The Syrian Gamble
Why the United States should plan its actions in Syria carefully
Should the United States militarily intervene in Syria? As the Obama administration “confirmed” that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime against rebel forces, American or NATO intervention (like the one we saw two years ago in Libya) in Syria is heating up. We should way the pros and cons of this conflict to understand the implications of such an action.
To begin this discussion, we have to understand what exactly is happening now in Syria. It is a mess. The Assad regime is bitterly clinging to power using deadly force and reports now indicate Assad is planning a massive offensive against the rebels. Some 93,000 people are now estimated to have been killed in this ongoing civil war. Though, rebel forces do not seem very impressive or assuring.
The mainstay of rebel forces has been seen as the FSA (Free Syrian Army) which is a fairly secular group, though does not necessarily have wide popular support in many parts of Syria. What has been happening is Islamist forces have slowly started to become dominant factions on the rebel side, the Al-Nusra front is seen as the predominant Islamist faction.
Groups like Al-Nusra are increasingly pushing itself into many parts of Syria, reports have come in that state they have started executing people for “blasphemy.” The FSA is largely under funded and under equipped in comparison to the Islamist factions, as the radicals find funding and weapons from other groups tied to their cause.
As the opposition has become divided in principles, Assad has been able to hold on and keep up the pressure against these groups. Hezbollah (also an Islamist organization) has sent fighters in support of Assad. I would say it is interesting to note that we have Hezbollah siding against groups like Al-Nusra, Islamist vs. Islamist in a way.
What exactly would the outcome of such a US or NATO intervention be? Some believe we can repeat what occurred in Libya with Syria. Yet, in Libya the NATO coalition had already been propping up the Libya rebels against Gadhafi. From the beginning the US and NATO ensured to fully fund and support the moderates of Libya’s rebels, as intervention was already a broad consensus.
In Syria, unlike in Libya, we have allowed the conflict to drag on too long. The West has largely stayed out of the conflict in major ways, aside from condemning Assad from the bully pulpits. The opposition has become so divided now, it would be hard to say who we would be supporting if we started bombing Syria. The desired option would be the FSA taking over, yet what if Al-Nusra does? We carefully planned out Libya and got a bit lucky, but Syria has been anything but carefully planned.
Plus, we have some factors in Syria that were not at play in Libya. Russia and China have pledged full support to Assad, the Russians becoming the main protector and defender of Assad. The Russians have just sold the Syrian regime advanced anti-air missile systems, and other military equipment.
It is possible that a NATO intervention could spark a regional backlash. Russia might not send troops, but say it decides to ramp up its support of Assad, perhaps even arming its proxies in the process. Say Iran decides to get more involved, what happens if Israel all of a sudden gets sucked in? These are important questions to think about.
No one wants to see that bastard Assad be brought to justice for his merciless killings of his own people and devastation of his country that he claims to love so dearly more than me. But we have to be careful in Syria. We need to ensure that if we are using force, the desired outcome would have to stem from that force. I am not sure that can happen yet. If we do get rid of Assad, no one has any idea at this point who could replace him.
If the United States and NATO did intervene in Syria, we would see the end to Assad’s regime. Perhaps if the West funds the more moderate forces in Syria, giving them a fighting chance against the radicals, perhaps we would be on a better footing to have a Libya like intervention. If we waste money and resources only to have a dictatorship be replaced by another dictatorship, then honestly what is the point?
We have to be smart about what is going on in Syria. The United States cannot be brash, nor assume any outcome. If it comes down to military force in Syria, we can’t afford to waste time only to create an outcome we don’t necessarily desire. Not every scenario can be repeated. Perhaps the best bet would be to fund the anti-Assad factions who are not radicals and give them a better chance of securing a future Syria without Assad.