The Syrian Problem.

Excellent commentary from Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker. The broader context:

There is a risk of a regional Sunni-Shiite conflagration, as Saudi Arabia, which backed Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiite protesters, has advocated arming Syria’s opposition. There are Turkish misgivings about Kurdish rebels establishing bases in Syria; and Israeli anxieties about Assad’s accelerating military assistance to Hezbollah forces. There is also the question of Syria’s enormous chemical-weapons stockpiles: might Assad use them? Can they be secured if he falls?

And the awkward truth:

Mikhail Margelov, speaking for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said, “One cannot avoid a question: if Assad goes, who will replace him?” The hawks have no answer, nor, for that matter, does anybody else, including the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, a coalition of seven infighting factions—ranging from Christians to Kurds to the Muslim Brotherhood—composed almost entirely of exiles, whose only consistent demand is for international military intervention.

Hitting the nail.

Best piece on Kony yet comes from The Atlantic. Worth reading in full, but the crux:

[W]e’re less concerned with the budgetary issues than with the general philosophical approach of this type of advocacy. Perhaps worst of all are the unexplored assumptions underpinning the awareness argument, which reduce people in conflict situations to two broad categories: mass-murderers like Joseph Kony and passive victims so helpless that they must wait around to be saved by a bunch of American college students with stickers. No Ugandans or other Africans are shown offering policy suggestions in the film, and it is implied that local governments were ineffective in combating the LRA simply because they didn’t have enough American assistance.

Syrian intervention?

Cook is skeptical of the claim that Assad’s demise is only a matter of time, a claim made by the media establishment in every article on Syria I’ve read in the past three months:

Ultimately, it seems that Assad still has bullets left, people to resupply him when his stocks run low, and loyal officers to fire them. What more does he really need? Under what circumstances is Assad’s fall “only a matter of when and not if,” as the foreign policy comminity seems to have decided?

Ignoring the fact that this ‘lesson’ was forgotten in the case of Libya, he also questions the logic of appealing to the shambles of Iraq in ’03 to justify leaving Assad well alone:

There are actually few analogies to the Iraq experience. Unlike Saddam at the time of the invasion, Assad is engaged in the mass killing of his own people; unlike Operation Iraqi Freedom, there is a chance that the Arab League would support a humanitarian intervention in Syria, and any military operations could be undertaken multilaterally. Getting a UN Security Council resolution would be tough given Chinese and especially Russian opposition, but without being too Rumsfeldian, does every military intervention require a UN writ? It is certainly preferable, but not a requirement.

My guess is that blaming the US in any way here is difficult because, as in the case of Libya, Obama will be very reluctant to lead the way and play up the boisterous hegemonic image of imperialism Bush managed to create in a Presidency of bad PR moves. And that’s no bad thing, is it? I certainly don’t like the idea of the US leading the way in refusing to play by Security Council rules yet again. So the onus, really, is on Europe. The question should be why Cameron and Sarkozy have no appetite, and admittedly there it’s hard to see, both technically and morally, what’s so different about Assad.