The region: The other 99 percent of Syrian casualties

American intervention would not be on the side of easing the lot of Syrian civilians but on the side of an extremely oppressive and unstable future government.

By BARRY RUBIN
September 1, 2013 21:48
3 minute read.
Jabhat al-Nusra figter, Syria

Jabhat al-Nusra figter, Syria370. (photo credit: Reuters)

Forget about the hysteria of an impending US attack on Syria. Forget about the likely self congratulatory backslapping by policy makers and the chanting of “USA!” by citizens. A US air assault on Syria will not change anything.

Clearly, it will not change regional problems, including the US support for an Islamist government in Egypt, the unstable Islamist government in Tunisia, the grim expectations for a “peace process,” the constant betrayal of the US by the Turkish government, and the Iranian nuclear race. But beyond that, it won’t even change the Syrian crisis.

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Would the attack determine the outcome of the Syrian civil war, either in favor of the Iranianbacked government or the Islamists favored by the US? No. Would it by itself increase the prestige and credibility of the US in the Middle East? No.

Let’s consider the three motives for the potential Syrian attack. One, the humanitarian motive. After perhaps 100,000 people in Syria have been killed, this addresses one percent of the casualties (namely those killed by chemical weapons). That might be worthwhile, but leaves unaddressed 99% of the casualties. Besides, is it really true that the Syrian government used chemical weapons? And finally, is it really humanitarian, since the rebel side is likely to be equally ferocious against minorities and people it doesn’t like? The humanitarian motive, while sincere, really doesn’t amount to very much besides informing the Syrian government of the acceptable way to kill people.

Second, what message does America’s potential attack in Syria really send? That American power, which will be limited, is not going to be sufficient to change the course of the war. So the US will not determine who wins and that, after all, is the only thing that everyone is really interested in.

The third motive is to send a message to Iran that it won’t be able to succeed in aggression. But in fact it can be argued that the contemplated US assault sends the opposite message: that in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, “the United States cannot do a damn thing.”

What are the possible outcomes of this mission? The Syrian government will not be overthrown nor saved. These outcomes are both totally outside the scope of this operation. Perhaps it will make the outcome more likely to be a diplomatic one. But again the likelihood that Russia and Iran will agree to have their client deposed is vanishingly low.

One could argue that the attack will lead to a lower estimation of American credibility since not much will have changed afterward – although this is not what the media will say. It is interesting to note that in confronting Saddam Hussein the Clinton administration attacked Iraq at least four times in 1998 alone. But of course Hussein was only overthrown six years later by a controversial decision by another administration.

What would the best beneficial outcomes for the Obama administration be? Mainly, enabling Obama to congratulate himself on his daring use of force and not backing down to anyone. But so what? Aside from the newspaper headlines and the bounces in public opinion polls the effect will be merely psychological and domestic. In friendly capitals it will only demonstrate that he is willing to support the Sunni Islamists and oppose the Shia ones. In enemy capitals there will be continued derision of the limited means at Obama’s disposal.

What would be the best outcome for America? That the war will go on long enough for one side win – and that side will not be the regime. But basically the civil war is going to be fought out.

It might well be said that strategically it would be better that Iran didn’t win, but frankly, a victory by radical Islamist rebels and al-Qaida is hardly a bargain.

Don’t forget that in practice an American intervention would not be on the side of easing the lot of Syrian civilians but on the side of an extremely oppressive and unstable future government.

In other words, it is not that there are no easy answers, but that there are no good answers.

The author is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA).


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