I can understand some of the argument being made for involvement in events in Syria. I spoke of the moral argument concerning the gassing of children by a government and my visceral response on Rosh Hashanah morning. While I believe that we should respond in some way, if we were going to do so, we should have done what “limited response” we had planned days, if not weeks ago. We should be debating the effectiveness of the response we already offered, if a limited military strike conducted against Syria was the plan. If other action then we should have put it into motion already. But we have instead taken the matter to a committee of committees.
I could have better understood limited military strikes occurring in the near aftermath of our confirmation of the Assad’s regime’s use of Sarin gas to kill hundreds of people without going to Congress. Assuming that the President wanted to adhere to the War Powers Act, he is not obligated to go to Congress prior to taking action, only within 60 days after taking action. The purpose of that time period is to allow for essential military action in defense of our national security and that of our allies. That the Obama Administration both cited a “serious danger to our national security” and asserted that a “limited response” was in order should have resulted in swift action taken long ago at this point.
What action might have made sense then and what might make sense now?
The two sides in Syria are both dominated by enemies of the United States and its allies. The opposition to the Assad regime is comprised primarily of Muslim Brotherhood allied fighters who seem to be both heavily influenced and led by Al Qaeda affiliated ones. The bulk of the fighting force is an anti-American one. The regime itself is certainly no friend of America or our allies either. It is an Iranian and Russian backed regime that aids Hizballah.
Christians in Syria are strong supporters of the Assad regime. That is not because they love their dictator. It is because the enemy is worse. This is a battle being fought well beyond the borders of Syria. Christians and the Muslim Brotherhood clash in other places as well. In Egypt, we’ve seen pogrom after pogrom against Christian communities at the hands of Muslim Brotherhood fighters and mobs. Secular Muslims strongly oppose the Muslim Brotherhood as well. We are allied with opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood in every other conflict.
The Muslim Brotherhood affiliated government of Sudan has conducted multiple genocides during which it has massacred Christians and Muslims both. In Egypt, because of US support, a Muslim Brotherhood government came to power which recently the people of Egypt with the help of its military overthrew. Among the Palestinians, Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization which governs Gaza, is the enemy of Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority.
But it is also true that Iran is an enemy as well and the Arab League as whole because of that supports weakening the Assad regime as a way to weaken Iran.
We are looking at a Shia vs. Sunni, Nationalist vs. Islamist, conflict that isn’t about democracy at all.
What action makes sense to take all this considered?
There are four answers which are not equally beneficial.
1. The US could launch strikes aimed at targets related to Assad’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The delay of going to Congress and seeking allies has certainly allowed the regime to move, hide, and shield targets in some cases with human shields. Beyond a doubt at this point, the US should both have had an immediate action plan in place and allies already on board for it prior to any use of chemical weapons by Syria if we wished to respond to their use when it occurred, especially knowing that the regime’s chemical weapons program has been of concern for many years. Meanwhile, should we strike command and control targets in response now, we would potentially be weakening the regime while empowering the rebels or simply creating an anarchic situation involving the presence of weapons of mass destruction. That is extremely dangerous.
2. The US could do nothing at all. No response would have very damaging impacts in multiple different ways.
- The credibility of the Office of President of the United States would suffer serious damage and the ability of the United States to influence events worldwide would be reduced.
- Our allies would not trust us. Our enemies would not fear us.
- This is a recipe for catastrophe in volatile region for it would surely, among other things, embolden Iran to advance toward nuclear weapons making it both more likely that they would acquire them and more likely that military action would be necessary to prevent that from occurring.
- Doing nothing would also embolden regimes to acquire and utilize chemical weapons. Chemical weapons are weapons of convenience for oppressive governments to use to simply eliminate problematic populations. If their use does not result in significant opposition, they will come to be used in conflict after conflict.
3. We could strike targets that we do not want in the possession of either the Assad regime or the rebels should they obtain control of them. There are nuclear facilities in Syria. Israel launched an attack against the Al Kibar facility in 2007, but there are others. Should we who are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program or the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda getting their hands on chemical weapons be concerned about Syrian nuclear facilities? I certainly do not know the list of possible targets, but it seems that only this kind of target would make sense to strike at this point.
4. A fourth option would be to encourage Russia to act regarding Syria and to get the regime to give up the use of chemical weapons. There are numerous reasons why this may be in regime’s interests as well. Should the rebels get control over such weapons, they could be used with devastating effect on the allies of the regime itself, especially once populations have separated into different areas. While this would not be a “punishment” for past action, it would appear to be the best action for the US to pursue, potentially providing an “out” for the President while keeping the US out of Russia’s Syrian Tinderbox. The Russians, evidently believing that the US threat of military action is credible, today proposed exactly this option.
In conclusion, there is a very good strategic reason for America to be concerned with, if not attempt to influence, the conflict in Syria. It is a conflict between the two greatest threats in the region and two of the greatest threats to our national security and that of our allies worldwide – Iran on the one hand and Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda influence Jihadis on the other. Regardless of what happens this week regarding the President’s request of Congress or Russia’s efforts to intercede with the regime concerning chemical weapons, we should not avert our gaze nor handicap ourselves to act if and when necessary in relation to Syria or to those broader groups participating in the conflict there wherever they may be. That, for certain, is in the interests of our national security.