Another Perspective

Advantage Assad

Or why attacking Syria might not strengthen al Qaeda.

By 9.5.13

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The opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria appears to be threefold.

The first objection is that attacking Syria is not in the national security interests of the United States. 

Why get involved in another country’s civil war?

The second objection is that the efforts of the Obama Administration against Syrian President Bashar Assad are ineffectual. While the Obama Administration is seeking to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons, the punishment would consist of lobbing some cruise missiles into Syria over a period of 48 to 72 hours. After we walk away, Assad remains large and in charge. The only difference is that more Syrian civilians die. Only this time we will be blamed for it. Instead of punishing Assad, the attack has the effect of weakening the United States, rendering us as little more than a paper tiger.

The third objection is that by inserting itself into the Syrian civil war against Assad, U.S. intervention will have the affect of aiding and strengthening al Qaeda, which has organized most of the rebel forces.

Although the first objection is probably the most important of the three, here I will focus on the second and third objections. That’s because the second and third arguments essentially contradict each other. The second argument leaves Assad in his presidential palace while the third argument turns Syria into an al Qaeda stronghold. 

A case in point is Cato Institute Senior Fellow and frequent American Spectator contributor Doug Bandow. On one hand, Bandow argues that the overthrow of Assad could further exacerbate the Syrian Civil War:

Insurgent factions then likely would fight for dominance of either the whole of Syria or breakaway regions. For many rebels revenge against those backing the regime, as well as members of groups noted for their support, such as Alawites and Christians, would become a top priority. Then the U.S. would have to intervene again — or ignore the bloodletting, as it did in Kosovo when ethnic Albanians exacted retribution.

Yet later in his piece, Bandow writes, “the administration has emphasized that it does not intend to actually weaken the Assad regime, making the attack a nearly purposeless gesture.” So which is it? Would our involvement in Syria result in Assad’s overthrow and exacerbate the civil war or would it be a nearly purposeless gesture? How can military intervention simultaneously strengthen both Assad and al Qaeda?

If the Obama Administration’s aims and objectives in Syria are for regime change, then al Qaeda is unquestionably strengthened. There isn’t a popular opposition figure, much less a movement that can be characterized as a government in waiting. Besides they who have the guns make the rules. By now you have probably seen the photo of that anonymous soldier with the sign bearing the message, “I didn’t join the Navy to fight for al Qaeda in a Syrian Civil War.” It is quite possible that man was motivated to enlist following the attacks of September 11, 2001 and no doubt it would be anathema for those who were motivated by the 9/11 attacks to defend our country to partake in a military venture that would aid or strengthen al-Qaeda.

But the Obama Administration has no desire to remove Assad from power. If indeed Obama is planning to go into Syria on a Monday and be out by Thursday, it is hard to see how that would be sufficient to upset the balance of power in Syria in al Qaeda’s favor. Yet a military strike against Syria could be sufficient to rally support to Assad on the Arab Street. Over the weekend, protests in Jordan decried possibly military action “as an aggression on the whole Arab world.” There will be more from where that came.

Even if military action in Syria does not strengthen al Qaeda, the question remains if it wise for this country to enter this conflict. President Obama has simply not effectively made the case for war. He has not explained what this country gains and what Syria gains through this endeavor. I would argue this to be the case because I do not believe he wants this conflict. As I have previously posited, I do not believe Obama will go to war in part because he does not have the support of Arab League, the UN, or Britain.

While it is true the French are willing to support Obama, this support is contingent on congressional authorization. From where I sit, Obama’s decision to go to Congress is a face-saving measure to keep us out of war. Despite the support of Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for military intervention in Syria, I believe the GOP controlled House will not give the mission its blessings. Publicly, Obama will do what he does best -- blame Republicans for his shortcomings. Privately, Obama will breathe a sigh of relief. As for al Qaeda, it won’t be on the run but it won’t be any stronger than it is now. Either way, Bashar Assad will be sitting pretty and America’s enemies will rejoice.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.