Sunday, April 28, 2013

Toxic Syria

By Alan Caruba

A protocol to the Geneva Convention outlaws the use of gas in warfare. This did not stop Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from using it during his eight-year war with Iran. In one infamous incident Saddam ordered the use of poison gas against Kurdish guerrillas and civilians in the border town of Halabja, killing 5,000 people at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. His cousin earned the nickname “Chemical Ali” and was later hanged after Saddam was overthrown.

During the course of the Syrian civil war, charges from both sides that poison gas has been used were traded. The latest, aired April 24, is the first time the U.S. confirmed that poison gas, most likely Sarin, was used by the forces of Bashar Hafez al-Assad, the president of Syria. He keeps referring to the forces arrayed against him as terrorists even though Syria has been ruled by the use of terror for decades and has supported Hezbollah, an organization widely identified as terrorist and which currently is in charge of Lebanon.

President Obama went on record not long ago saying that the use of poison gas was a “red line” that would subject Assad’s forces to possible intervention by a coalition of national forces, presumably led by the U.S., NATO, or as a UN mission. In its wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. may have done most of the fighting, but was accompanied by other nations, primarily from Europe.

A report in the April 27 edition of the Telegraph, a British newspaper, noted that “the fight for al-Safira is no ordinary turf war…Inside what looks like a drab industrial estate is one of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons—and among its products is sarin, the lethal nerve gas that the regime is now feared to be deploying in its bid to cling to power.” Moreover, “among the rebel lines in al-Safira flutters the black flag of the al-Nusra Brigade, the jihadist group that recently declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda.”

Obama will now likely be assailed if he does commit U.S. fighting forces and if he does not.

I don’t much care for anything Obama has done while in office, but I like his reluctance to get the U.S. involved in a civil war or an insurgency that will turn out badly no matter who emerges as the winner. Assad is getting a lot of help from both Russia, who wants the use of Syria’s port on the Mediterranean, and by Iran for whom it has long been an ally. Let them waste their resources there.

This is not to say that Assad has not been utterly ruthless in his effort to put the insurgents to flight and retain the power he inherited from his father, Hafez al-Assad who had ruled Syria for thirty years since 1971. The son has ruled since 2000, having been reelected in 2007, thanks to no opposition.

Syria, of course, poses problems for its neighbors Turkey and Jordan, both of which have had to absorb and provide humanitarian aid to what is likely more than a million Syrians who fled for their lives. An estimated 80,000 to 90,000 Syrians have been slain in the conflict that began on March 15, 2011 with popular demonstrations that were nationwide by April. Suffice to say, both sides of the conflict have engaged in brutality, sparing neither women nor children.  

The nations of northern Africa, also called the Maghreb, erupted into protests that have come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” Tunisia, where the initial protests in 2011 against an autocratic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, led to his overthrow, has done the best job of transitioning to become a functioning democracy, but in Libya a low level conflict continues and, in Egypt, the population is having serious regrets after having elected a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, to replace the ailing and imprisoned Hosni Mubarak.

Complicating things further in Syria is the presence of elements of al Qaeda as part of the force opposing the Assad regime. This accounts for the reluctance of the U.S. to arm those forces even as Russia and Iran sends arms to Assad and, in the case of Iran, military assistance as well.

Syria is a rat’s nest even if the U.S. had the ability to identify who among the opposition to support. Then there is the question, if the opposition were to prevail, whether that would encourage elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, leaving Israel even more vulnerable. It would not surprise me to see Israeli forces join with the Jordanians to sustain the monarchy.

After the United States withdrawal from Iraq it has been experiencing an increased level of internal conflict as the Sunnis seek to punish the Shiites who replaced their control under Saddam. Bombings are a daily event. Scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the U.S. can ill afford the cost of a military involvement in Syria, nor can the European member nations of NATO. The United Nations, as always, is totally useless. Their so-called peacekeeping forces have all abandoned Syria, exiting via Israel.

The human toll is appalling, but there are few good reasons for the U.S. and others to be drawn into the Syrian conflict. If Bashar al-Assad survives, he will still be an ally of Russia and Iran. Lebanon will still be a Syrian satellite. It would take years to rebuild the nation reducing a military threat to Israel.

There is, however, a compelling reason to mount a mission to secure Syria’s poison gas arsenal. If nothing is done, it would further embolden Iran to continue its nuclear arms program. A limited show of force to isolate and remove its poison gas arsenal would be a warning to Iran whereas further sanctions are of little value.

If al-Qaeda gains access to Syria’s stores of poison gas, no city in America would be immune from an al Qaeda attack using it.

For now, the “red line” that Obama spoke of is likely to have been written in invisible ink, disappearing with every passing day.

© Alan Caruba, 2013


TexasFred said...

Maybe I'm cold and heartless, maybe I am that Right Wing MONSTER many on the Left believe me to be, but quite frankly, I don't give a damn what they do to each other in Syria, or Iran, Iraq or any other Muslim nation.

Muslims killing Muslims?? WINNING!

Alan Caruba said...

Fred, the heartless ones are the Muslims who are killing one another.

From biblical times the Syrians have been trouble for their neighbors.

The folks who insist on being called Palestinians now used to say, when asked, that they were living in South Syria.

dfordoom said...

The fact that so many well-meaning people in the West refuse to accept is that sometimes there are no Good Guys to support. What you have is two sets of Bad Guys, so whoever wins it's going to be bad.

Guy in Ohio said...

Drawing a line in the sand requires that the person drawing it have a backbone and be willing to act when it's crossed ... neither of which can be said about Obama.

Ron Stabb said...

Hello Mr. Caruba,

Just by coincidence I was grooving to some music by James Blunt, listening to "No Bravery" when I read this article. Seems fitting here...