|The Consequences of President Obama’s Challenge to Assad’s Syria|
President Obama sought political cover when he announced Saturday, August 31, 2013, in a televised broadcast from the White House Rose Garden that he was seeking authorization and support from Congress for a limited military assault in Syria to confront the “menace” posed by Chemical Warfare (CW) attacks on Syrian civilians. From polls taken this weekend the US is virtually divided. Thus, whatever Congressional debate over authorization of President Obama’s announced intent to punish the Assad regime will doubtless allow more time for receipt and consideration of the results of the UN inspection team.
Watch this You Tube video of President Obama's announcement on August 31, 2013:
Separately there were conflicting reports about the realities on the ground in Syria. Abigail Esman in an Investigative Project, guest column, “Bombing Into Unintended Consequences in Syria” , drew attention to the likely outcome of the proposed bombing, expansion of the Sunni supremacists.
Note these comments:
True, it is a proud and longstanding facet of the American psyche to intervene in the face of human suffering, to protect the citizens of the world from the abuses of their leaders. But the question Washington needs to consider as well is not just whether we can afford another war with a still-struggling economy and a military exhausted by two others. Nor is it simply whether we should be involving ourselves in a war against a country that has brought no direct threat to the U.S. The bigger question is whether, in Syria, we are ultimately aiding those who seek our destruction. Speaking to reporters for The Hill recently, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich put it in the clearest possible terms: "So what," he asked rhetorically, "we're about to become Al-Qaeda's air force now?"
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has also expressed reservations, based in large part on his own visit to Syria in February. "There were a number of people who came out of Damascus to meet with me," he told me, "and conditions have only gotten worse since then. You have brutal people involved – and what if they got our weapons? How would we control it all?"
The window of opportunity for safe involvement in Syria, he feels, closed about a year ago. "Maybe two years ago we knew who the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was," he noted, "but now we don't. Maybe the CIA does, but I certainly don't." That uncertainty, for Wolf, is just a part of what makes the stakes so high. "It takes just two hours to drive from Jerusalem to Damascus," he said. "Now Jordan is in trouble. There are bombings in Lebanon. Egypt is in crisis. Syria is falling apart. What a war we'd be facing
Contrast this with the myopic piece by Elizabeth O'Bagy: On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War, which appears to follow the Obama Administration line that bombing may help the FSA with Saudi supplied weapons to create enclaves that would protect the various ethnic and religious minorities. This despite the inchoate attempts to establish an internal and exile opposition coalition. O’Bagy who is a senior analyst at The Institute for the Study of War bases her assessment on observations of what is occurring on the ground in Syria. Based on her investigations in the field in Syria she concludes:
Where does this leave the U.S. as the White House contemplates a possible strike? The Obama administration has emphasized that regime change is not its goal. But a punitive measure undertaken just to send a message would likely produce more harm than good. If the Syrian government is not significantly degraded, a U.S. strike could very well bolster Assad's position and highlight American weakness, paving the way for continued atrocities.
Instead, any U.S. action should be part of a larger, comprehensive strategy coordinated with our allies that has the ultimate goal of destroying Assad's military capability while simultaneously empowering the moderate opposition with robust support, including providing them with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon systems. This should be combined with diplomatic and political efforts to first create an international coalition to put pressure on Assad and his supporters, and then working to encourage an intra-Syrian dialogue. Having such a strategy in place would help alleviate the concerns of key allies, like Britain, and ensure greater international support for U.S. action.
The U.S. must make a choice. It can address the problem now, while there is still a large moderate force with some shared U.S. interests, or wait until the conflict has engulfed the entire region. Iran and its proxies will be strengthened, as will al Qaeda and affiliated extremists. Neither of these outcomes serves U.S. strategic interests.
However, there are overarching consequences of the proposed bombing campaign by the US in Syria. One is unleashing a more dire threat alluded to in President Obama alluded to in his White House Rose Garden announcement, Assad’s using Biological Warfare (BW). Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst, an expert on Syria’s BW noted in an opinion article for Israel Hayom , the immediate threat to America’s only reliable ally in the conflict zone, “Israel: Are Biological Weapons Next on Assad’s Agenda?”:
Assad's use of chemical weapons should serve as a wake-up call on his ability to use highly portable and devastating biological warfare agents. National security echelons in Washington should view this as an important message.
Given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks this past weekend, Israel knows that use of both chemical and biological weapons by the Assad regime represents a clear and present danger. If Assad is capable of using chemical weapons near Damascus, he is equally as capable of launching biological weapons, which pose a global pandemic threat. After increasing evidence of a mass-casualty chemical weapons attack in Syria, the international community no longer has the luxury of standing by and seeing what is next on Assad's weapons-of-mass-destruction agenda.
An area that perhaps, Ms. O'Bagy didn’t visit was the Kurdish heartland in Syria’s northeast that is teetering on the break of a major humanitarian disaster because of al-Qaeda threats and conflicting divisions among the Syrian Kurdish leadership. Kurds have fled in the hundreds of thousands to the adjacent Kurdish Region in Iraq. Robert Sklaroff and Sherkoh Abbas (see our interview with Abbas in the June 2012 NER Will There Be Room for Kurds and Other Minorities in a Post-Assad Syria ) noted this in an article published this weekend in the blog Israpundit, “The Kurds Can Lead a Reborn Syria, At Peace with ALL of Her Neighbors”.
American ships are rushing to the Levant, presumably preparing to launch a bombing-campaign in reaction to the mass-gassing that Assad again directed at his citizenry. Although pundits could analyze the reasons for—and consequences of—the delay of this effort, it is only necessary to “get into the weeds” far enough to identify how a “coalition of the willing” can quickly be assembled to stop the slaughter…and to build a stable, peaceful Syrian society. The Kurds have been issuing humanitarian appeals to the international community to save the Syrian Kurds, but it seems their plight is finally being “heard”…or maybe not!
Minority ethnic and religious groups hope to create a secular democratic federal republic led by secular Sunni Kurds, Arabs, Alawi moderates, Christians, Druze, and Turkmen. Kurds played a substantial role as Syria gained independence from France. Inasmuch as they are the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Kurds can play a very positive, democratic role in forging its future.
Those who claim that there is only one choice in this matter (arming Assad or the “Rebels”) must be helped to view the conflict within a larger context. Opposition is not homogeneous. Urgently acting upon humanitarian concerns could dovetail with the need to help long-term friends of the United States who can be depended upon to help others build a modern Syria. The Syrian Kurds could be the leading contingent in a post-Assad Syria and deserve our help.
Ms. O'Bagy's comments belie the tragedy unfolding in Syria's Northeast-the heartland of the country's Kurds. Division among Kurdish factions and the presence of Al Qaida fighting units have driven hundreds of thousands into the sanctuary of adjacent Iraqi Kurdish Region. There is a looming humanitarian crisis that Kurds will likely face this winter, as the civil war has deprived them of cultivation of the bread basket of Syria in their northeastern enclave. Moreover, that is also where Syria's oil reserves are located.
There is vastly more catastrophic Biological Warfare (BW) threat and the ease by which the Assad could transfer pathogens to terrorist proxy Hezbollah. Think of Iranian supplied drones already in the possession of Hezbollah making a swarming attack on Israel with releases of pandemic pathogens.
O'Bagy praises the FSA fighting contingents and the help from the Saudis using Croatian supplied 1990's gear in Syria's south. However, without a Syrian government in Exile composed of moderate Sunnis, Alawites, Druze and Kurds backed by the US, UK, France and others there is no future for Syria.
Where is the future for Syria? Perhaps one should revert to the past under the French Mandate when Syria had a weak central government with ethnic semi-autonomous provinces.
But the aftermath of a possible strike on Syria's meager air assets and command and control echelons may achieve nothing more than havoc for the beleaguered population. A rush of weapons and supplies to Assad's forces from Iran and Russia along with more IRGC Qods force and proxy Hezbollah contingents could occur.
Syria's civil war looks eerily familiar. Think of the actors in the Spanish civil war and the outcome. George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia portrayed the betrayal of the Republican government by Stalinist Communists that faced National forces supplied by Mussolini and Hitler's Condor Legion.
The Syrian geo-politics are dissimilar from those operating in 1930’s Spain. Unlike the West’s position in the Spanish Civil War with weapons embargoes against the Republican side, the US, Qataris and Saudis have been beavering away supplying weapons for questionable opposition forces. The most effective of those opposition forces are seeking to overcome Assad’s military in the coming battle for control of Damascus and its suburbs. Bombing and filtering of arms to the opposition will only embolden these Jihadis seeking to establish a Sharia governed Syrian Sunni Emirate. That would threaten any freedom for Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities, especially the Alawites, Syriacs Orthodox Christians, Druze and Kurds.
Sic Gloria Transit, Syria Mundi.
Tags: President Obama, military option, Syria, White House Rose Garden announcement, Abigail Esman, Investigative Project, Former US Rep. Dennis Kucinich, The Hill, US Rep Fran Wold (R-VA), Free Syrian Army, Elizabeth O'Bagy, Syria bombing, The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst, Syrian Biological Warfare threat, Israel, Robert Sklaroff, Sherko Abbas, Israpundit, Kurds, Syrian ethnic and religious minorities, Syriac Christians, Druze, Alawites, Saudi arms, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Spanish Civil War, George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia