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Henry Kissinger vs. Anne Marie Slaughter on Syria.

Henry Kissinger's op-ed advising restraint in Syria has generated a fair amount of push-back. Anne Marie Slaughter took to the Washington Post to lambaste Kissinger's piece:

[Kissinger's] analysis was based on a straw man, one put forward by the Russian and Chinese governments, that outside intervention would seek to â??bring about regime change.â?

The point of an intervention in Syria would be to stop the killing â?? to force Bashar al-Assad and his government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with reforms rather than guns. If the killing stopped, it is not clear what shape the political process would adopt, how many millions would take to the streets or whom different factions would support.

No - the point of an intervention in Syria would be to facilitate the killing of Assad's forces in greater number to change the regime. How else would the killing be stopped but by applying lethal force against Assad's forces? And the goal of any U.S. intervention is abundantly clear. As Secretary Clinton said last week: "Assad has doubled down on his brutality and duplicity, and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable, or certainly democratic until Assad goes."

Moreover, whatever the "point" of an intervention would be, the U.S. would be able to exercise very little control over how it actually plays out on the ground, particularly because Slaughter rules out the use of ground forces in any intervention. The U.S. utterly lost control of Iraq and it was an occupying power. Funneling guns and intel to shadowy insurgent forces inside Syria doesn't strike me as a recipe for post-war stability and the consolidation of a more benign regime.

Point: Kissinger.

Slaughter then goes onto to make a very curious argument:

Kissinger is right that in the end NATOâ??s operations in Libya looked like an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi from office, not because NATO planes took out command-and-control facilities in Tripoli from which Gaddafi and his generals were ordering civilian massacres but because NATO planes never sought to protect civilians supporting the regime against opposition troops. The response to this concern, however, is not to oppose intervention in Syria but to support a U.N. Security Council resolution with clear parameters about a limited use of force.

The U.S. and NATO never sought to "protect civilians" in Libya because they were gunning for Gaddafi from the get-go and ignored UN language that limited the use of force to simply protecting civilians. The war in Libya "looked like an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi" because it was an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi (walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.). Are we supposed to be believe that "clear parameters" from the UN on Syria won't be similarly ignored when the consensus among the intervening powers is that the goal is toppling Assad? Of course not. You'd have to be incredibly naive to believe that, especially because the same organizations and states that ignored the UN mandate and pressed for regime change in Libya would be the very same ones orchestrating an intervention in Syria.

Point: Kissinger.

Then Slaughter finishes up with a plea for a new international order:

President Obama believes in sovereignty as responsibility. Standing up for that principle will result in a world that will be more stable, prosperous and consistent with universal values â?? the values Americans know as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It will be a far better world for the United States as well as for Syrians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and billions of others. But bringing it into being requires demonstrating firmly and quickly that when governments cross the line of genocide, or engage in crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, or grave and systematic war crimes against their own people, the world will act â?? with force if necessary and with the approval only of a regional organization and a majority of the members of the U.N. Security Council. Only then will murderous dictators begin to think twice.

I actually agree that a U.S. intervention in Syria would demonstrate a U.S. commitment to "universal values" - just not the ones Slaughter thinks she's defending. An intervention would demonstrate once again that when regimes antagonistic to Washington engage in brutality, they can expect to be attacked or undermined. Other regimes, in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia for instance, are free to do whatever they want. There's certainly a very good case for directing U.S. efforts against regimes that are hostile and sparing those that are not, but it doesn't have much to do with "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It's more like: looking out for your own interest, a universal value if ever there was one.