TO SYRIA OR NOT TO SYRIA ? OUR VIEW
The President is mulling things. He says he has made no decision yet on Syria. We fully understand his predicament.
It arises because the government of Bashir Assad in Syria has crossed the “red line.” They used chemical weapons to kill almost 400 Syrian civilians — women and children too. The results have been posted online, gone viral.
So what do we do about it ? Do we do anything about it ?
Ask around, and you get just about every opinion possible. Our view is that no option we may choose is a good one. We are screwed if we do nothing. We are stuck if we send troops into the battle. We look like jelly if we hit Assad with an airstrike or two. Even if we inflict a continuous air war upon him but send no troops — the option most likely — we may succeed only in adding to Syria’s misery. Can a prolonged air war by itself oust Assad and his men ? It didn’t work in World War II, in Viet Nam, or in the first iraq War. Boots on the ground were needed to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Air attack succeeded in Kosovo in the 1990s, but that was a much lower-intensity conflict and one in which distinct foes faced off. In Syria, there are at least four separate forces, maybe more, all interlocking, almost impossible to separate out. Let us look :
1.Syria’s Sunni muslim majority — is itself divided into three parts :
( a ) secular and moderately obervant, Arab Sunnis are the basic core of those who have opposed Assad from the first, two yreasrs ago when the war began.
( b ) Kurds living in the Northeast of Syria don’t really oppose Assad, but they do want to join their abutting Kurdish fellows in Turkey and Iraq in an autonomous Kurdistan
( c ) zealous Al Qaida-affiliated Sunnis joined the fight against Assad about a year ago and provide the rebels some their fiercest fighters.
2.Syria’s Christians : the oldest Christian congregation in the world, reaching back almost to Jesus’s time, total about 15 % of Syria’s population. They have been protected by Assad and his regime and do not want to oppose him, because the Arabic Sunni rebels already have it in for the Christians, whose neutrality in the civil war they see as giving Assad some legitimacy.
3.Syria’s Alawites : less than 10 % of the nation, the Alawites — an odd mixture, partly Islam and partly Syrian Christianity — are Assad’s tribe and the bulwark of his support. Unlike Syria’s other tribes, the Alawites live almost all in the coastal region — tobacco-producing mountain towns and seaside resorts. It has been guessed that Assad’s plan of last resort is to retreat into this beautiful, once highly touristed region and set up a separate state there.
6.Hezbollah-backed Shi’ites : Syria has few Shi’ites, but Lebanon has a lot, and they have aligned with the Assad regime and recently joined its fight.
For the United states, protection of Syria’s Christians of course ranks a top priority. But how to do this, without also aiding Assad ?
For our nation, removing Assad the torturer — in 27 “torture centers,” no less — and killer of at least 100,000 Syrians is a moral imperative. But how to do it without endangering Syria’s Christians ?
For America, punishing a warrior who uses chemical weapons on his own nation is something we have promised to do — this time. But why now, when during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s we aided Saddam Hussein against the mullahs who had kidnapped our diplomats even though he was using chemo weapons ? Explanation doesn’t come easy.
Once into the Syria war, how to we resist calls to get into it even deeper ? every minute a humanitarian tragedy occurs there. Which humanitarian horrors do we punish, and which do we duck ?
These are the questions that we think matter. Among those that do notl in our view, bear on our ddcision are those involving our going into battle on the same side as Al Qaida. we can fight Al Qaida just fine elsewhere and another day. If they and we happen to concur in wanting Assad gone, why is that a problem ? It is said, though, that if we go into Syria on the rebel side, some Al Qaida militias will acquire American weapons. Maybe so; but those weapons eventually become obsolete.
None of the above gives any answer at all to the unhappy options the President is now dealing with. We hope he does not decide to go all-in. We won'[t be thrilled if he opts for a few air strikes. We will not look very tough if he decides to do nothing. As for increasing our arms ales to the revels, that aggravates the Al Qaida acquisition issue, helps fuel battles already occurring among the various rebel factions, and doesn’t do much to punish Assad.
The only option that makes any sense is a protracted air campiagn — and no boots on the ground. It probably won’t work. But it might. It’s more worth trying than any of the other options we’ve heard.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere