Defense hawks are calling for U.S. military intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but 70 percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders aren't keen on getting involved.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., escalated the debate over the appropriate response to the crisis when he and other senators called for U.S. air strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s ground forces to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance and weapons to the Syrian rebels.
The pool of national-security and foreign-policy experts, however, said they wouldn’t support U.S. military intervention. “The U.S. has become addicted to military aggression, thinking that every world problem can be simply solved by bombs and drones and driving the country into bankruptcy in the process,” one Insider said. “Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current chaos in Libya are perfect examples that life, in reality, is not that simple.”
Several Insiders said it’s a matter of priorities. “The U.S. does not have a national interest in Syria [that] compels us to act there.”
Although the Syrian rebels deserve to be able to protect themselves, one Insider said, U.S. assets should be limited to helping allies and friends if they choose to launch military operations.
“The French, Turks, and friendly Arabs have long and deep involvement in Syria,” the Insider said. “Since Assad's regime is Iran's closest foreign ally, weakening and eliminating it could enhance the international isolation of Iran's ruling cabal and its standing in Iranians' eyes. The U.S. should help in areas of comparative advantage, such as command, control, and communications; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and paramilitary training and logistics."
Thirty percent of Insiders said they would support U.S. intervention, but added that many specified action would need to be part of a broader coalition to include the Arab League, and that Washington would need to be prepared for ground action as well as humanitarian relief operations.
“Values, specifically democracy and liberty, have been a major pillar of every national-security strategy since that document was instituted during the Reagan presidency,” another Insider said. “At some point, we have to put our treasure (and military might) where our values are.”
Seventy percent of Insiders said that the recent announcement that North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear and long-range missile tests as well as its uranium-enrichment program and allow international inspectors to monitor its main nuclear complex is a modest first step in the right direction.
"Maybe something is changing in Pyongyang," one Insider said. "But the North Koreans have made promises before. Trust but verify." Another added: "With an emphasis on verify."
The North Korea deal may not work out, one Insider acknowledged. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Another 21 percent said that the announcement was insignificant because Pyongyang will renege on its promises. "Past performance often dictates future results," one Insider said.
An optimistic 9 percent called the announcement a breakthrough in relations after the death of Kim Jong Il late last year. "It's a very significant step that very well could have gone in the opposite direction," one Insider said.
The U.S. will now meet with the North Koreans to finalize details for a proposed package of 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance. " 'Potential' breakthrough is more like it, but don't underestimate the fragility of this regime. These people need a breather badly," one Insider said.
1. Would you support U.S. military intervention—such as air strikes—in Syria?
- No 70 percent
- Yes 30 percent
“The U.S. has become addicted to military aggression, thinking that every world problem can be simply solved by bombs and drones and driving the country into bankruptcy in the process. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current chaos in Libya are perfect examples that life, in reality, is not that simple.”
“The courageous Syrian rebels deserve to be able to protect themselves and innocent civilians more effectively and begin repulsing Assad’s overwhelming force. As with Libya, however, America should lead from within, supporting allies and friends. The French, Turks, and friendly Arabs have long and deep involvement in Syria. Since Assad's regime is Iran's closest foreign ally, weakening and eliminating it could enhance the international isolation of Iran's ruling cabal and its standing in Iranians' eyes. The U.S. should help in areas of comparative advantage, such as command, control, and communications; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and paramilitary training and logistics.”
“There are other options, and it is not a vital national interest.”
“There is no basis for that level of unilateral U.S. intervention at this time.”
“Does McCain really consider Libya a success?”
“We should go no further than to arm the rebels and support safe zones that would be protected by others, such as the Turks.”
“Not a cakewalk—Syrian air defenses are very strong. The loose talk about military intervention is not tethered to clear-headed strategy for ousting the Assad government or replacing it with something better. Unseating Qaddafi took more than six months. The operating premise for Syria should be that unseating Assad will be harder.”
“International intervention would be preferable to U.S. intervention. Humanitarian corridors would be the first place to start, and they should start immediately.”
“Yes—with caveats. Action should not be unilateral. Need to work with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Arab nations. Need to also be prepared for ground action, then humanitarian relief operations. Engagement with Muslim Brotherhood, Free Syrian Army will be key.”
“Values, specifically democracy and liberty, have been a major pillar of every national security strategy since that document was instituted during the Reagan presidency. At some point, we have to put our treasure (and military might) where our values are.”
“Subject to some of the same conditions that attached to the Libyan operations and the Arab League must step up. This is their time, they should act responsibly.”
“The violence against civilians is sufficient to merit a military response. However, the risks of more than symbolic actions are great. The U.S. should only undertake military action if it is multilateral—and Libya, ironically, may have made that impossible.”
2. The Obama administration's recent announcement that North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear and long-range missile tests and uranium enrichment program and allow international inspectors to monitor its main nuclear complex is:
- A modest first step in the right direction 70 percent
- Insignificant, because Pyongyang will renege on its promises 21 percent
- A breakthrough in relations after the death of Kim Jong Il 9 percent
A modest first step in the right direction
"While the history of previous promises is awful, with the change in 'leadership' we have to make this first step."
"We obviously need more time and exposure to the successor regime, but should not waste an opportunity that is presented to us."
"Important to take step, but may be just a ploy.... We know [North Korean leaders] are lying when we see their lips move."
"May not help but can't hurt. Time is what it buys."
"It's too soon to assess the long-term significance of North Korea's willingness to resume negotiations in return for food aid. The April 1971 visit of U.S. ping-pong players to China seemed a modest step at the time, but a year later President Nixon visited China. With North Korea, the other five parties in the six-party talks must maintain continuing leverage and be ready to make increased concessions, as warranted, in order to achieve meaningful and enduring results. North Koreans are beginning to obtain more news and cell-phone access via China, and learn more about the outside world from its people who labor in China. At some point, increased awareness and expectations in North Korea could put more pressure on the regime, but when or how is uncertain."
"We've seen this movie before but can always hope for a different ending."
"While this is a step in the right direction, we have to keep in mind that the North Koreans have a history of reneging on their diplomatic commitments. They will cooperate as long as they think they can get something out of it - in this case food aid for their population."
Insignificant because Pyongyang will renege on its promises
"I wanted to pick [the other options], but past performance often dictates future results."
A breakthrough in relations after the death of Kim Jong Il
"It's a very significant step that very well could have gone in the opposite direction."
" 'Potential' breakthrough is more like it, but don't underestimate the fragility of this regime—these people need a breather badly."
"This actually began before the death of Kim Jong Il, and it is an excellent sign that Kim John Un is willing to move forward. It may suggest learning from the Burmese experience. I remain cautiously optimistic."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They are:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Rachel Kleinfeld, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the March 13, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.