For me, any Western military involvement in Syria,
invariably led by the USA, would have to satisfy two tests. First, would military
intervention make matters better in Syria and in the region? Second,
during these crippling economic times, is it in the United States' national
interest to lead an assault on Syria?
What happens in Syria does not stay in Syria. The country's people
and religious denominations are deeply interwoven with those of Turkey, Iraq,
Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Just as Lebanon became a proxy
battleground for Israel and Syria between 1982 and 1990, and gave birth to
Hezbollah to eject Israel from Lebanon, U.S. military intervention in Syria
would likely see traditional state actors backing rival groups (Sunnis and
Muslim Brotherhood by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for example, Shia and Alawites
by Iran, Druze and Christians by France, a former colonial master, or even
indirectly Israel). Worse, there is a real possibility of the emergence of an
al-Qaeda-inspired organization inside Syria to fight "Western imperialism,"
much like al-Qaeda or the "Sunni insurgency" in Iraq. Syria has already been a home
to jihadists, passing through to Iraq. Saudi Arabia's Wahhabist clerics -- who
have been linked at least in ideology to extremist fighters -- have repeatedly
prayed at Friday sermons for Syria's regime to end. As in Iraq or Pakistan,
al-Qaeda's foot soldiers rarely discriminate between U.S. soldiers and Shia
Muslims or other religious minorities. After the terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas,
and al-Qaeda, do we want to help fuel the grievances and grudges of Muslim
radicals and help produce another terror franchise in the region?
Pursuing military options in Syria are an act of war. Assad
has not been shy in using force against his own people; he, or his ally Iran,
will not be timid in sending rockets into Israel to retaliate against military
hostilities from the West. Syria's mufti,
the de facto arbiter of religious power in Syria, has openly declared his willingness
to dispatch suicide bombers into Western cities. Assad has spoken of setting
the region on fire. Just as we take Ahmedinajad's threats seriously, so we must
recognize the weight behind the words of Syria's tyrants. What is currently at
best a civil war inside Syria, with Western intervention risks spreading to
neighboring countries. Where there is overspill, there will be mission creep.
Intervention would become occupation.
An attack on Syria would have a destabilizing effect on a
politically unstable Lebanon, force Iran to consolidate its power openly in
Baghdad, and give Iraqi Sunnis the potential of Sunni support from Syria to
rise against Baghdad. Moreover, Saudi and Turkish influences in Syria would be
strengthened through the Muslim Brotherhood and help create greater uncertainty
on Israel's borders. At best, we are being asked to support anti-American
protestors who are as disagreeable toward U.S. policy in Israel, as is Assad.
The idea that a new regime in Damascus would be any friendlier toward Israel or
the U.S., or any more hostile toward Iran, is folly. These popular sentiments
in the region forced Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to refuse to join Obama's
call for Assad to resign. Standing in the White House, he said "We know our
neighbors and we respond with wisdom."