Nothing can be done in Syria? Not true.


With world leaders gathered in Jerusalem for the funeral of Shimon Peres, a unique opportunity presents itself for decisive action by the West to intervene in the Syrian bloodbath.

First, it’s simply false that nothing can be done.

In her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, current American U.N. ambassador Samantha Power makes this point over and over again.  In reviewing the history of the genocides in Armenia, European Jewry, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo, Power makes the case that in all but one of those instances, the United States and the other major powers knew what was going on and did nothing.

In each case, the West went through three phases: warning, recognition, and response.

Only in Kosovo did America and the EU act decisively – after widespread publicity and public outcry.

Well, we certainly have that now.  And, after Mr. Kerry’s latest pratfall, it’s time to pass the baton to someone else.

And, as it happens, Samantha Power – with coauthor Derek Chollet – has written a highly relevant book: The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World, published in 2011.  It was written while Power was already on the Obama National Security Council and addresses the career of the late Richard Holbrooke.  In particular, it tells the tale of the U.S. diplomatic tactics, ploys, and military moves that ended the Serbian genocide against the Muslims of the former Yugoslavia.

It’s engrossing and informative and a homage to the Democratic Party’s brightest – and most controversial – diplomatic star.  It’s a pretty question whether, had Holbrooke not collapsed and died in Hillary Clinton’s Foggy Bottom office, he would have succeeded her as secretary of state.  But the relevance of the read today is as a toolbox for answering the question: what would Richard Holbrooke do in Syria?

In A Problem from Hell, Power found that three excuses occurred again and again for non-action: futility, perversity, and jeopardy.  All have been heard in the course of the Syrian catastrophe.

“Futility” is what we’re hearing now: nothing can be done.

“Perversity” is the danger of unintended consequences.  Syria is already a stew of unintended consequences run riot.  This excuse doesn’t hunt, either.

“Jeopardy” hasn’t come up yet.  But it probably will – because there are Russian and Iranian military assets in Syrian territory.

Here’s one we may also hear.  Because of the closeness of the American election and impending change of chief executive, nothing can be done.  Mr. Obama should leave this one to his successor.

Let me knock the futility” excuse in the head and be done.  Here is an options list for the principals and their deputies in Jerusalem to consider.

First, options unlikely to result in casualties:

a) Recall U.S., U.K., and French ambassadors from Moscow and go to the United Nations General Assembly to seek a declaration that Syria’s seat at the U.N. is vacant.  When passed, close Syria’s mission to the U.N. in New York.

b) Ask the U.N. General Assembly to amend the U.N. Charter to eliminate Russia’s permanent seat (and veto) on the Security Council.

c) Announce a no-fly zone over Syria, which will start on Monday.

d) Proclaim a naval blockade of Syria, including of the Russian naval base at Latakia, to start on Monday.

e) Present a resolution to the Security Council authorizing the use of force in Syria.  When Russia vetoes that, introduce a uniting-for-peace resolution in the General Assembly, which will have the same effect.

f) Present a resolution in the Security Council to create an international war crimes tribunal for Syria.  If the Russians are still able to veto that, seek a referral to the International Criminal Court.  If that’s blocked, France and the U.K. should sue Russia in the International Court of Justice for a declaration that they and their ally, the Assad regime, have committed war crimes in Syria.

In other words: raise holy hell.  And don’t stop.

Second, besides proclamation and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria, what military options are available to accomplish a humanitarian intervention?

a) Remote destruction of Syrian artillery and anti-aircraft facilities, including radar installations.

b) If necessary to stop Syrian attacks, remote targeting of Syria’s top leadership and command and control.

c) If Syrian attacks still don’t stop, use cruise missiles to target Syria’s national command authority, including President Assad.

d) Once the no-fly zone is in place, send in guarded relief convoys, accompanied by troops, helicopters, and drones.

e) As soon as possible, reopen airports to deliver people, supplies, and equipment by air.

f) Pending that, drop food and medical supplies in conflict areas.

g) Declare and establish “safe zones” for refugees.

h) Set up of temporary hospitals in conflict areas.

i) Deployment of two Saudi Arabian mechanized divisions, with American advisers, to enforce a truce.

j) Deployment of Jordanian military police, with U.S. contractors, to provide security and day-to-day law enforcement.

In short, decisive action.  The time for talking is over.  The only question now is the famous one from The Untouchables: “What are you prepared to do?”

Mr. President?  Mr. Secretary General?

Ambassador Power?