Make no mistake, the conflict in Syria is already a regional crisis with global implications. President Bashar Assad is an Alawite, who draws Shia supporters in his war against the Sunnis. The sectarian divide pits Hezbollah against thousands of foreign Jihadists, including from the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate mainly from Iraq.
Three crucial Sunni states—Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates—have already offered military assets in the event of a U.S. strike, while Iran predictably supports Shia fighters, particularly from the “Party of God.” Russia is also an Assad-backer for strategic reasons, harkening back to the Cold War. Such complex dynamics create high levels of uncertainty.
A U.S. strike, for instance, risks empowering al-Qaida elements. Although Russia would likely remain on the sidelines, Iran may encourage Hezbollah to retaliate by launching rockets into Israel. If no military action is taken, by contrast, Iran may be emboldened to pursue its own weapons of mass destruction development and Sunnis may settle the score in other theaters, like Iraq.
Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for U.S. intervention carries important tradeoffs. If the vote passes, the president will gain a rare mandate to pursue his political preferences. Including congressional opinions may also result in a superior policy. Finally, the decision restores the spirit of the Constitution since the legislative was always designed to be a war-making partner.
The downside is that such congressional deference requires time for deliberation at a moment when Syrians are desperate for assistance. Anti-Assad insurgents have lost confidence in the U.S. ever intervening on their behalf, and Obama’s international supporters in the Arab League, as well as in Europe, have been left in the lurch. Obama says the intervention will strengthen U.S. credibility abroad, but his vacillating has had the opposite effect, particularly among U.S. allies, like Israel, bent on dissuading Iran from going nuclear.
Obama’s interest in attacking Syria runs counter to his other foreign policy positions in the Muslim world.
Obama won the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton largely because of his consistently strong opposition to the Iraq War. He has since ended U.S. involvement in Iraq, while expediting the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Throughout the Arab Spring, Obama has often tried to avoid taking sides. In Egypt, for instance, he has supported both the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents, depending on the tide.
And he has been quite gun-shy, only supporting the no-fly-zone in Libya once pushed by the French. The situation in Syria is precisely the type of conflict he would be expected to avoid—a sectarian civil war within a failed rogue state.
– By Joe O’Connell