Syrian quicksand: Last thing Democrats want is another misadventure
Syrian refugees look out from a bus as they arrive at a stopover facility for breaking fast near the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, in Hatay province, August 10, 2012. (Umit Bektas/REUTERS)
The protest movement that began about 17 months ago in Syria and steadily evolved into a rebellion, and then into a civil war, is now on the verge of being a war by proxy.
With Iran pledging to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia supplying weaponry, it’s become harder for the U.S. to maintain the appearance of detachment. Covert rather than open support for the rebels is likely from the U.S.
With the U.S. presidential election in November, it is vital for Barack Obama not to get sucked into another war. Prolonged fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan torpedoed the Republicans in 2008, and the last thing Obama and Democrats want is another military adventure in Syria, which would be quicksand.
But Iran formally joining Syria as an ally (for the moment) indicates a couple of things: One, if Assad’s day is done and he becomes expendable, Iran wants to be in a position to select the next head of the regime — presuming the regime survives and Assad doesn’t.
Even more important for Iran is to keep the Sunni Arabs at bay, and advance the interest of the Shia — two factions that have no difficulty killing each other.
Iran needs Syria as a channel to deliver support to its terrorist client, Hezbollah in Lebanon, for further harassment of Israel.
All of which means that more conservative Islamic states like Turkey and Saudi Arabia will join the proxy war and support the rebels — the so-called Free Syrian Army.
How “free” and how much an “army” it is, is debatable.
The issue for America is how to support the Syrian rebels without seeming to support the Syrian rebels. That translates into clandestine support.
There’ll be no U.S.-sponsored air war as there was in Libya, which was shooting fish in a barrel. Syria has the means to fight back.
Once the U.S. election is over, no matter who wins, you can bet the U.S. will take a more pro-active, aggressive approach to Middle Eastern politics. And they’ll get their sticky fingers burned again. They always do. Wait and see.
One never knows, of course, but it would seem that the Syrian crisis reduces the likelihood of Israel risking an air attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Israel’s air force may be needed closer to home if Hezbollah ever launches the huge numbers of missiles it is believed to have acquired from Iran.
That’s an inescapable spectre for Israelis — and neighbouring Arabs.
The way things are going, the Syrian civil war could spread to a war between Shia and Sunni Arabs, and that would involve a bunch of other regimes in the region.
Something like 20,000 people have already been killed in Syria, most of them by Assad’s forces.
As slaughter increases, so prospects for reconciliation or tolerance among Sunni and Shia elements recede.
Syrian generals and senior politicians are starting to defect to the rebel side — not because they oppose the slaughter, but because they want to be on the winning side.
It’s not even clear that Assad is in control — or was. Remember, it was his brother who was killed in a car crash who was the intended successor to their father.
A positive note in this crisis is that former UN secretary-general (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Kofi Annan has given up as mediator of peace in the region.
His efforts really just encouraged Assad to renege on promises and continue killing, while Annan fiddled and fussed.