A US attack on Syria will Prolong the War

By: Juan Cole
Article published in Amauta with permission from the author
Source: Informed Comment

Publicado el: Domingo, 8 de septiembre del 2013

(Art: Banksy)

(Art: Banksy)

The struggle in Syria began peacefully in spring of 2011, but after about half a year it turned violent when the regime deployed tanks and other heavy munitions against the protesters. Some of the latter took up weapons and turned to violence in revenge. Thereafter the struggle spiraled into a civil war, in which the regime showed itself perfectly willing to attack civilian city quarters and kill indiscriminately. The struggle has killed over 100,000 persons. As the regime became ever more brutal, the rebel fighters were increasingly radicalized. Now, among the more important groups is Jabhat al-Nusra or the Succor Front, a radical al-Qaeda affiliate.

President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria with cruise missiles will do nothing to hasten the end of the conflict. Instead, it will likely prolong it.

It should be remembered that the US couldn’t end the Iraqi civil war despite having over 100,000 boots on the ground in that country. It is highly unlikely that Washington can end this one from 30,000 feet.

The hope for avoiding another decade of killing is that the governmental elite and the rebels get tired of fighting and prove willing to make a deal. It is probably too late for Syria to succeed at the kind of transition achieved in Yemen. There, the president stepped down and his vice president ran for his seat. At the same time, members of the opposition were given seats in the cabinet. That kind of cohabitation with the former enemy is easier if too much blood hasn’t bee shed.

The best solution for Syria would be if President Bashar al-Assad steps down and the Baath Party gave up its dictatorial tactics. At the same time, the rebels would have to forewswear al-Qaeda-type extremism.

Probably each side would have to feel that they could not gain any substantial benefit from further fighting, for negotiations to have prayer of success.

The prospect of a US missile strike is emboldening the rebels. They increasingly hope that the US will come in militarily with them.

The rebels don’t look at the proposed US missile strikes as a limited affair or as solely related to chemical weapons use. Aside from al-Qaeda, they see the US as an ally. Thus, they are complaining that Obama’s indecisiveness is emboldening Syrian President al-Assad. The US is now part of their strategic calculations and they see decisive American action as an asset.

Obviously, such euphoria at the prospect of US military intervention on the rebel side is incompatible with the kind of “pacted” transition political scientists favor. The rebels will have every incentive to hold out for ever more forceful outside Syria intervention in the coming years.

By striking Syria, Obama has all but guaranteed that a negotiated solution becomes impossible for years to come. In the absence of serious negotiations, the civil war will continue and likely get worse. The US should give serious thought to what the likely actual (as opposed to ideal) reaction in Syria will be to the landing of a few cruise missiles. The anti-regime elements will celebrate, convinced that it will all be over quickly if the US gets involved. The last thing they will want will be to negotiate with the regime.



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