3/11/2012

Why U.S. shouldn't rush to war in Syria

By Wesley Clark, Special to CNN


In addition to humanitarian concerns, there are significant U.S. strategic interests at play in Syria. The Syrian regime is a "front-line" state to America's ally Israel, and so is critical to lasting peace there. And while the Syrian regime has flirted with a peace agreement, it has also served as a conduit of Iranian influence and threats.

Syria hosts Iranian advisers and assists Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed fighting force that has squeezed and threatened Israel from the north, provoked one border war already, taken a powerful and coercive role inside neighboring Lebanon, and which serves as a major factor of regional intimidation as Iran angles to attain its nuclear aims. Moreover, the Syrian regime is a Cold War relic, maintaining a strong military and inviting ties with America's geostrategic competitor, Russia.
Unlike the case of Libya, the United States has substantial strategic interests in Syria but would be facing a strong, capable military still mostly loyal to al-Assad. Syria is less accessible militarily than Libya, with a population triple its size -- 22 million, including some 2 million Christians.

Weapons are flowing in, refugees are fleeing, but there seems to be little in the way of an organized Syrian opposition with which to work. And while Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for al-Assad's removal, this seems more of an opportunistic anti-Iran strategy. Among the resistance forces are apparently some radical Sunni fighters, perhaps al Qaeda itself, and others whose ascension to power would likely cause a further crisis, with millions of Christians and other religious minorities fleeing from the region.
While the U.S. aim in ending the violence and saving lives is obvious, this is a much more complicated and demanding scenario than Libya. There is as yet no international mandate, not even from NATO. The most appropriate form of intervention is reportedly under study -- but it looks like almost any course of action will increase the violence, not reduce it. And who will be available in the skies and on the ground to help? How will a new government be formed, and how will Syria be managed until then?
What is needed right now is clear thinking, solid planning and a well-supported international strategy for the region, including Iran -- before we act.

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