February 03, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Military Intervention

Steven Cook, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Shadi Hamid and Dan Byman -- smart analysts whose work I always read and admire -- have all now argued we need to consider military intervention in Syria. The problem is, for me at least, "military intervention" at once means everything and nothing. On the one hand, the decision to use force to achieve a desired political end is momentous in and of itself. On the other hand, though, I cannot determine whether or not "military intervention" is a good or bad idea until I have some idea of what, precisely, is meant by the term. Analysts who argue either for or against military intervention have an obligation to sketch out the ways in which one could possibly intervene so that we can determine which ways, if any, make sense given the circumstances. 

A broader problem here, as I was discussing with both Adam Elkus and Robert Caruso, is that regional specialists rarely understand military capabilities and options well enough to make an argument for or against, and those who understand military capabilities and options rarely understand the regional dynamics well enough to make an argument for or against. It is important, in that context, for scholars to work collaboratively to complement areas of expertise.

Along these lines, Marc Lynch is working on an analysis piece for CNAS that I hope will go some way toward addressing specific ways in which the United States could intervene militarily in Syria to better determine which options, if any, are worth attempting. This kind of analysis takes time but is, I think, ultimately the more responsible way to go about making these arguments.