It is with deep regret that I am currently witnessing the ongoing policy debate with regard to Syria and the use of force by the United States as an answer to a recent chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people. There are a number of points that have not been elucidated by the president, congressional leadership, or the press that are important to consider.
First, and most importantly, the origin of the chemical attack has not been definitively made clear. In all regards, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chemical weapons. Mr. Assad is shrewd, brutal, and vicious, but he isn’t stupid. Remove the recent chemical attack and potential U.S. intervention from the scenario, and the war was all but won by the Syrian army. The rebels know all too well that the only event that could save their foundering effort is the introduction of chemical weaponry, especially if deployed–as it indeed was–against civilians. The Syrian rebels have everything to gain and nothing to lose by an attack of this nature. This analysis leads to the question, “Who was responsible for the attack?”
While our own government and intelligence sources seem convinced that it actually was the Syrian army who was responsible, is it not at least possible that the attack was perpetrated by rebel sympathizers having infiltrated a Syrian army chemical weapons unit? Is it impossible that the rebels themselves perpetrated the attack? The Syrian army has stockpiles of VX nerve gas obtained from Russia. If sarin was used, then this attack almost certainly did not come from the Syrian government. As some readers might remember, sarin is relatively inexpensive and easy to fabricate and deploy, leading to its use in 1995 in the Tokyo, Japan subway attack. Before deploying forces to the region, the nature, character and origin of the Syrian attack should have been determined absolutely and without doubt. Even if VX was used, it is still possible that the attack was perpetrated by rebel infiltrators or sympathizers within the Syrian army. Events of this nature have taken place in the past in the Arab world, such as when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian army on 6 October, 1981 at a parade and troop review during a military commemoration. This attack by Egyptian army personnel occurred in response to Sadat’s recently-signed peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
President Obama placed himself in an untenable position and, in my opinion, hastened or at least made more likely the use of chemical weapons by opposition forces when he declared such an attack to be the red line that must not be crossed. Given the indisputable fact that the rebel forces were, up until the introduction of chemical weapons, essentially defeated, it seems difficult to rationalize the use of these weapons by the Syrian government while making eminent sense that they be used by rebels.
Finally, and of no little importance, Assad retains the support of several large blocs of people in Syria. The rebels do not necessarily represent the majority of Syrians, and their lack of popular support has, at least up until now, led to their defeat at the hands of the Syrian army. The increasingly radicalized Sunnis who make up the majority of the opposition have no greater love for the United States then the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
This leads to the inevitable conclusion that there are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ relative to the United States and our current directionless foreign policy. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had the unfortunate lack of insight to characterize the conflict in those terms just this evening, which only serves to further confound the issue for many Americans. It seems necessary to inform Senator Graham, Senator McCain, and President Obama that picking sides in a distant conflict devoid of security concerns for the United States makes for bad policy. Recent lessons that should have been learned in Egypt and Libya apparently were not.
CASE AGAINST THE USE OF FORCE IN SYRIA (written 10/2013, published in the Marietta Times)