuba and Iran), which — however awful they may be — have not done so.

Further, if the Obama administration believes that the Assad regime’s actions warrant the use of military force, then surely those same actions also warrant the lesser step of cutting diplomatic ties.

Last but not least: breaking diplomatic relations does not preclude launching a military strike against Syria. But since the former action is far more likely to gain domestic and international support than the latter, surely it’s worth undertaking.

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Mark N. Katz

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed here are his alone. Links to his recent articles can be found at www.marknkatz.com



  1. With all due respect, what you are suggesting may give the President and Congress a political ‘out’ to save face or defer the problem, but in fact it 1) begs the question as to what happened and who was responsible for what the Administration has rightly or wrongly characterized as the use of WMD or the process by which it can be fairly determined; 2) still presupposes Syria is the guilty party before a credible independent investigation has been completed; 3) avoids pursuing this case further through a meaningful investigation, or punishing the rebels and their proxies, if they are found to be, as so many believe, the guilty parties; 4) fails to assess our own responsibility and/or complicity in the incident; 5) avoids the larger question of our responsibility and/or complicity in the war itself, with its brutality and the multiplicity of aggressive acts we have committed both overtly and clandestinely that would constitute war crimes; and 6) fails to address our own obstructionism in preventing a ceasefire and peace negotiations from taking hold- e.g, our arming of the mercenaries, directly and through proxies, with more and more sophisticated weaponry, and our precondition that Assad, who by all estimates is now overwhelmingly supported by the Syrian electorate, step down and agree not to run again before negotiations may be held.

    Right now, there is a lot we can do right to correct what has been a series of unprovoked aggressive actions and diplomatic blunders for over two years. Why do something wrong that will compound it just to save face and kick the can down the road.

  2. Just who would benefit from this idea? Certainly not the Syrian population who are now said to number 2 million who have fled this so-called civil war. There’s only one peoples who will benefit, that being Israel. It might seem to some that I pile on Israel here, but they have brought the criticism upon themselves from all their own actions toward other peoples, while basing those actions that they are only defending the homeland, yet are stealing from everyone else, including the U.S.A. Even the playing field there in the M.E., then perhaps peace might just take hold.

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