Klein's Commentary

Go beyond the headlines

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Why Syria Matters

After months of skirting around the diplomatic edges of a year and a half old Syrian crisis the U.S. finally drew a red line.  If chemical weapons enter the conflict the U.S. will act with force. That prompted two of Assad’s last remaining benefactors to step up their rhetoric against greater U.S involvement in a civil war that has killed approximately 18,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more (see PBS for a succinct timeline.)

The AP is reporting that Russia, main military backer and advisor of the Assad regime, received Syrian assurances that stockpiles would not be used and they remained firmly under government control. China, echoing Syria, said the Americans were using the risk to justify intervention.

Why the sudden interest in kinetic involvement (aka bombs and bullets) rather than the continued non-lethal support the U.S. is already providing, including humanitarian assistance and commmunications? Syria, after years of speculation finally stated publicly that it has chem/bio weapons. An attack by “external forces” could trigger their use, according to Syrian government officials via the New York Times.

If the regime is teetering on the edge, as many suspect it may be considering the overwhelming use of conventional force, including fighter jets, helicopter gun ships and tanks, then chem/bio may be its last resort. Defining “external” could be as easy as saying foreign fighters, which are already battling alongside the Syrian Free Army.

Assad has shown a callous disregard for the non-Alewite majority civilian population so far, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s murderous rampages of the past. There is little reason to believe that the Iraqi Kurdish fate of a chemical gas attack might not befall Syrians as well.

At the moment Assad appears to favor a fight to the death having rebuffed the UN and two approaches by the Arab League to step down with safe passage. The BBC reported that during a recent visit to Moscow, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil added an Assad exit to the standard talking points of “options”, but not if Assad had to resign first – a clear non-starter.

Radicalized opposition groups possessing chem/bio weapons pose a definite threat of enhanced terrorism well beyond the region. Both Russia and purportedly China face potential Islamic fundamentalist uprisings within their borders which is perhaps one reason they favor these weapons under Syrian control. Even more importantly long standing economic interests including oil and Cold War era positioning for spheres of non-U.S. dominated influence define Russian and Chinese alliances with Assad.

Syria also has one of the best equipped conventional militaries in the region. With a virtual arms bazaar for the budding terrorist group, landmines and shoulder mounted rockets that can take down aircraft would pose an immediate threat if seized by radical groups. The Monterey Institute’s Deputy Director Leonard S. Spector lays out five categories of weapons and associated concerns in his July Congressional testimony.

Intentionally or otherwise this last hold-out of the Arab Spring has turned into a battleground for influence while a captive Syrian populace pays the ultimate price. Still a U.S. ground invasion remains a remote possibility. There is no stomach for more U.S. casualties after Iraq and Afghanistan and even less so in the run-up to elections this fall.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot at stake for the U.S. if only that were better defined.

Brian • August 23, 2012


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Comments

  1. Wim Roffel August 24, 2012 - 2:22 pm

    “Assad has shown a callous disregard for the non-Alewite majority civilian population so far, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s murderous rampages of the past.”

    Not true. He very probably is still supported by the majority of all religious and ethnic minority groups and has even considerable support among the Sunni’s. He certainly could do better fighting the insurrection. But fighting an insurrection is always difficult. Do you remember Fallujah?

    Those really callous are the foreign supporters of the uprising. They know very well how disastrous an armed uprising is for a country. They know very well that such an uprising often ends up with a country being ruled by extremists, yet they keep obstructing negotiations that could result in a more democratic solution.

  2. Ilyas October 19, 2012 - 2:19 pm

    Anonymous,I fear you’ll have a hard time challenging yitanhng by calling yourself anonymous. If I may encourage you to use your first name so I could keep track of who’s who, that would be most helpful. I have no way of knowing which anonymous commentator you are otherwise.I wonder why you feel the need to psychoanalyze me. I’m quite sure there are many wonderful Arabs. I’ve never suggested that Arabs are all the same. In fact, I have several dear friends who are Arabs, Middle Eastern, Druze, etc. As for Jews being pro-Israel the bulk are, especially in Israel. That’s merely a reality largely ingrained in a quest for human survival. Would you expect an Israeli to want to see the destruction of their nation-state that they built from swamp and dirt?I find it questionable that you’re so offended I’m pointing to the inhumane treatment Jews suffered under Syria’s regime. Should I ignore that to appease anonymous commentators such as yourself? Should I deny my heritage to appease your distaste for Israel?Peace is mirage if you expect the bulk of Israeli Jewry to hide what they went through under Arab nationalist regimes. I haven’t an ounce of European blood. So when anti-Zionists and/or anti-Semities tell me to go back to Europe, I can only conclude that they don’t know the realities of what Mizrahi Jewry faced in their native lands or that they are hateful. I hope it’s the former as ignorance, through education, can be corrected. With best regards,Reut R. Cohen

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