In This Review

The Syria Dilemma
The Syria Dilemma
Edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel
MIT Press, 2013, 272 pp
Purchase
Syria 2018
Syria 2018
By NYU Center for Global Affairs
NYU Center for Global Affairs, 2013, 41 pp
Purchase

These studies bring together leading experts on Syrian affairs and conflict resolution. Both studies confirm that the Syrian civil war presents stakeholders with many options, all of them bad. The first book was assembled at the beginning of 2013, and the second, midyear. Since then, with the exception of the U.S.-Russian agreement that paved the way for Syria to give up its chemical weapons arsenal, none of the basic elements in the Syrian conflict have changed -- except that the casualties and refugee flows have increased significantly.

The contributors to Hashemi and Postel’s volume reflect on whether and how outside powers should intervene in Syria. If there is a common thread that runs through the essays, it is that “the responsibility to protect” applies in Syria and should guide any intervention by the United States or other players. With varying levels of enthusiasm, the contributors suggest establishing “no-kill zones” (Anne-Marie Slaughter), providing massive humanitarian relief (Kenneth Roth), and even engaging in “sequential decapitation” of the Assad regime (Tom Farer). Christopher Hill invokes the agreement that ended the war in Bosnia as a possible model for how to resolve the Syrian conflict, while Fareed Zakaria points to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as a cautionary tale about the risks of military intervention.

The Center for Global Affairs’ report imagines possible scenarios for how the conflict might play out between now and 2018. Participants include Josh Landis, Bassam Haddad, Steven Heydemann, Robert Malley, and other experts. They envision three possibilities: a regionalized conflict, a contained civil war, and a negotiated settlement. In the first, the conflict spills over Syria’s borders, igniting civil wars in Iraq and Lebanon and threatening King Abdullah’s hold on power in Jordan. In the second, outside attempts to contain the conflict ultimately produce further chaos inside the country, especially in northern Syria. The authors find the third scenario, a negotiated settlement, “implausible” and therefore conclude that the least worst option is containment, which would lead to the internal fracturing of Syria but might produce a less violent stalemate. It is notable that none of the three scenarios accounts for two developments that would have a major impact on the conflict. One is a possible attack by either the United States or Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities. The other is a negotiated U.S.-Iranian “grand bargain,” or at least a more stable détente between Washington and Tehran.