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Syrian Civil War

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The International Committee of the Red Cross has determined that the Syrian Civil War is a internal war, which has a variety of implications for military targeting and legal responsibility. Charli has some initial thoughts on what this means.  Robert Chesney has this on regime targeting:

The Syria scenario provides yet another instance in which it matters a great deal whether LOAC/IHL (Law of Armed Conflict/International Humanitarian Law) should be understood to encompass a category of persons associated with the non-state party who may be targeted based on status rather than solely while they are currently directly participating in hostilities.  In that respect, the U.S. government has, most awkwardly, a dog in this fight so to speak.  I say awkward because U.S. officials no doubt have zero interest in saying or doing anything that would smack of sympathizing with, let alone defending, Assad regime actions.  I say dog-in-this-fight-so-to-speak, however, because the U.S. government certainly does have an interest in the abstract legal claim that status-based targeting is proper in a NIAC (Non-International Armed Conflict) for some category of enemy personnel (as well as a stake in what that category should be defined to be).  When questions arise regarding which attacks by the Assad regime might constitute war crimes along the dimension of the principle of distinction, the U.S. government thus may find itself in quite a bind; it will be tricky to stay appropriately critical of the Assad regime while standing firm for legal principles that have much broader applications.

While the legal issues are interesting, I’m also curious about the politics.  The Assad regime should be understandably reluctant about acknowledging that it has become embroiled in a civil war.  At the same time, recognition that a state of civil war exists could potentially change the atmospherics of Syrian military activity; inflicting heavy casualties on a group of rebels ceases to be a “massacre” and become normal military activity in the context of an ongoing conflict.  Of course, it is always difficult in such situations to distinguish between an actual massacre of civilians and a legitimate infliction of casualties on a military target, especially given that both sides have big incentives to deceive about the conditions on the ground.

 

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  • Manta1976

    Look, there is an easy, consistent, and time-honored criterion to deal with this situations.

    If they get killed by American military, they are terrorists, scum-of-the-earth, and are fair target; if they are killed by American enemies, they are civilians.

  • scott

    I suggest that we leave the resolution of these thorny intellectual/legal/philosophical problems to the sphere of blog discussion rather than armed intervention. Because when I see the words “civil war,” I don’t get the feeling that getting involved in it is a good idea.

    • patrick II

      So, if you are a government that kills enough people the citizens are forced to rebel you can call it a civil war and kill even more because now its legal and other countries don’t want to choose sides in a “civil war”. Cool trick.

      • scott

        Still not seeing why it’s a good idea to get involved, but chapeau for the rhetoric.

      • Manta1976

        I fully agree with Patrick: we should organize a kinetic military action in Syria: why should Assad have all the fun killing Syrians?

        • The funny part of this is that the use of the phrase “killing Syrians” to describe a) Assad’s military slaughtering protesters and neighborhood residents, as well as b) the rebels (and some theoretical outside supporters) trying to stop Assad’s military from doing that is supposed to be the expression of a serious moral point from atop the moral high ground.

          There’s, like, people dying, right? So, it’s all like the same, man.

      • I think the invocation of “it’s a civil war!” as a self-explanatory reason why a particular military action is a bad idea is an example of people reading off old note cards. The U.S. government worked very hard to depict the situation in Vietnam in terms of North Vietnam invading South Vietnam – one country aggressing against another, as if Germany was invading Poland. The problem is, Vietnam is actually one country, the division was completely artificial, and there was a huge amount of support for the Viet Minh/NVA in the south. So, pointing out that “it’s a civil war” was a useful corrective for a false depiction.

        Absent that context, though, it becomes a much weaker argument. Why, exactly, would the presence of a significant body of locals, capable of sustained military action against the government, be an argument against an intervention? Compared to, for instance, the Iraq War, in which there was no such local force?

        Are we supposed to believe that because the people opposing a tyrant have picked up arms, it becomes invalid to draw any moral distinction between them and the tyrant trying to crush them?

        • Manta1976

          As I said, I fully agree with this line of thought: let’s get the bombs started, already! The people in Damascus (the one still alive, at least) will welcome the liberators with flowers, and the victory will usher a new Middle East.

          Moreover, what’s the point of spending a gazillion of money on armed forces, if we don’t use them? It would be wasted money.

          • Actually, I’ve been writing comments opposing military intervention in Syria for over a year now. I must have written two dozen explaining the differences between the Syrian and Libyan situations by way of explaining my opposition.

            None of which has anything whatsoever to do with the gaping holes in your moral reasoning.

            • Manta1976

              The moral reasoning is quite well-established

              “Probability of success:
              Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success”.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war#Jus_ad_bellum

              • Others’ moral reasoning – including mine, since that’s the argument I’ve spent over a year making against intervening in Syria – is well-established.

                Yours, not so much.

                • Would you care, btw, to get back to explaining why “It’s a civil war!” is supposed to be an compelling argument?

          • Manta1976

            I should have written: the victory will usher a new New Middle east.

            The old “New Middle East” did not work as expected, of course, but this time it’s different.

            • Actually, you should have either addressed the argument you were responding to; attempted to buttress your own; or said nothing.

              • Manta1976

                But I agree with you, joe!
                War IS good, and it would be a pity to miss this one.
                It’s those Syrian 5th columnists that cannot see that Syria is not like Iraq or Afghanistan, and this time it’s different!

                • Would anybody like to help this guy out?

                  I feel like I’m beating up someone in a wheelchair.

                • Actually, I’ve been writing comments opposing military intervention in Syria for over a year now. I must have written two dozen explaining the differences between the Syrian and Libyan situations by way of explaining my opposition.

                  But I agree with you, joe!
                  War IS good, and it would be a pity to miss this one.

                • Manta1976

                  You are hurting my feelings, joe; and I don’t understand why, since we DO agree!

                  Shouldn’t you reserve your beatings for people who are opposing this new, glorious, and (most importantly) humanitarian war?

                • “Hmm,” thinks joe, seeing that Manta 1976 what written yet another comment, “Perhaps this time I’ll come across a serious argument distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate military action, addressing issues of how the presence of civil-war conditions influences the moral and practical dimensions of the question, drawing on a sound information base about previous actions, and demonstrating an intellectually rigorous thought process informed by an insightful, nuanced ability to hone on particular features of this situation, as well are previous ones that share some similarities.”

                • Manta1976

                  Good joe, we are still friend, right?

                  Some people (not me, mind you: evil, unserious people) may point out that intervening in another country civil war usually ends up in killing lots of people and either losing the war, installing a puppet regime, or ending in anarchy; therefore, nations should avoid getting involved, unless very good reasons are given for it.

                  Serious people, instead, people like you and me, are ready to sacrifice (other people’s) lives in pursuit of humanitarian goals, because we know that we can safely ignore previous experience, since this time it’s different.

                • It’s a good thin that there won’t be anyone killed in Syria in the absence of foreign intervention.

                  either losing the war, installing a puppet regime, or ending in anarchy

                  You know, like when the French installed that puppet regime after the surrender of Cornwallis.

                  A more rigorous “someone” might actually make the effort to distinguish between episodes in which intervention ended that way, and episodes in which it didn’t, and draw conclusions based on that.

                  But, then, such a “someone” – not you, you’re right about that – wouldn’t liken the uprising of the Syrian and Libyan people against their governments to the American invasion of Iraq.

                • Manta1976

                  Good that we agree!
                  I mean, who would dream of comparing US *intervention* in Syria with US intervention in Afghanistan!
                  Totally different, right?
                  And who would ever claim that such intervention would kill even more people that the already running civil war? A deluded person, that’s who!

                  Unfortunately, the intervention has not started, yet: but have faith!

                • Hogan

                  Cast not thy pearls before swine, joe.

                • This certainty that no military action can ever be any different from any other military action is a doctrine of faith, and I don’t go to your church.

                  In the reality-based community, we think the details matter. Statements about “this intervention” as something one can draw meaningful conclusions about without needing to know anything about it belong between “suffered, died and was buried” and “On the third day he rose again.”

                  It is quite possible that some variety of intervention in Syria could be like the Afghan War. Other varieties of intervention would be unlike the Afghan War. Do I have to go to confession now?

                • Cast not thy pearls before swine, joe.

                  I know, I know.

                  Still, it can be a useful exercise to allow people to see how swine behave.

                • Manta1976

                  That’s my joe!
                  Any serious person can see that war in Syria is completely different that war in Afghanistan or Iraq.

                  Well, there is the small part that for every war serious people do say “this time it’s different”: but this time it IS different! For real!

                • Any serious person can see that war in Syria is completely different that war in Afghanistan or Iraq.

                  Wow. Just wow.

                  I’m not even going to rebut this. Im just going to highlight it.

                  Any serious person can see that war in Syria is completely different that war in Afghanistan or Iraq.

                • Shorter Manta: “I can’t rebut that argument, so instead, I shall call it serious.”

                  Well played, sir. You really got me there.

                • Manta1976

                  Aw, poor joe.
                  The problem is that you gave no argument.

                • That’s me, baby.

            • The notion that the Syrian (and Tunisian and Egyptian and Libyan) people overthrowing their government is indistinguishable from Operation Iraqi Freedom if there is even the slightest backing by the United States for their self-directed uprisings is also very special.

              LOL “Arab Spring” lol, Just Like Bush! Halliburton!

          • The people in Damascus (the one still alive, at least) will welcome the liberators with flowers, and the victory will usher a new Middle East.

            Talk about reading off old note cards.

            Shuffle shuffle shuffle…uh…waterboarding is tort…no, wait…uh…Halliburton!

  • shah8

    Well…the International Red Cross isn’t really the organization I’d want declaring whether it was a civil war or not, and generally, I’d view this as another pressure point being pressed on the Assad regime, rather than it being some neutral judgement call.

    The other thing is, civil wars are simply not subtle. You will never need to judge whether some country is in a state of civil war. They tend to be horrible, massive beasties that wreck absolutely everything around them and cause deaths in the visible percentages of the original population. This is just far more akin to Afghan conflict against the pro-Soviet regime, but before the exit of the Soviets, than *anything* like the Algerian Civil War of the ’90s.

    • greylocks

      Well…the International Red Cross isn’t really the organization I’d want declaring whether it was a civil war or not

      They do this all the time. We just don’t always hear about it, because frankly, the only people who pay much attention are policy wonks and diplomats. The combatants ignore it and just keep right on killing, maiming, raping and torturing the other side’s civilians.

      In war, people do what they think they have to do to win. No one on the ground actually gives a fuck about the Geneva Conventions until it’s all over and some war criminals have to be hanged to make the winners look morally superior to the losers, in which case the GC provide the necessary legal fig leaf to stretch some rope.

  • “When questions arise regarding which attacks by the Assad regime might constitute war crimes along the dimension of the principle of distinction, the U.S. government thus may find itself in quite a bind; it will be tricky to stay appropriately critical of the Assad regime while standing firm for legal principles that have much broader applications.”

    That’s very interesting in light of what that source told Esquire about why the drone strikes remain officially unacknowledged (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/obama-drone-strikes-10558354):

    “So there are deals — deals that have already been made. And part of the deal is that you don’t acknowledge the deal. If you do, then the country you made the deal with is obligated to do react, because now there’s been a violation of sovereignty. The problem is that there are a lot of these kinds of deals, because they are so easy to make.”

    Whether we’re talking about Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, or who knows where else, we are there at the request of those countries governments, which means that on some level we are fighting their internal wars for them with our wonder weapons, which in turn means that we have a very big stake in what kind of domestic activity is and isn’t legal/acceptable to the international community.

    Obviously we have a lot of economic and diplomatic weight to throw around to keep anyone from making too much of a stink, and if we have a secret military/paramilitary presence in a country, we can as easily depart in secret as well, so we’re not on the hook in quite the same way that a native government is. But if we’re fighting internal wars on behalf of other governments, and one of them eventually loses, you could see a situation where a new government comes to power and finds itself with a lot of embarrassing and/or incriminating dirt on American diplomats, military personnel, tactics, etcetera.

    • which means that on some level we are fighting their internal wars for them…we’re fighting internal wars on behalf of other governments, and one of them eventually loses

      I’m trying to think of examples of places in which we’re carrying out these strikes against a force that is even remotely capable of overthrowing the local government, as opposed to cells of terrorists numbering the dozens or hundreds.

      There’s Afghanistan, obviously, but that war certainly isn’t being carried out in secret. Not Pakistan; not Yemen. Somalia, perhaps.

      • Well, Mali, where some U.S. commandos ended up dead a little while ago, already underwent a coup, and I’d say that Yemen could easily be under new, relatively anit-US management in the near future since no one outside the country seems to know quite what’s going on right now.

        Beyond those, if our drone/commando wars continue to expand, it’s not hard to see them being deployed in the coming years to countries in Central Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa where governments have a tendency to be constantly besieged by insurgencies and the like.

        • Mali occurred to me after I posted.

          Yemen is more complicated. It’s really a three-way situation, with the regime, the opposition, and an al Qaeda franchise and its local supporters who are distinct from the Arab Spring opposition. There have been cases of government troops and opposition fighters working together to fight the al Qaeda-linked militants. Meanwhile, the U.S. is siding with the government against al Qaeda, but not against the opposition. We helped grease the skids for Saleh’s ouster, for instance. The opposition that might take over the country is not the same as the people we’re fighting.

          it’s not hard to see them being deployed in the coming years to countries in Central Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa

          I actually do find it pretty hard to see the drone war expanding into those places, because they’re being used pretty narrowly in the war against al Qaeda, as opposed to, say, against FARC in Columbia.

          By this administration, anyway. I could certainly see President Rumsfeld or somebody using them much more as a tool of geopolitics as opposed to counter-terror.

          • Charlie Sweatpants

            “By this administration, anyway. I could certainly see President Rumsfeld or somebody using them much more as a tool of geopolitics as opposed to counter-terror.”

            That’s the real worry. And like rea says below, just by doing what we’re doing now, we’re making it easier for other countries to justify using special forces and robot warriors of their own for proxy purposes down the road. That’s unlikely to be a global “peer competitor” (or whatever the current nomenclature for China/Russia is), but you could definitely see situations in a few years where regional powers (Brazil, South Africa, India, etc) use this template as a way to prop up friendly local governments in very nasty ways. There’s nothing about America that says we’re the only democratic country whose public will turn a blind eye toward government military adventures provided that our own troops aren’t at much (if any) risk.

  • rea

    if our drone/commando wars continue to expand, it’s not hard to see them being deployed in the coming years to countries in Central Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa where governments have a tendency to be constantly besieged by insurgencies and the like.

    Well, the drones aren’t going to be uninvented, and it’s carrying American exceptionalism too far to say we’re the only ones capable of building the things. So, I don’t see what our present drone policy has to do with their potential future use elsewhere by other governments.

    • True enough, but there is a difference – an oft-overlooked difference – between “drones,” meaning the technology, and “drones,” used as shorthand for the covert war against al Qaeda.

  • Pugnacious

    “Where is Al Qaeda?”, Larry King asks?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_wMBu9cZfU

  • Pugnacious

    By mindful of any report coming from the MSM or any international organizations, including Amnesty International and Brian Lamb’s C-SPAN. Those two organizations corroborated Tom Lantos’ contrived Iraq Baby Incubator Hoax testimony given by the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter, Nayirah, to the so-called Human Rights Caucus.

    http://www.Antiwar.com is, IMO, the best source for fair and balanced reporting on international affairs. The Brookings Institute’s Robert Chesney is not listed as a contributing writer.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmfVs3WaE9Y

  • wengler

    Interesting appearance on the Alyona Show. Post it up tomorrow. It was a good change of pace from all the Cato and Reason foundation hacks she has on that show.

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