The U.S. has proven a few things over the past ten years, the most significant of them being that the law of unintended consequences and Murphy’s Law go hand in hand in the Middle East. The politics of the area give the term ‘Byzantine’ a whole new meaning. Shifting alliances, points of temporary cooperation, buy offs and the use of surrogates.
In Syria, as was the case in Iraq, the government is controlled by a minority ‘tribe’, the Alawites. They have held on to power based in large measure on unrepentant violence, alliances of convenience and control of the military. They are bad guys! The rebels, as well, are replete with bad guys with a growing percentage of the rebels affiliated with al Qaeda. We face the choice of bad guys; this is a critical, reoccurring theme in our Middle Eastern relationships and it nearly never turns out well in the end. Choosing amongst bad guys is a demonstration that our foreign policy over many years has abandoned a moral center in favor of oil and the fantasy of geo-political influence in the Middle East.
Our engagement in the second Gulf War on behalf of Saudi Arabia resulted in a major Saudi backlash against American presence on Saudi soil, despite the protections offered against Iraqi incursions. This presence was used by bin Laden to grow his movement, who saw that coming? The liberation of Kuwait has produced no significant influence with that regime. Financial support for Hamas has yielded no results favorable to U.S. interests.
Our engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demanded we involve ourselves in sectarian civil wars.
The fight in Syria is being led, in large measure, by Muslim Brotherhood surrogates, as was the Hama uprising. That uprising against Assad’s father in 1982 resulted in a death toll estimated between 10,000 and 40,000 Syrians. This action essentially eliminated Brotherhood political influence in Syria for decades.
Action against Syria now, so far down the road from the point in time where engagement may have taken the edge off the civil war will accomplish a number of things.
It will give new life to the Arab perception that American intentions are to dominate the region militarily. An attack on Syria will provide new justifications for Russia, Iran and Hiz’bAllah to push back even harder. It will provide Turkey with the opportunity to become more involved in Syria and provide support for Turkey to continue their move toward regional hegemony. We must leave go of the idea that Turkey is an ally; that is simply not the case anymore.
An attack against Syria can do little more than serve as long delayed punishment. An attack on actual WMD storage and production sites carries the near guarantee of significant collateral damage to civilian populations. Airfields can be attacked; they can also be repaired in fairly short order. Russia can and will provide more planes in the event the Syrian air force is the focus of the attack. The regime will likely not be decapitated as we’ve signaled both the intent but the timing of a potential attack. Head for the bunker Bashar! The bombs are coming within 48 hours.
Ultimately, an attack on Syria is yet another choice of bad guys. The very idea that Rebel bad guys would not use chemical weapons is chimera; al Qaeda has for over a decade attempted to procure or produce WMD. Anyone in the know knows that al Qaeda would most certainly use them in the event they come into possession of WMD; they already have the Fatwa’s to justify such use. An attack on Assad increases the likelihood of that possibility. It is also in our recent history that the people and countries most vocal in the call for U.S. involvement will also be the first to step up with condemnation. They will condemn the scope, or the tactics or collateral damage.
France has stepped up to condemn Syria and demand action. The French military has capabilities; use them if you are so very horrified. France has a long history with Syria as Syria was a French protectorate after WWII.
It is ultimately unclear what U.S. interests are served by an attack on Syria other than an essentially weak President stepping up to a red line he had no need to establish publically in the first place. Calling for red lines is easy; acting in support of them is not, especially when your commitment is in question.
What is clear, is that Assad had to do one thing and one thing only to eliminate the potential of a U.S. attack on Syria; not use chemical weapons. And yet, supposedly, he did so. Why? Did the Russians insist on yet another ‘test’ of President Obama’s strength, or in the absence of it, proof of his impotency as a message to all? Will Russian air defenses anchored in the Syrian port of Tartus be brought to bear in support of Assad? Will Turkey use the action to incur Syrian territory as they did in Iraq? Will sophisticated Russian ground to air missile defenses be mobilized? What consequences will that accrue? Will Iran unleash Hiz’bAllah to engage in terrorism and kidnapping against Americans and American interests in the region?
We know from our own recent history that air attacks will not bring down a regime. We know that Russia will take every opportunity to poke the U.S. in the eye in what they see as a zero sum power game. We know that Hiz’bAllah maintains global capabilities. We know Turkey grows ever more Islamist. We know that sectarian influences within Islam are strong, growing stronger and that sectarian tensions in the region have been in place for over a thousand years. We know that there is a plethora of regional players involved, some overtly some not.
In light of all of that, what do we gain? What is accomplished? What American interests are addressed?
I wonder what the Nobel Peace Prize committee thinks now?