Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why Syria Is Not Kosovo

Yesterday, when I posted about the differences between fact and fiction in Syria, I was thinking of Fred Kaplan’s column in Slate.

Arguing the case for intervention, Kaplan wrote that the Obama administration had decided to do for Syria what Bill Clinton had done for Kosovo.

To me this was a sign that the amateurs of the Obama foreign policy team did not know enough to grasp the complexity of the situation in Syria. They compensated by falling back on historical analogy.

This morning, Robert Kaplan of Stratfor offers an in depth comparison between Syria and Kosovo. He concludes that the two situations differ significantly:

Syria has a population ten times the size of Kosovo's in 1999. Because everything in Syria is on a much vaster scale, deciding the outcome by military means could be that much harder.

Kosovo sustained violence and harsh repression at the hands of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, which was met with a low-intensity separatist campaign by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Violence was widespread but not nearly on the scale of Syria's. Syria is in the midst of a full-fledged civil war. The toppling of Milosevic, moreover, carried much less risk of ever-expanding anarchy than does the toppling of Syrian ruler Bashar al Assad.

Kosovo was more or less contained within the southern Balkans, with relatively limited chance for a spillover -- as it turned out -- into neighboring countries and territories. Full-scale sectarian anarchy in Syria threatens to destabilize a wider region.

The Kosovo Liberation Army may have been a nasty bunch by some accounts, with criminal elements. But it was not a threat to the United States like the transnational jihadists currently operating in Syria. For President Bill Clinton to risk bringing to power the Kosovo Liberation Army was far less of a concern than President Barack Obama possibly helping to midwife to power a Sunni jihadist regime.

Kosovo did not have a complex of chemical weapons facilities scattered throughout its territory as Syria does, with all the military and logistical headaches of trying to neutralize them.

The Kosovo war campaign did not have to countenance a strong and feisty Russia, which at the time was reeling from Boris Yeltsin's incompetent, anarchic rule. Vladimir Putin, who has significant equities in al Assad's Syria, may do everything in his power to undermine a U.S. attack. Though, it must be said, Putin's options should Obama opt for a significant military campaign are limited within Syria itself. But Putin can move closer to Iran by leaving the sanctions regime, and ratchet-up Russia's anti-American diplomacy worldwide more effectively than Yeltsin ever wanted to, or was capable of.

The Kosovo war did not engage Iran as this war must. For all of the missiles that America can fire, it does not have operatives on the ground like Iran has. Neither will the United States necessarily have the patience and fortitude to prosecute a lengthy and covert ground-level operation as Iran might for years to come, and already has. A weakened or toppled al

Assad is bad for Iran, surely, but it does not altogether signal that America will therefore receive a good result from this war. A wounded Iran might race even faster toward a nuclear option. It is a calculated risk.

The Kosovo war inflicted significant pain on Serbian civilians through airstrikes, but the Syrian population has already been pummeled by a brutal war for two years now, and so it is problematic whether airstrikes in this case can inflict that much more psychological pain on the parts of the population either still loyal or indifferent to the regime.

The goal in Kosovo was to limit Serbia's geographic influence and to ignite a chain of events that would lead to Milosevic's ouster. Those goals were achieved: Milosevic was forced from power in the fall of 2000, largely because of a chain of events stemming from that war. His ouster, as I wrote in The New York Times on Oct. 6, 2000, meant the de facto death of the last ruling Communist Party in Europe, even if in its final years it had adopted national-fascism as a tactic. Because the war was in significant measure a result of the efforts of a single individual, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it demonstrated how individuals can dramatically alter history for the better. …

Elegantly toppling Milosevic incurred no negative side effects. Toppling al Assad could lead to a power center in the Levant as friendly to transnational jihadists as the one in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was in the late 1990s until 2001.

As I write this, news reports suggest that the promised American attack on Syria has been postponed.


Anonymous said...

"Arguing the case for intervention, Kaplan wrote that the Obama administration had decided to do for Syria what Bill Clinton had done for Kosovo."

He doesn't say anything of the kind. What he actually says is this:

"Most telling perhaps is a story in the New York Times, noting that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for action in Syria."

The NY Times article (now removed) has caused him and you and lots of other people to go nuts, based on nothing but pure speculation.

Actually, we don't know for sure even IF it is true, but IF it is, we know nothing of WHY they were looking at Kosovo. There are, of course, many possible reasons. Legal. Tactical. Political. Who knows?

If you want to start indulging your fantasies of what you think Obama's fantasies are, go right ahead, but stop pretending you're basing your delusions on some kind of fact.

In fact, Kaplan's article is full of nothing but guessing and speculation, which he is open and honest about. "IF Obama decides to do this." "This MAY be the position." Speculating on "what will appeal" to Obama (as if he knows.) "Let's say that Obama does x,y,z..."

Nowhere does he say he knows that Obama has "decided" to do anything.

Furthermore, ha ha, YOUR fantasies of what's going on in Obama's head--taken from Kaplan--can in fact be traced to a mythical article in the NY Times. And we know how much you trust the liberal Times.

Really, this is all worthy of the Daily Mail. Maybe you should try writing for them.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

As it happens, the NY Times article is up and easily found. Of course, I trust the Times and Fred Kaplan to offer us an insider's view of the thinking within the Obama administration high command. What use would the Times be anyway.

If they are thinking of following a blueprint, as you cheerily quote, whatever does that mean if not that they are seeing the Syria campaign as another Kosovo. Obviously, there are differences, but the stories, in the Times and Slate do not go into the extensive detail that Robert Kaplan does in Starfor. Between us, Stratfor is not a British tabloid; they are highly respected for providing good information. Besides, Kaplan stated, in the linked article, that he thinks well of Obama's conduct of foreign policy in the Middle East.

Come to think of it, maybe that does reduce his comments to the level of the DM.

n.n said...

We were wrong in Serbia/Kosovo.

We were wrong in Libya.

We were wrong in Egypt.

We will be wrong in Syria.

Oh, and we were wrong in Mexico.

Obama's doctrine is Clinton's doctrine on steroids. Although, as we witnessed in Bengazi, and Cairo, and Mexico, the consequences will not be delayed until the next administration.

A preponderance of circumstantial evidence is insufficient to declare war. This administration has zero credibility to support with just blind hope that they may possess a better nature.

Anonymous said...

Few are aware of the Kosovo strategy. Even now. We destroyed Serbia's infrastructure w/air power. Including water purification & health establishments.

In a Muslim country, that wouldn't matter much. In W/Civ Serbia, which held its people of greater worth, it did. That's how we won. A cultural distinction. -- Rich Lara