Syrian rebels 370.
(photo credit: Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters)
As President Barack Obama struggles to define America’s position in Syria,
events threaten to overtake his deliberations.
Already Israel has
demonstrated it will not wait for US policy makers to decide what, if any,
action may be forthcoming in light of widely perceived violations of previously
defined “red lines.” Other key states in the region are watching the ongoing
human tragedy play out like a slowmoving train wreck, with the only certainty
being that tomorrow’s news will be worse than today’s.
Obama knows only
too well that there is no domestic appetite for another overseas military
adventure after 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The very idea of
putting American boots on the ground is seen as a nonstarter in the US, despite
the widely held conviction that the US and indeed all countries have a moral
duty to halt the fighting, prevent more death and avoid having Syria’s cache of
chemical and biological weapons, as well as the long-range missiles capable of
delivering them, fall into the hands of jihadists and Hezbollah.
key part of the solution must come from within the Arab world itself, although
led by the US. It is critical for the US to ask, even to expect, that Arab and
Muslim leaders take a stand and commit their troops to a cause which is also of
high concern for most of their citizens.
The standing armies – not
including reserves forces – of only five countries who share a deep concern
about the Syrian crisis (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Egypt) total over
1.3 million, and all of them are substantially supplied by American-made arms
and equipment. A relatively modest deployment of these forces will make a big
difference on the ground. Also, with the exception of Turkey, all these troops
speak Arabic, which is of vital importance for effective deployment in
These counties have a strong incentive to stabilize Syria and
subdue the rising threat posed by Islamic militias.
Also, each knows well
that Syria today more than ever is a proxy state of Iran, and each Sunni country
views as a high strategic objective the need to deny the spread of Iranian
regional influence. A recent visitor to Damascus from Abu Dhabi reported that
“the usual immigration and police at the airport each had standing by them [one
for one] other ‘gentlemen,’ all of these overseers being Iranian.”
Arabia recently sent scores of troops to neighboring Bahrain to subdue the
largely Shi’ite protests when they threatened to destabilize the regime. Surely,
the threat to the region and potential spreading of dangerous weapons already
used in Syria will justify further use of their military, provided they are led
by an American and European coalition.
Arab rulers are all keenly aware
of the despair felt by their citizens at the slaughter of innocent Syrian
civilians and they will be applauded for their willingness to finally act on
behalf of the many currently in harm’s way.
Direct involvement in Syria
by the Sunni regimes would also help solve a central dilemma that confronts the
US. People – in the US and elsewhere – who are urging the US to “arm the rebels”
have to admit that the US must do so very carefully to avoid the possibility
that it will be arming the “wrong” rebels. But, if there is direct, active
involvement in Syria by Sunni regimes, the US could provide substantially
greater support with a much more limited risk that the US arms provided would
end up in the hands of those groups that might further destabilize the
Having Arab boots on the ground is only one part of a complex
formula for saving Syria from the abyss, but it is an important way to bring the
US closer to the urgently needed leadership role it must play.Ghanem M.
Nuseibeh is originally from a prominent Palestinian family of Jerusalem. He is
the founder of Londonbased Cornerstone Global Associates, a strategic consulting
firm. He is currently a Senior Visiting Fellow at King’s College, London. Eli
Epstein is a New Yorkbased businessman with long-standing interests in the