The Struggle For Syria lays out the military situation facing the Assads in Syria. Basically current regime is facing too many challenges at once to put them all down at the same time. “The scale of unrest in Syria has made it impossible for the regime’s security forces to simultaneously garrison all of the country’s key terrain. The regime has maintained control over Syria’s armed forces, despite limited defections. Therefore, the regime’s strategy has been to maneuver elite forces to key centers of unrest and conduct large clearance operations, using selective brutality in an effort to end the crisis.”
From the beginning of the uprising, the regime has deliberately consolidated its control over the Alawite homeland of Syria’s coastal region. Clearance operations in Latakia, Baniyas, and Tel Kalakh targeted Sunni enclaves and shored up regime lines of communication. …
Security forces have avoided direct confrontation with the Sunni tribes of Deir ez-Zor, while Syria’s Kurds largely refrained from joining the opposition movement in 2011. …
Iran, Iraq, and Lebanese Hezbollah have supported the Assad regime throughout this crisis with moral, economic, and possibly material assistance. Commercial and military interests in Syria have solidified Russian support for Assad. Turkey, Assad’s longtime ally, has reversed its position with a series of measures that have isolated and pressured the regime. The Arab League, led by the Sunni Arab Gulf States, has also strongly condemned the Assad regime’s violent response to the protest and enacted sanctions. The United States and European Union enacted comprehensive sanctions against individuals, organizations, and Syria as a whole.
The following maps show where the Syrian army has been conducting operations and the ethnic distribution of the various populations in Syria. Should the Sunnis in Syria’s east become involved as well the Kurds, then the balance could tip against Damascus.
And there are also the outside powers: Russia, Iran and the quasi-state, the Hezbollah. They are hovering around for a chance, picking their time, testing the waters.
The reader will note at once how the problems in Syria and Iraq are linked. If the borders are ignored the Sunni arc in Syria will extend into the Iraqi west and to Anbar. The Kurds will also extend into Iraq — and Iran too. Thus, a civil war in Iraq will feed back immediately into Syria. A collapse of the Syrian regime will likewise spill over into Iraq. What the Kurds will do, given the convulsions of Syria, Iraq and Iran is an interesting question. It cannot have escaped the Kurdish nationalists that they are perhaps confronted with a unique opportunity that they may never see again.
Given the probable demise of the Assads and the number of interested parties, it hardly makes sense to hang back. For if one forebears, the others may not, however strenuously Hillary presses the Reset Button.
It might be argued that Syria as constituted is already finished. The only question is who gets to bestride what follows. Recently 57 foreign policy wonks signed an open letter to President Obama urging him to take the plunge and move against Assad. Reduced to the starkest realpolitik the argument amounts to this: if you don’t get in there somebody else will and then where will we be?
America’s interests in Syria are clear. The Syrian government, which has been on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terror list since 1979, maintains a strategic partnership with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. For years, the Assad regime also assisted the transit of foreign fighters who were responsible for killing numerous American troops in Iraq. And for years, the Syrian government secretly pursued a nuclear program with North Korean assistance. The emergence of a representative Syrian government that protects the rights of all of its citizens and opposes violent extremism in all forms would therefore be a significant blow to Tehran and dramatically improve regional security and stability.
Members of your administration, however, have made statements against the militarization of the uprising, even warning that such a turn could threaten international support for their cause. Such a position is counterproductive, especially since the protesters themselves are calling for international protection from the Assad regime’s forces. As of now, this protection is coming only from defectors from the Syrian military, who are fighting in support of the revolution. U.S. condemnation of their armed resistance undercuts them, and could have the effect of discouraging further Syrian military defections.
But preaching against the use of violence in Syria at this stage makes as much sense as inveighing against fornication in a whorehouse. It is little late to do any good; that is if anybody is listening. The signatories spell this out as bluntly as they can.
In the absence of American leadership, other countries that do not necessarily share our goals and values are stepping in to fill the void in Syria. Given the stakes, it is important that the United States lead on this issue. The Syrian people are calling for protection from the Assad regime. It is our moral obligation and in our interest to assist them.
Not everybody listens to the EU and the ICJ and not everybody believes the Global Zero though that may be news to some. It will be evident to anyone that Iraq is part of the broader situation. The conflict between Maliki and the Sunnis and possibly the Kurds takes on an altogether more portentous weight. The threat that Iraq will itself be plunged into civil war, as now seems possible, makes it all the more important for President Obama reconsider his recent belief that he has done well to quit Iraq so completely. He must now decide what he is going to do. “Leading from behind” in this instance, is not an attractive option if other regional powers are preparing to shape the situation both to their advantage and to America’s detriment.
The root of the administration’s looping approach to the problems in Syria and Iraq is a tremendous befuddlement over the value of the region and its place in American interests. The debacle now unfolding is rooted in the Barack Obama’s electoral promises to march away from the Middle East and focus on Afghanistan, where he imagines the War on Terror began and can be ended.
He may be wrong.
The situation in Syria is developing apace. What should America do? What is in its interests? Once that is decided, the rest follows. Until then, the administration will mark time until time runs out. It has been the instinct of the President to kick the can down the road. He may now have run out of road, but not, as Gerard Vanderleun noted, out of can.