What Can The U.S. Do About Syria?

Reprinted with permission of Think Progress

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty doesn’t want you to think he’s a neoconservative. But neoconservatives themselves — not exactly known for diverse views — roundly approved of his foreign policy speech this week. One line of Pawlenty’s talk dovetailed quite nicely with neoconservative platitudes about regime change pretty much anywhere there is a regime that neoconservatives find unpalatable (in line with Pawlenty’s loose definitions of vital national security interests).

During the question and answer period after his speech, Pawlenty said the U.S. should “try to effectuate change within Syria.” Asked about what would happen after Syrian dictator Basher al Assad fell, Pawlenty responded: “People didn’t ask, ‘What comes after Hitler?’ Hitler was awful and needed to go.”

The statement is utterly and completely wrong — of course people were concerned about what came after Hitler — but it does comport with how noecons tend to think of things (consider how much thought was given to Iraq and Afghanistan post-U.S. invasion). Writing about Syria in the neocon flagship Commentary magazine, Jonathan Tobin zoomed out a little and hysterically declared:

Obama is still too obsessed with engaging with Islamists rather than confronting them to act decisively as did his predecessor.

But regarding Syria, there isn’t actually that much the United States can do. At a conference yesterday hosted by the New America Foundation and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Syrian-American human rights activists and U.S. experts agreed that the military option is not an option at all — so scrap euphemistic ‘decisive action’ — and that pushing regional allies international institutions is the best path forward.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, bluntly stated as much:

For a number of reasons, not least of which that we would probably muck it up, the best thing the U.S. can do right now is be hands off. We should give as much diplomatic support, perhaps some financial support, realizing that it’s probably not going to do that much. To ask for any more adamant position by the U.S. is probably not helpful.

Military historian and analyst Mark Perry made a similar point in his remarks:

For those criticizing the Obama administration for not doing enough: We’ve got the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, we’ve got the 101st Airborne on its fourth deployment. There’s nothing we can do.

Indeed, their assessments track closely with those of CAP analysts Matt Duss and Michael Werz, who wrote recently that the Obama administration should push Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to lean harder on Assad. “It can only do so,” they write, “by joining the multilateral efforts to end the violence in Syria and by continuing to rebuild the U.S.-Turkish relationship that has been neglected for almost a decade.”

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.