We can’t have neocon wet dreams of regime change thwarted!
Typical of the incoherence now common among U.S. foreign policy pundits discussing the Syrian crisis is Jeffrey Lewis, who took to the pages of the prestigious journal Foreign Policy to venture his opinion. He started out reciting the usual “group think” narrative about the need to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and denounced Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for stepping up support for the Syrian military in the face of gains by Sunni terror groups.
But Lewis, who is billed as an arms-control specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, then admitted that he doesn’t have a clue what to do, which at least is an improvement over all the other “experts” who say the U.S. must do something – anything! – to counter Russian intervention.
Lewis begins his article with a lot of scary talk about satellite photos confirming that Russia is expanding an air base near Latakia with the goal of increasing military aid to the evil Bashar al-Assad so as to give his doddering regime another lease on life.
“The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station,” Lewis observed. “It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton … designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and [which] may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces.”
U.S. officials, he said, “believe Russia will base combat aircraft at the site.” The photos show that “construction crews have completed a taxiway that connects the runway to the construction area,” which in turn “means aircraft shelters for Russian aircraft.” Bottom line: “Russia is substantially expanding its involvement.”
In other words, the Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! After all, alarmism and drumbeating are de rigueur nowadays for U.S. pundits, so Lewis was doing what he had to do to remain in good standing with an increasingly bellicose – and delusional – foreign-policy establishment.
Lewis then accused Moscow of preventing a U.S.-favored regime change that would somehow please “moderate” Syrians so much that they would rally and defeat Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. That notion of an easy and seamless “regime change” is one of the favorite fantasies of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who were equally confident that they could neatly transform Iraq by installing think-tank favorite Ahmed Chalabi to replace Saddam Hussein.
But now with the Russian intervention in Syria, at least Lewis and his fellow pundits have an excuse for why their best-laid plans didn’t work out this time. It’s Putin’s fault!
“What Russia has done,” Lewis wrote, “is make it clear that it will not let Assad fall. He can’t win, but Russia won’t let him lose. That dooms Syria to what looks like endless war. … So this column does not have a neat and tidy ending. And that is because I am not sure that it is now possible to save Syria. There is no path to resurrect a state that is failing, not so long as Putin has decided to do whatever it takes to preserve Assad’s awful regime and condemn Syria to endless conflict.
“We can, of course, make it difficult for Russia to resupply its forces in Syria. … But these measures won’t replace Bashar al-Assad with a figure who could rally moderate Syrians to restore a stable government, let alone stop the bloodshed.”
In Lewis’s view, Putin’s insertion of Russian forces to defend the Syrian government and fight Al Qaeda and the Islamic State has checkmated U.S. plans for overthrowing Assad and neutralizing his military.
Lewis wrote: “There is now little hope of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria unless Washington wants to be in the business of shooting down Russian aircraft. From a broader perspective, U.S. efforts to arm the opposition to Assad mean fighting a proxy war with Moscow either by trying to down the Russian planes or helping Syrian opposition forces kill Russian combat troops on the ground.”