Syria’s long time strongman Bashar Al Assad is almost finished, according to the ‘experts’. Assuming these experts are correct the question is ‘what happens next in Syria’? Frankly, the answer to that question is looking scary. Until the past few weeks, I have refrained from criticizing the Obama administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict, as no one else had offered a good solution to an extremely complex problem. I have been very critical of the Administration (and GOP) on other issues such as the handling of Egypt and Afghanistan war. However, now the end game supposedly in site, I think Barack Obama and European leaders are still sending very wrong signals to the Syrian people. The outcome in Syria is starting to look extremely similar to what happened after the Iraq war, which Obama was courageous enough to oppose.
The Iraq war was opposed by many for various reasons. I will discuss the two which I think are the most important. The most important reason the war was a mistake is that America should never go to war unless there is a direct threat to the country’s safety. No one should be willing to send in troops to die for a war they would not be willing to fight themselves; I think this is quite logical. We will ignore that point, and focus on the second reason.
Iraq was a classic apartheid state. Saddam Hussein came from the 15% of the population which is Sunni and controlled the other 85% with brute force. 65% of the country is Shia and 25% is Kurdish. Saddam Hussein was an incredibly evil man, and I shed no tears over his death. However, after Saddam was removed the country was in a total power vacuum. Additionally, what made this problem far worse was the decision by the Bush Administration to exclude the Sunnis from any political participation in the future of Iraq, as many were former loyalists. This decision led to both Iran being empowered through its Shia proxies and a civil war between the Sunnis and Shias. The surge, which involved the participation of Sunni tribal leaders helped defuse the situation, but tensions are rifle between the different ethnic groups. This would happen whether or not, Bush had made his original decision to exclude the Sunnis, but the civil war between Sunnis and Shias was largely a result of this policy.
Syria is a near carbon copy of Iraq in reverse. Bashar Al-Assad comes from an ethnic group, the Alawites an offshoot of Shiism, which make up 12% of the country. Assad and his father ruled the country with an iron fist. The rest of Syria is approximately 60% Sunni and 25% other groups, including Kurds, Druze, Ismaelites etc. Barack Obama and European officials have repeatedly stated that Assad must go. Today again, this was repeated, as acting state department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, said ’[t]his regime has no future in Syria.”
However, one only has to use a little bit of imagination to see the similarities between Iraq and Syria almost in reverse. There was a US military presence in Iraq, which is the major difference, but if anything before the Surge US troops did not help and possibly made things worse.
The protests in Syria started out as largely peaceful, but the opposition has become more radicalised and many foreign fighters with links to Al Qaeda have entered the country. There are many different radical groups in Syria currently supported by various Sunni countries, such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Assad regime is supported by its top ally in the region, the Shia nation of Iran.
Before chemical weapon usage became the top story in the media in the past few weeks, we noted the following in July of this year:
Assad’s intentions can be gauged from his remarks to Malcolm Homeline, an influential Jewish political leader, when they met in early 2011. According to Homeline, Assad said he intended to fight to the death, knowing full well that the Sunni response to 40 years of persecution would be extremely vengeful. Given these desperate intentions it is not beyond the realms of possibility that when push comes to shove, Assad would not hesitate to plunge the region into a biological or chemical tragedy by using weapons of mass destruction.
The main reason Assad keeps fighting is due to his concern that his fellow Alawites will be massacred. In fact, Assad’s troops have killed tens of thousands of civilians but Alawites have been brutalized and killed by many Sunni radical terrorist groups. Of course, like any dictator Assad wants power for selfish reasons, but if he knows all his family and himself will be subject to torture and death, he has no reason NOT to use chemical weapons.
Russia has become more pragmatic about this issue. “We are not concerned about the fate of al-Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there and that the family has held power for 40 years. Undoubtedly, there is a call for changes,” Vladimir Putin told a news conference recently.
“We are worried about a different thing – what next? We simply don’t want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities … and [we don’t want] this to go on forever,” Putin went on to state.
Although, in an ideal world, Assad should be tried for war crimes, this is not an option unless someone wants the death toll to reach into the hundreds of thousands. Barack Obama ran as a pragmatist on foreign policy. Sadly, Obama and other European leaders are taking a rigid idealist approach, and hinting that the Alawites will be excluded from the future of the country.
How can America ensure that the Alawites will not be excluded from the future of the country, or massacred? First, America should ensure that Assad and his family have free passage if he wishes to end the fighting. Second, America holds a major chip, which is even more important than any military presence in the country, and could ensure Syria a more promising future than Iraq has experienced. We show a map of Syria’s ethnic composition below to demonstrate the point Part II of the article: