70,000 casualties and counting, that is the price for a Syrian conflict that is entering its third year. Why is the US reluctant to provide direct military support to rebels in order to end Assad’s rule? Is Russia the major obstacle or are the decision-makers of US foreign policy still unsure of how to go about things with the emergence of Muslim extremism as the alternative?
As a Lebanese national and resident, I have experienced the effects of the Assad regime for the biggest part of my life. The same regime that has openly negotiated deals with US diplomats for more than 30 years, most notably seeking Syrian support against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war in 1990 at the expense of the western allies in Lebanon. The toppling of the regime in Syria means the US would no longer have to negotiate every significant intervention they plan in the Levant region with Assad. So why hasn’t the US been more decisive in Syria, the way it was in Libya?
The fact is, that the most effective rebel factions fighting Assad in Syria are extreme Muslim Sunnis, most notably the “Nusra Front”, a rebel organization designated last year by the US as a terrorist organization. These groups are mostly composed of non-Syrian Sunnis who traveled to fight in Syria because of the holy call for “Jihad” against Assad’s regime. A lot of the members have close affiliations with Al Qaeda and have received their training in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. During the past two years, their tactics have included suicide bombings in civilian areas controlled by the regime.
Today, the US is trying to avoid the mistake it made in Afghanistan when it supported Muslim extremists against the Soviet Union. This obviously did not end well when Al Qaeda decided to pay them back with the 9/11 terror attacks. This has created a true dilemma among western nations who are fighting extremism in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Mali, but are also supporting the same fighters in Syria. Are we choosing the better of two evils?
Having experienced a fifteen year civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990), I no longer believe in any of the political propaganda, whereby states claim that they are supporting the “Syrian people” and fighting for “Freedom” and “Democracy”. These are all arguments used to convince European and American citizens why their public funds are being spent on wars abroad. All these decisions are driven by geopolitical interests that are simply well-branded for the minds of the citizens funding the wars.
To conclude, it looks like the US will not make any additional effort in support of the Syrian uprising before they can ensure extremists do not take power after Assad. For now, the US government is content with the situation as it is; Muslim extremists are all going to Syria to fight the regime while the isolated Assad no longer has a say in any regional geopolitical decision.
In the meantime, 70,000 dead and still counting…
By Cedric Choukeir, Regional Director, WYA Middle East.