NEW YORK – The ongoing bloodletting in Syria is not only the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster by far, but also one of its gravest geopolitical risks. And the United States’ current approach – a two-front war against the Islamic State and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – has failed miserably. The solution to the Syrian crisis, including the growing refugee crisis in Europe, must run through the United Nations Security Council.
The roots of US strategy in Syria lie in a strange– and unsuccessful – union of two sources of American foreign policy. One comprises the US security establishment, including the military, the intelligence agencies, and their staunch supporters in Congress. The other source emerges from the human-rights community. Their peculiar merger has been evident in many recent US wars in the Middle East and Africa. Unfortunately, the results have been consistently devastating.
The security establishment is driven by US policymakers’ long-standing reliance on military force and covert operations to topple regimes deemed to be harmful to American interests. From the 1953 toppling of Mohammad Mossadegh’s democratically elected government in Iran and the “other 9/11” (the US-backed military coup in 1973 against Chile’s democratically elected Salvador Allende) to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, regime change has long been the coin of the US security realm.
At the same time, parts of the human-rights community have backed recent US military interventions on the grounds of the “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P. This doctrine, adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 2005, holds that the international community is obliged to intervene to protect a civilian population under massive attack by its own government. In the face of the brutality of Saddam Hussein, Muammar el-Qaddafi, and Assad, some human-rights advocates made common cause with the US security establishment, while China, Russia, and others have argued that R2P has become a pretext for US-led regime change.