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Thursday, April 24, 2014 

Anne-Marie invites you to a mass slaughter.

Seeing as we so enjoyed our trip yesterday into the mind of Tony Blair, with its vivid reminder that there are plenty of people in the West who seem to thrive on exactly the sort of conflict they accuse others of seeking, it's worth bearing in mind he's something of a dove on Syria.  Here, for instance, is Anne-Marie Slaughter (nominative determinism quite possibly in action) on how Obama should go after Putin through Assad:  

It is time to change Putin’s calculations, and Syria is the place to do it.

It is impossible to strike Syria legally so long as Russia sits on the United Nations Security Council, given its ability to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force. But even Russia agreed in February to Resolution 2139, designed to compel the Syrian government to increase flows of humanitarian aid to starving and wounded civilians. Among other things, Resolution 2139 requires that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs….” 

The US, together with as many countries as will cooperate, could use force to eliminate Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft as a first step toward enforcing Resolution 2139. “Aerial bombardment” would still likely continue via helicopter, but such a strike would announce immediately that the game has changed. After the strike, the US, France, and Britain should ask for the Security Council’s approval of the action taken, as they did after NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. 


Putin may believe, as Western powers have repeatedly told their own citizens, that NATO forces will never risk the possibility of nuclear war by deploying in Ukraine. Perhaps not. But the Russian forces destabilizing eastern Ukraine wear no insignia. Mystery soldiers can fight on both sides. 

Putting force on the table in resolving the Ukraine crisis, even force used in Syria, is particularly important because economic pressure on Russia, as critical as it is in the Western portfolio of responses, can create a perverse incentive for Putin. As the Russian ruble falls and foreign investment dries up, the Russian population will become restive, giving him even more reason to distract them with patriotic spectacles welcoming still more “Russians” back to the motherland.

It really doesn't get much more lacking in awareness, or rather, such is the way we've seen US officials repeatedly say you can't just walk into foreign countries on a false prospectus or words to the effect, charges of hypocrisy or not learning from the past just don't seem to have any impact.  Slaughter is proposing precisely the kind of abuse of the UN as was first put forward during the run-up to the Iraq war, relying on resolutions either years out of date or never intended to be used to justify force.  It also ignores how much of the Russian opposition to UN resolutions on Syria is linked back to the misuse of Resolution 1973 on Libya, which NATO interpreted as authorising regime change, something neither Russia or China believed it did.

Slaughter doesn't explain how only Syria's "fixed wing-aircraft" would be eliminated, or how this would be achieved without taking out the country's anti-air defences at the same time, nor what the point of a half-hearted intervention is when so much trouble would have to be gone through in the first place.  Surely Putin, who as Slaughter tells us measures "himself and his fellow leaders in terms of crude machismo", would be far more impressed with the US going the whole way instead of resorting to just more half-measures?  It also fails to take into account how Putin could do the exact opposite to what Slaughter expects when faced with such a direct challenge, annexing vast sections of the east of Ukraine at the precise moment when US military attention is on Syria.  At least when Nixon and Kissinger came up with the bombing of Cambodia they were fairly certain of the results.  Such is the disconnect with military reality on the part of the Kissingers of our day, they can't even be sure of how such a policy would work in Syria itself, let alone on Russia.

P.S. Anne-Marie Slaughter was last month named the 37th most prominent "world thinker" by Prospect magazine.

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