Thursday, May 16, 2013

Liberating Syria without the Empire (UPDATED)

This article was originally published in July 2012 by Young Americans for Liberty.  It has been expanded and updated to make it relevant to May 2013.

Red stripe is government's, Green stripe is rebels'
Nearly a year has passed since the Obama administration began expressing their “deep concern” with the spiraling crisis in Syria—a crisis many are rightfully calling civil war.  The last time the DoD showed such “deep concern” over the deteriorating situation in any country was regarding Libya in 2011.  The concern over Libya was soon followed by Operation Odyssey Dawn and further intervention by the United Nations in the Libyan Civil War.  Given the track record of NATO and the United Nations, and an investigation by Senator Rand Paul revealing that the Obama administration is responsible for smuggling weapons from Libya to the Syrian rebels, it’s reasonable to assume that these powers will soon intervene officially in the Syrian civil war.

For over two years the Syrian government and the opposition have battled it out to the general stalemate renewed every day in blood.  The rebels waged the majority of offensives between November 2012 and March of this year, while the government forces have kept the score even.  In support of the Syrian government forces are many pro-Assad Shabiha militias, local militias trained by Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Basij, and Hezbollah.  On the side of the rebels under the umbrella of the Syrian National Coalition are the decentralized Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, the al-Nusra Mujahedeen, and the Syrian Kurds.  So far at least 80,000 people have been killed in Syria, nearly 40,000 of them being combatants from the loyalist army, the rebel forces, and each side’s foreign state and non-state allies combined.

Guerrillas of the Free Syrian Army seeking help from the empires of the US or NATO may help the rebels’ cause in the short run, but it will greatly stunt the sovereignty of the Syrian free state in years to come, with foreign military bases and oil rigs on Syrian soil.  It would also potentially put the US and her allies in a hot war with Russia or Iran.  Many are still calling for US intervention since the Syrian government has made a policy of massacring whole villages of Sunni Muslims, in response to the trend that the majority of FSA rebels and anti-Assad Mujahedeen happen to be Sunni.

Richmond, Virginia in April 1865
However, there are two pressing reasons why the US government should not get involved (at least no more than it already unofficially is).  First, the US government has no moral or ethical standing to intervene in the civil wars of foreign states, given its conduct in the American Civil War.  The Lincoln Administration waged war on the Southern States not for the noble purpose of freeing slaves, but rather to maintain territorial integrity of the federal government.  Any slaves that were freed during the war were freed only in order to hurt the Southern war machine while slaves in Northern states continued to languish in bondage.  Furthermore, the US war machine blockaded all Southern ports in order to cut the Southern Confederacy off any foreign aid or intervention.  Most Southern guerrilla fighters, when captured or upon surrendering in 1865, were not treated as enemy combatants but as criminals in violation of martial law and were summarily executed by US soldiers.  Worse yet, a documented minimum of 50,000 civilians are reported to have died from the “collateral damage” from the total war which the US waged on the Southern population.  Farms large and small were burned in order to deny Confederate troops of any food source whatsoever.  Starvation was rampant.  The US Army burned and destroyed paths miles wide in Sherman’s March to the Sea.  Atlanta was burned to the ground.  Vicksburg and Petersburg were besieged and bombed indiscriminately for months, regardless of the likelihood of civilian casualties.  Richmond in 1865 looked like Berlin in 1945.

The second reason is that US intervention in recent Middle Eastern civil wars has not ended well for the United States.  Twice has the US intervened in the Afghan Civil War (which has evolved in distinct phases since 1978).  The first time was a CIA operation for the Mujahedeen against the Soviet Union and the Afghan Communists, in which the nominally unified Mujahedeen were armed with stinger missiles and a variety of other light weaponry.  The second time was October of 2001 as the American War in Afghanistan was initiated in order to rout the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Unfortunately, this conflict within the War on Terror had the effect of decentralizing Al Qaeda through birthing regionally-based Al Qaeda groups throughout the Middle East, while the old guards of the original Al Qaeda have found refuge among the Pakistani Taliban.  Furthermore, the pulling of resources from the initial 2002 victory in Afghanistan to wage the Iraq War gave the Taliban ample time to rearm, regroup, and entrench themselves ever more deeply among their countrymen who grow weary of the foreign occupiers.  To add insult to injury, many of the weapons provided to the decentralized, only nominally unified Mujahedeen have been used to attack and kill American and allied Afghan troops.

Free Syrian Army troops being transported in a civilian truck
The other, more recent civil war in which the US, NATO, and UN have intervened is the Libyan conflict.  What the civil wars in Libya and Afghanistan have in common with the present situation in Syria is a decentralized, only nominally unified opposition of rebels waging war against an unpopular regime.  The Afghan Mujahedeen and Libyan opposition were allies in fighting against their respective unpopular regimes, but never did the various factions unite under one government or command structure.  Following the overthrow of the Afghan Communist regime, the Afghan Mujahedeen returned to factionalism and fought a multisided civil war until the Taliban won out (and subsequently fought the minority Northern Alliance).  Following the official end of the Libyan Civil War, low-level civil war persists to this day as rogue militias fight against the new Libyan government, fight against each other, and periodically kill American diplomats.  Given that the Syrian opposition is no more unified or organized than the Afghan Mujahedeen or the Libyan opposition, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that civil war would continue in Syria even after the possible overthrow of the Assad regime.

The best way for the Syrian free forces to tip the balance of the civil war in their favor would be to imitate the course of action taken by the government of Sierra Leone during its civil war.  By 1995 the psychotic guerrillas of the Revolutionary United Front had advanced to within 20 miles of Freetown (the Capital), waging a terror campaign the entire way which involved forced conscription of child soldiers, routine execution of civilians, and a practice of pacifying the civilian population via hacking off the limbs of innocent bystanders.  The desperate government hired the private military company Executive Outcomes (for $1.8 million a month, paid by the International Monetary Fund) to drive back the RUF, retake all towns, villages, and mines held by the RUF, and to destroy their main base of operations.  Within a matter of months Executive Outcomes had taken back territory lost to the RUF, destroyed the enemy’s main base, and forced the RUF to admit defeat and sign the Abidjan Peace Accord.  Civil war in Sierra Leone only resumed when the UN and IMF pressured the government to expel Executive Outcomes.

Various examples in recent history show that there are good uses and bad uses for mercenary companies.  A bad use would be hiring Blackwater to operate in crowded areas without any legal repercussions, thus giving them carte blanche for violence (e.g. Baghdad Bloody Sunday).  An objectively good and even noble use of a PMC would be one such as Sierra Leone’s hiring of Executive Outcomes to neutralize an insurgency infamous for hacking off the legs of recently “liberated” civilians.  This solution could easily be applied in Syria.

The Syrian National Council could grant legal permission for a PMC to operate within Syria in order to fight the loyalist army and arrest Assad.  Furthermore, the hired PMC—fully accountable and answerable to the Syrian National Coalition—could take on the dual mission of fighting the Assad regime while training the Free Syrian Army to be a professional fighting force with a central chain of command under the Syrian National Coalition.  With the PMC taking on a heavy burden of the fighting, part of the Free Syrian Army would be free to establish its integrity by putting into check all the temporarily allied, potentially rogue militias.  This would help ensure that the overthrow of the Assad regime would not be followed by more civil war as has been the case in Afghanistan and Libya.  Finally, as the newly professional Syrian National Army demonstrates its ability to preserve stability in the newly free Syria, the PMC would return to its home base in its home country.

Such an intervention, applied from within by a local government as opposed to being imposed from without by a foreign empire, could tip the scales in the balance of the Syrian opposition, bring a speedier end to the Syrian Civil War, and preserve the sovereignty of the Syrian Free State while keeping foreign empires at bay.

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Syrian double flag, Free Syrian Army, and Richmond images are in the public domain and were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.  Executive Outcomes book cover courtesy of

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