Al-Assad is shooting himself in the foot
May 11th, 2012
05:02 PM ET

Al-Assad is shooting himself in the foot

By Bilal Y. Saab, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bilal Y. Saab is visiting fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bilal Y. Saab.

The Washington Post ran a story Thursday with the headline “Suicide attack in Syria makes international action less likely.” The author concludes that the recent upswing in terrorist violence actually decreases the chances of U.S., NATO or Arab-Turkish military intervention in Syria.

I argue it may well be the opposite.

Should Syria descend into total, Iraq-style chaos and start to resemble a failed state that is unable to fight terrorism, secure its own borders and safeguard its suspected weapons of mass destruction, the Obama administration will find the military option — whatever shape or form it may take — more appealing and suitable to contain the crisis.

While President Obama is still not in a position to seriously consider intervening in Syria — both because of the upcoming election and because of the very real risks and difficulties of any military strategy — his hand could be forced by developments on the ground and intelligence reports in Washington.

Imagine this not-so-improbable scenario: If Obama starts to receive additional reports from his intelligence advisors that al Qaeda is gaining ground in Syria and about to establish another safe haven in the Middle East along the borders of that country, he may have little choice but to reassess his options.

The political costs of another U.S. intervention in the Muslim world are evident and likely to be high given the “intervention fatigue” in Washington and the nonexistent appetite for costly foreign adventures among the U.S. public. But if CIA Director David Petraeus and National Intelligence Director James Clapper call tomorrow for a meeting and brief Obama about increasingly disturbing al Qaeda activity in Syria, the president cannot ignore their assessments. Obama might still decide that the costs of intervention are higher, but that decision will not be easy.

And should it become clearer to everyone that Syria is starting to pose a real and urgent threat — not only to regional security but also to international security and U.S. strategic interests — inaction on the part of the president will have its political costs, too.

You can already anticipate the fierce debate and political circus in Washington that could emerge from this potential scenario. Conservative outlets will not miss the opportunity to say that Obama is unwilling to protect America from international terrorism and safeguard U.S. strategic interests abroad because he is focused on his re-election campaign. Of course, the argument will be utterly unfair and ridiculous given Obama’s almost impeccable foreign policy record and his ability to make tough calls like the raid on Osama bin Laden. Yet the president would still have to deal with it and prepare himself for the possibility that such news will only help his adversary in November.

This is all hypothetical, of course, and Syria is not a failed state yet. Also, we still do not know for sure who is committing these terrorist acts.

It could be al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri has already stated his interest in establishing a base in the Levant, and there are more-than-capable members of the organization in Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon who could fulfill his vision.

But it could also be the Syrian government. It is not unthinkable that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or his cronies could be ordering these attacks. Part of al-Assad’s survival strategy is to tell the world, and especially the United States, that he is fighting terrorists and thus should be given a chance to finish the job so that he can initiate political reforms. Surely another 55 deaths, when more than 10,000 are already dead, would not cause him to pause or rethink his strategy.

But, ironically, what al-Assad does not seem to be realizing is that the more he tries to convince Obama and the international community that al Qaeda is involved in his country, the closer Washington gets to make the decision of employing military force. He sealed his own fate the moment he decided to shoot to kill when the Syrian uprising started in January of last year.

With his risky “I am fighting al Qaeda” strategy, he may also be hastening his demise. Washington might not tolerate an al Qaeda victory in the Middle East, election season or not.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bilal Y. Saab.

Topics: Syria • Terrorism

soundoff (311 Responses)
  1. Pnm9pnm

    When the I,s don't makeup the site the. ,s not have it,.pnm

    September 28, 2012 at 1:19 am | Reply
  2. Pnm9pnm not I.pnm.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:19 am | Reply
  3. Steve

    Western backing of these insurgencies is pure idiocy! They are a perfect platform for Islamic extremists and AlQaeda terrorists to proliferate. The end results of these uprisings will be far worse for Western interests that the former regimes.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  4. Soldier of Fortune

    It is a racket...all of it...was suppose to start with the 911 incident and boom the oil jumps everyone makes they amp it up with Syria now...arming the "rebels" who are now towel boys for those who joined the "cause" they will use the Mayan 2012 and start some crap...then if that doesn't pan out for investors they will switch and already have to commodities that one needs to survive...they will make so much money over 7 years with triple the money invested...I would tell Assad to hang on and call animal control...knock out darts...then tag and bag em for trials!
    Hold a public trial and have CNN cover it...then we find out "who" sent you to Syria and how much $$$ were you promised...let me know how that works out for the end it will not...humanity is starting to see the wolves...

    September 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  5. Fredsta

    Yes, Assad regime shells bombs shoots loots executes starves and exiles his own people, but they are only a minority (47%, perhaps?). Yes there are more foreign whack-job jihadis every day. Yes the vast majority of rebels are the sons and daughters of Syria, fighting to rid their nation of a tyrannical regime.

    Notably, the degree of dishonesty on the part of the regime is absolutely stunning! Lying-est regime in all of history! And probably second only to Pol Pot in self-annihilation. The Regime offers Hobson's choice: "Assad [only], or the country burns."

    I trust Obama and Clinton to do the right thing, because in fact it is hard to know exactly what the right thing is, other than support, support, support Free Syria.

    September 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  6. OA Guttman

    This guy I affraid to end up being killed and so he is fighting for more than his life and when you corner a mad anything you are well not in a good spot.Good luck to this president.The U.S.A. should offer this guy assylum and in return maybe intel on the terroists and get a helping hand for cooperation.

    September 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  7. johnny

    Assad simpty wants to destroy every building and oil wells in Syria before he finally leaves. Thats how wicked this man is.

    September 30, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  8. terrosist killers now in jordan from iraq he has uk passport

    بusa ,uk and all security concern people in jordan amman , must watch for this iraqi killer who work with iran and iraqi thugs governemnt and he is responsible of killing hudreds of people by order from nori al maleki in iraq

    امانة في اعناقكم ان تنشروا هذه الرسالة كي تفضح كل من تتلطخ يديه بدماء العراقيين الابرياء من حملة الجنسيات المزدوجة الذين ياتون الى العراق بمهمات من اسيادهم بالخارج لقتل العالم والضابط والدكتور والمهندس بابشع الطرق من الكاتم الى الدريل ( ثاقب الحديد ) الى الكي بالتيزاب ومن داخل السجون وخارجها ورميهم بمكب النفايات وكانهم ليسوا بشرا اكرمهم الله . نرجو ان تكشفوا هؤلاء لانهم يشغلون وظائف داخل المجتمع ويتخفون تحتها وهم العن من ابليس وقتلة الابرياء وسنرد اسماءهم الواحد تلو الاخر ومن هؤلاء الخونة والقتلة :

    المدعو بشار مكتوف راضي من الجنسية العراقية للاسف ويحمل جواز سفر بريطاني ويدعي بانه يحمل رتبة عميد في جهاز المخابرات العراقية وهو يدعي الان يعمل متخفيا بوظيفة نائب مدير شركة زين العراق للاتصالات ليتسنى له التنصت على المكالمات للذين ينوي اغتيالهم هو وشبكته بكل سهولة فمن خلال التنصت يعرف تفاصيل المواعيد والاماكن التي يتواجدون فيها ليسهل اعتقالهم واغتيالهم .

    وهو بعلاقاته مع ضعفاء النفوس في المملكة الاردنية الهاشمية استخرج اقامة نظامية باسم شركات وهمية وقد دخل شريك في مطعم له سمعته كي يطور علاقاته مع جميع الشرائح بالاردن واسم المطعم هو الملح والزاد مقابل فندق الهولدي ان تقريبا .

    هذه المعلومات مؤكدة من شخص من ذات الشبكة ادلى بها لي وهو هارب منهم خوفا من تصفيته من قبل قائده المدعو بشار مكتوف راضي

    امانة باعناقكم الى يوم الدين ان تعمموا هذا الايميل انقاذا لارواح الابرياء

    September 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  9. Orubor

    let every man first take care of his home before trying to take care of other people's home fools.

    October 2, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  10. JC in US

    To those who claim the majority of Syrians in Syria still support Al-Assad. If Al-Assad is still so popular with Syrians, why are so many of his own administration and military forces leaving the country or joingin the rebels. Where ther is smoke, there is fire. Regardless, Al-Assad's strategy will backfire, and he will be forced out... if not by his own people in the short term, then by the international community after enough blood has been spilled. Recent skirmishes across the Turkish border are evidence enough of that. Al-Assad no longer has a future here, regardless of what he or loyalists believe.... international opionion is against them, and the longer this conflict takes to settle, the greater the liklihood of foreign intervention, as recently happened in Libya. Shelling a NATO member across the border? Shooting at their planes? At some point, they will really start shooting back, and they will bring their friends.

    October 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  11. thumbs up

    Assad needs to go to an eye doc if he cannot see how this is going to end. that being said, i hope that syria changes for the better with new leadership. i am not sure that the people have had as much of a say in the new governments as had been hoped. now the onus is upon the people of libya, egypt, syria, iraq, etc. to be the change they and the rest of the world so desperately want and need of them. time to choose between education and religion. your choice.

    October 6, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  12. Isabel

    When Islammic countries rise up and say annihilation to the Jews and Christians, I wonder what happens to those Jews and Christians that live inside their countries right now. Does that mean they will chase those residents down and slaughter them? I pray to the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac; I pray to Jesus Christ to provide for the safety and security of each person bound in the Islammic stronghold of evil. I don't know who's on first anymore. When I ask my muslem friend he does two things: nothing, or tries to justify what is happening; but he, and many muslems like him, do not seem to have the power and upper hand over the Islam that hates; so for me, that means they are not in power... So I pray to the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac; and to Jesus Christ, that a peace comes over them that defies human understanding.

    October 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  13. Adrian C.Y. Fu

    Hands off Syria!

    October 14, 2012 at 9:00 am | Reply



    October 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  15. tony

    This little schizophrenic Hitler want to destroy the Middle East by l leading Alawite and his supporter to their demise. Stop supporting him.. with you supporting him blindly you lost Syria forever. Unfortunately president Obama and his administration are watching the killing because it helps Israel... what a great logic... Assad and his suporting Alawite ...your ende is immenient. USA.. Obama.. you lost your cards in the middle east. Israel your population should be on Prozac or Zyprexa. Your schizophrenic ideation will destroy the plannet.

    October 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  16. brian

    I'm with T. Boone Pickens ....get out of the Middle East ..... and I am with Fareed Zakaria,,,,, I think Pickens and Steve Wynn and Mark Cuban ...throw in Gates and Buffet,,,,,,,,,they should do a great American thing and make the Empire State Building ENERGY EFFICIENTt,,,,,,,,,,,,, just to show the great Americans that the rich are doing something good.... Lead us !!! what's a couple hundred million to these guys that could/would show great inspiration to all Americans

    October 23, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply

    If Obama wins and he will 62% or more HE WILL help ISRAEL to attack iran nuc.......and hizboallah will be by by along with the bashar al asad....If Romney win 38% less chance he will not attack iran or syria at all he lies....we need some one with balls ready to take iran and syria along with hizboallah those are the real evil

    November 4, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply

    the winer also must get red of the iraqi shiia thugs who are unwelling to share power even after the lost the ellection to dr alawi...usa must demand that al maleki and all those evil who are helping bashar al asad and the iranians thugs and killers to step down...get red of those evil puppets you put in power and never ever trust the shiia cult ...they are pure evil

    November 4, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
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