Henry Kissinger states the realist case against....
Kissinger argues against humanitarian intervention:
This form of humanitarian intervention distinguishes itself from traditional foreign policy by eschewing appeals to national interest or balance of power — rejected as lacking a moral dimension. It justifies itself not by overcoming a strategic threat but by removing conditions deemed a violation of universal principles of governance.
If adopted as a principle of foreign policy, this form of intervention raises broader questions for U.S. strategy. Does America consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any non-democratic government, including those heretofore considered important in sustaining the international system? Is, for example, Saudi Arabia an ally only until public demonstrations develop on its territory? Are we prepared to concede to other states the right to intervene elsewhere on behalf of coreligionists or ethnic kin?
At the same time, traditional strategic imperatives have not disappeared. Regime change, almost by definition, generates an imperative for nation-building. Failing that, the international order itself begins to disintegrate. Blank spaces denoting lawlessness may come to dominate the map, as has already occurred in Yemen, Somalia, northern Mali, Libya and northwestern Pakistan, and may yet happen in Syria. The collapse of the state may turn its territory into a base for terrorism or arms supply against neighbors who, in the absence of any central authority, will have no means to counteract them.
Kissinger concludes that prudence dicates standing aside:
Military intervention, humanitarian or strategic, has two prerequisites: First, a consensus on governance after the overthrow of the status quo is critical. If the objective is confined to deposing a specific ruler, a new civil war could follow in the resulting vacuum, as armed groups contest the succession, and outside countries choose different sides. Second, the political objective must be explicit and achievable in a domestically sustainable time period. I doubt that the Syrian issue meets these tests. We cannot afford to be driven from expedient to expedient into undefined military involvement in a conflict taking on an increasingly sectarian character. In reacting to one human tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another. In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath. A sense of nuance is needed to give perspective to the proclamation of absolutes. This is a nonpartisan issue, and it should be treated in that manner in the national debate we are entering.
Syria indeed poses the dangers the former diplomat warns us could engulf the region. But Syria is also Iran's top surrogate in the region, and a major rogue-state sponsor of terror. If we conclude that even a successor Islamist regime is less bad than one allied with Iran, and that in such event Iran's prestige would suffer, there is a strategic case for intervening in some form. A purely humanitarian case is too open-ended, and would lay the foundation for countless interventions around the globe. But a narrowly focused strategic case for seeking an end to the Assad family's thuggish suzerainty could, if successful, serve Western interests.
Bottom Line. Kissinger argues cogently against, from a realist perspective, versus the humanitarian one. But there is also a strategic case for helping topple the Assad regime: inflicting a humiliating, major defeat on Iran's mullahs. Nonetheless any course we take--or decline to take--with regard to Syria poses significant strategic risks.
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