Expected Syrian Violence, Potential U.S. Response

John Glaser, June 07, 2011

As I feared yesterday, the Syrian government is using yesterday’s alleged attack and killing of 120 security forces by protesters (yet to be verified) as a justification for a massive use of force upon the Syrian people. Residents of the town Jisr al-Shughour, where the alleged killings took place, are fleeing saying they fear an oncoming slaughter.

The government says it will act “with force” to combat “armed gangs” that it blames for the recent killings. Activists say the cause of the deaths is unclear, and may involve a mutiny.

Residents have posted messages on Facebook saying they fear a slaughter and appealing for help from outside.They called on people to try to block roads leading to the town with burning tyres, rocks and tree trunks. Syrian army tanks and troop carriers backed by helicopters were reported to be on the move.

Activists insist the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is peaceful and scorn the government’s talk of armed gangs.

Foreign journalists are banned from Syria, so minute-to-minute updates of the news may not be forthcoming. There has apparently been a draft UN Security Council resolution  drawn up by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal condemning Assad’s regime and requesting he open areas of Syria to humanitarian teams. Obviously, Assad is unlikely to agree to such a request and unfortunately Russia is expected to veto the resolution.

Given the fact that Syria is not a client state of the U.S., and that there is even high amounts of tension between us (plus the Israeli factor), there is a possibility the apparently oncoming brutality towards civilians will prompt a direct intervention by the U.S. Some at this point argue it is unlikely Obama would get involved officially in a fourth war in the Middle East, but that is also what was said before our Libya intervention. The two conflicts are beginning to have important similarities (armed insurrection turning into civil war, clear sides to take, 1000+ civilians killed and more expected, etc.). Ground troops are as unlikely as they were in Libya, but attacks from the air aimed at destabilizing the Assad regime and preventing civilian casualties just may be in the cards.

Part of the issue here is that Libya is much less important than Syria. The authoritarianism of Assad’s regime has not been a concern of the U.S. for years. Washington welcomes brutality and virtual slavery so long as the regime in question provides “stability” (Washington code word for obedience on the international stage). This has been one of the primary reasons no intervention has yet taken place. But with the protests and killings at the Golan Heights yesterday, continued “stability” is in question and thus staying on the sidelines is increasingly unlikely.

Another issue is any sort of post-Assad plan. With the U.S. commitment to ruling the world through unlimited geographical jurisdiction, choosing a post-Assad leadership becomes the most important part of the calculus in private, while protecting civilians is most important publicly.

James Dorsey at Al Arabiya:

The potential escalation in Syria poses a dilemma for the United States and Europe as well as for Arab states and Israel. The Obama administration and its allies have so far stopped short of calling for Mr. Assad’s departure because of uncertainty about who might succeed him; fear that Islamists factions could emerge stronger in a post-Assad era; concern that armed rebellion would split Syria along religious lines with Christians and Alawites backing the president and Sunnis and Kurds populating the rebels; and anxiety that the turmoil could spill across Syria’s borders into Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Lebanon, home to the Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia.

The escalating violence is however making it increasingly difficult for the international community to stick to the principle that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

That is not to say that there is any love lost between Mr. Assad, who was a key member of former President George W. Bush’s axis of evil because of his ties to Iran as well as Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, and Western leaders such as President Barack Obama. Mr. Assad nonetheless was a predictable foe who refused to engage in US-sponsored Middle East peace efforts and efforts to force Iran to concede on its nuclear program but stopped short of rocking the boat.

French Foreign Minister Alain Joppe, in an indication that an escalation would force the US and its allies to review their view of Mr. Assad, warned Monday that the Syrian leader had “lost his legitimacy” to rule Syria. Mr. Joppe’s remarks were the first time a Western leader effectively called for Mr. Assad’s departure.




6 Responses to “Expected Syrian Violence, Potential U.S. Response”

  1. What has transpired at the city of Jisr al-Shughour remains confused except for the possibility that the rebellion against Bashar Assad may escalate. Conflicting reports concerning the death of 120 government forces will be overshadowed by a major assault upon this city. This may very well be the start of civil war. Reports are coming out that the Muslim Brotherhood, who led the 1982 revolt, are equipping in anticipation of armed struggle. Even if the attack upon Jisr al-Shughour does not result in widespread destruction, the seeds for civil war will blossom. The spiraling of marches and repression has gone on too long and the desire for retribution increases. Reprisals and sectarian violence is almost a sure thing. International calls of outrage are pushing for greater response from the US and EU. Material support and/or armed intervention will only contribute to the territorial and national disintegration.
    One of the strongest arguments President Assad has used to keep some semblance of allegiance from the majority of the populace is that outside sources are behind the uprising. The funneling of arms and money would lend credence to his case. It would divide the citizens into camps that would reenact the events of Lebanon and Iraq. US and/or EU armed intervention will not be a Libyan redux. It will take an effort similar to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The defeat of Syria’s army is a foregone conclusion–as was the Iraqi’s. But it is the aftermath that will see a long and bloody battle that will produce far more than 2,000 plus dead.
    As distasteful as it may seem, those who wish to see a stable, unified and more democratic Syria must offer a different pathway. The 40 year regime of the Assads must end, but in arriving at this point negotiations must be reached between the protestors and government supporters that permits as smooth a transition as possible. Calling for criminal actions against Assad et al will not encourage them to surrender themselves for punishment. Neither will the continuing mass demonstrations allow Bashar the fig-leaf of acting without duress. It is here that outside parties could use their offices through backdoor channels to bring about an arrangement that would remove the present dictatorship, minimize reprisals, insure domestic tranquillity and avoid sectarian clashes, establish a temporary government that will protect civil and political rights, establish a formula for a new governmental system, and maintain territorial integrity and national unity.
    Time is not on anyone’s side except death and destruction.

  2. Being from Syria, I do not see the potential for sectarian violence approaching near the level of that in Iraq. Much of that violence seen in Iraq was manufactured by allied troops as an excuse to prolong their stay. That is not to say it is any less real but keep in mind Syria's religious communities aren't as resentful towards each other as those in Iraq and even Egypt. The Christian and even Shia (some of those belonging to the Alawite offshoot) minorities have joined Sunnis to speak out against this regime. And although there isn't a vast consensus among these minorities showing their support for the protests, they are also not standing against it. You could say that's out of fear but I believe many of them are just as fed up with the lack of human rights and are more concerned with their own country than having to listen to comparisons with other countries.

  3. This is naive. Reading more objective and more detailed reports coming out from Syria in NON-West controlled press, it is clear that Syrians do not know who is behind the violence, and do not trust anybody. Those that are killing police need to reveal who they are and what they stand for. Otherwise, who knows whose agenda is being played out there. Just because there is no hatred and intolerance now, it can soon change. Conflicts are easily manufactured. Once some thugs kill one group, and pin it on the other, there will be calls for revenge. This is easy, simple and ALWAYS works. So perhaps a little "humanitarian" bombing will help, destruction of all the infrastructure and the handouts from the "international community" might bring economic development.

  4. I don't follow "NON-West controlled press" for the purposes of obtaining useful or objective information but point taken. Those behind the violence are the same govt. thugs responsible for the 1982 Hama massacre and hide behind no cloak. I do like your idea though messy at first and ending with economic help from the international community. That may be the least bloody option as long as they don't make the mistake of disbanding the army like they did in Iraq leaving innumerous weapons unaccounted for. Most all of the positions of power in the military are held by those close to regime and are likely of the same sect or are extended family so singling them out while keeping the army intact is possible if not probable.

  5. Correction: I misread your statement as saying "Western-controlled press" and didn't catch on to my mistake even after I typed it out. But yes….NON-West controlled press is what I almost exclusively follow. That looks bad but pardon me, I haven't slept in a while.

  6. [...] from elsewhere in Syria, but in Jisr al-Shughour, where thousands of Syrian troops have amassed to quell an uprising after an alleged conflict with security forces, little information is getting out. Tanks, heavy gunfire, and mass arrests have descended upon the [...]