With the current front page news of Assad’s use of Sarin and a potential US military response, there’s been an Everest mountain’s worth of discussion over why we shouldn’t do anything. Conspicuously absent is an honest questioning of the reasons to not intervene, well-explained reasons to intervene and analysis of the results of inaction. SOFREP is one of the few places you’ll find it.
The litany of common reasons and excuses not to intervene in Syria: AQ Islamists did it or we can’t be sure; The rebels are all Islamist. We’d be helping AQ; We can’t separate the secularists; Not our Fight; Fear of Escalation; Don’t trust WH leadership; AQ/Islamists did it, or we can’t be sure.
AQ Islamists did it or we can’t be sure
MANY ascribe to the “rebels could have done it” school of thought without, or contrary to, the evidence. Chem warfare isn’t child’s play. IF the rebels did this it would be the most successful use of chemical weapons by a non-state actor in known world history. The most successful use of chem was by Japanese terrorists employing Sarin in five subway locations killing 13. The Syria incident killed hundreds. If true, it’s REALLY historic and a huge ante by potential terrorist groups.
For AQ/Islamists to have pulled this off, one must believe a complicated list of assumptions:
1. Assume there is undiscovered evidence that rebels used chem in this attack.
2. Assume that, for the first time, rebels launched up to 12 missiles in a tight cluster to impact over 3000 people. Examples of rebels ever launching a conventional artillery/rocket barrage with the same accuracy?
3. Assume rebels were able to procure/build, load and employ chemical munitions with no evidence they have ever done so before, have the technical expertise to do so and kept that capability secret from every intelligence agency in the world.
4. Assume the rebels coincidentally had chemical munitions in the exact place Assad forces were conducting an offensive, or that they have such an effective intelligence capability that they were able to penetrate Assad’s OPSEC, communicate that intel to the select rebels that had this very unique never-before demonstrated chem capability, and who also had the ability to move into place to employ it simultaneously with Assad rocket/artillery strikes.
OR one can believe a moderately well-resourced modern military with one of the largest chem stockpiles in the world (to deter Israeli nukes) with the capability to employ those chemicals with air, rocket or artillery systems and who has already used chemical weapons numerous times in smaller strikes, conducted a pretty simple chemical attack well within their capabilities.
Occam’s Razor is a principle of succinctness used in logic and problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
There exists voice intercept evidence that confirm Assad’s forces used chem, along with satellite imagery that detected the actual “rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.”
There’s about as much chance that the rebels did it as we did and yeah, there are conspiracy nuts saying that.
The rebels are all Islamist. We’d be helping AQ
The Syrian Rebels are NOT a monolithic group. It’s a simplistic and incorrect picture of the rebel make up. The Syrian rebels are about 100,000 strong. The largest group is the secular Free Syrian Army with about 50,000 rebels, then the Syrian Liberation Front, numbering 37,000 fighters, and the Syrian Islamic Front, numbering 13,000 fighters. These last two groups espouse an Islamic ideology.
Most notorious though are the 5,000 rebels (and growing) group called Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to AQ. A lack of structure between and inside of each group has facilitated an environment where atrocities occur and go unaddressed or specifically attributed. This disorganization has been of great assistance to Assad and Russia in portraying ALL the rebels as terrorist Islamic thugs. There’s also Syria expert Elizabeth O’Bagby’s Syrian rebels analysis from ISW. It sharply contradicts what passes for common knowledge about the rebels in scope, details and evidence. Watch the video and get informed. She shares the below chart depicting Syrian rebel make up.
Blue units are secular FSA rebels. Red are AQ affiliated rebels. Yellow groups are Islamist. (Note: they do not reflect rebel numbers, just organizations) She further explains how Islamists have increased their influence because of their access to weaponry and tactical success against Syrian forces (no surprise, considering these are already trained and equipped combatants), issues we can address with training and support. Her point about the geographical separation between the most extreme rebels in the north of Syria and the secular forces in the south is also especially important.
Part of the reason for the strong belief that the rebels are overwhelmingly Islamist is the masterful misinformation campaign Russia has run since the beginning (when secular rebels were in charge). The mainstream media (MSM), as it did during the Cold War, repeats the Russian narrative. Heavy reliance on the MSM which heavily repeats whatever key news sources such e.g. the NYT or Reuters says right or wrong. The Manning Apache video as an example of misinformation being widely successful.
We can’t separate the secularists
Based on what evidence? Have we tried? We’ve dithered for two years in our foreign policy and lackluster support of Syria’s rebels. Contrary to popular belief, we have been able to partner and support the right rebels, e.g. Nicaragua, the Northern Alliance, Iraq’s Kurds, etc. This is undoubtedly difficult, but “can’t” is code for “too hard because I haven’t tried yet.” Our recent training initiative in Jordan would indicate it can be done.
Not our fight
Again, based on what evidence or analysis? Pre-9/11 Afghanistan didn’t seem to be our fight either until we watched Americans jumping out of burning skyscrapers. I address rarely discussed potential Syria outcomes below. Right now, those who say it’s not our fight are guilty of doing as much analysis as the Bush administration did on what a post-Saddam Iraq would look like.
That didn’t turn out so well.
Bottom line up front, Assad hasn’t been able to defeat rebels that started from nothing. Adding a small and reasonably well-armed army, like the army Jordan possesses, would tip the balance. Assad would be ending himself by expanding the conflict. If Assad is dumb enough to invite Israel, then we don’t have to do a thing. No Arab nation is going to help Assad if he takes on Israel except for Iran, and Iran doesn’t want to give Israel an excuse to start taking out its nukes.
China – Nothing, but take note.
Russia – The most dangerous thing they could do is send a couple of Russian troops or ship,s but Russia lacks the ability to support them and has already stated that they won’t go to war over Syria. Putin will be very hard to deal with on other issues and might turn around and sell S300 SAMs to Iran, which is kind of chopping off their own noses considering they really don’t want to help a bordering Muslim state achieve nukes unless they can bog us down in something.
Iran – Might have Hezbollah give a face-saving minor rocket attack on Israel but nothing too big that would draw an Israeli response. They need to save Hezbollah for a retaliatory strike in the event their nuke program is attacked in the future. They also have to husband their strength to help Assad to hold on. Losing Assad AND Hezbollah would set Iran back a decade or more.
Assad – He’d be smart to do nothing, but you might see some face saving artillery strike on Israeli dirt because if he does anything serious… Well, like I said, Assad has had his hands full with a ragtag group of rebels for two years. Shouldn’t take much Israeli military power to break his back.
Don’t trust WH leadership
I don’t underestimate the regime’s ability to snatch defeat from victory. Look at the Iraq residual force.
Just because a leader can’t lead doesn’t mean an organization should be idle, unless it’s a piss-poor organization. I come from the school that top organizations do the right thing even when the leader isn’t present. Granted, the leader of a country and the constitution do provide a more complex situation.
I do not think this President is a wartime president (he’s not much of a peacetime one either), but a strike here and a strike there might just give us the three years we need for a change in leadership, though Iran will be realized MUCH sooner.
Waiting two years to weigh into Syria is much of the reason we are in the fix we are in now. Inaction will not make the case better. So much for the “kick the can down the road” approach to foreign policy…
Isolationism doesn’t work. Just watch the people jumping from the towers when you think it does.
(This post continues tomorrow, where-in I make the case for intervention and address some of the missing post-civil war analysis the U.S. should be doing to determine the best course of action.)
(Featured Image Courtesy: News.com.au)
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