This week’s US Congressional session captured well the mood and essence of the debate on the question of military action in Syria. It is unfortunate that many questions remained unaddressed, or lacked full transparency.
First, is it the intent of a military intervention only to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack or is there a veiled plan to (remove President Assad and) bring about regime change?
Second, in any attack on Syrian military installations and chemicals storage facilities, what is the guarantee the environment in the region will not be threatened by inevitable poison gas emissions and thus massive loss of life?
Third, and most important, if intervention aims to protect, albeit belatedly, the Syrian civilian population at risk, will any US military intervention guarantee those risks will indeed disappear, and all will become well with Syria? If anything, it seems to me it will serve only to invite massive retaliation from hitherto unknown quarters; the law of unintended consequences, including war, will have been unleashed.
The Congressional debate unfortunately also did not focus on whether, following a military intervention, how or when the civil war in Syria will end and with what outcome. Or, if the present regime falls, what type of a rebel-led new government will emerge. It is common knowledge the so-called rebel movement comprises of a hugely disparate lot of actors-“true” opponents of the regime, Islamists with disparate ideologies and foreign allegiances, armed thugs, mercenaries, etc.-and each will ruthlessly vie for power in a new government. Any such government will thus be, as recent regional history suggests, at best barely stable and, at worst, hardcore fundamentalist, autocratic, and a clear threat to the entire region. Those countries which thought they could influence outcomes of their choice by aiding the “rebels” indiscriminately with clandestinely-provided heavy arms and ammunition, must then shoulder the burden of living with their reckless choices, as there will then also be a complete lack of control over widespread proliferation of all sorts of weapons of mass destruction.
It is still not too late to avoid war like engagement in Syria by resorting to quiet carrot-and-stick diplomacy, in concert with the Russians, to strike a bargain with President Assad to ensure non-use of chemical weapons and to establish an immediate ceasefire. Dealing with the devil you know is better than dealing with an unknown quantity, which will surely be the case if a new government in Syria takes hold. Taking military action under a US Presidential Executive Authority, simply to make a point on a morality platform as a holier than-thou statement, is neither sensible outreach, nor a very convincing one. It would lack the necessary strong underpinnings of a genuine effort to bring durable peace and stability to an otherwise distraught country and a potentially inflammable region. No matter what the stakes are, the world has no more appetite for yet another war this early in the 21st century.