Sunni Muslim states must send troops to Syria

As President Barack Obama struggles to define America’s position in Syria, events threaten to overtake his deliberations.

By GHANEM M. NUSEIBEH, ELI EPSTEIN
May 15, 2013 22:28
3 minute read.
Syrian rebels take up positions during clashes with forces loyal to President Assad near Aleppo.

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.

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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.

BUT A 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 Syria.

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.”

Saudi 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 region.

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 Middle East.


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