3 things to remember before wading into Syria
August 27th, 2013
12:40 PM ET

3 things to remember before wading into Syria

By Anthony Brunello, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anthony Brunello is a professor of political science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. The views expressed are his own.

Even the most powerful advisers in the National Security Council are unsure of exactly how to respond to the current problem in Syria, but clearly a response is coming soon. We can only hope the NSC has better information and advice than the general public is getting from the press, talking heads and President Barack Obama’s partisan critics in Congress. The president would be wise to take his time, move slowly and, most important, ensure that any action taken is done multilaterally.

We cannot go it alone or with a small group of willing allies. Of course, any U.S. response must be planned carefully with the United Nations, NATO and Arab States, but much still depends on the attitude of China and Russia. With these two siding with Bashar al-Assad and holding back the United Nations – as they have for many months – any U.N. movement is stalled.

But the Syrian crisis is further complicated by three circumstances:

First, Egypt – a significant ally in the past and key to peace and stability in the region – is in turmoil. A single miscalculation by U.S. forces would create an even worse mess, and on top of this we must always remember Israel is sitting in the middle of this turbulence.

Second, two key U.S. allies in the region, Turkey and Jordan, have numerous concerns and are feeling the brunt of the Syrian refugee problem. The support of Turkey and Jordan in any U.S. action is critical, as they will suffer in the dangerous aftermath of any intervention. The other Arab states are on both sides in the Syrian conflict. Although the Saudis are backing the rebellion against al-Assad, Iran has the other (al-Assad) side, and both nations (with their allies) are interested for different reasons and cannot be fully trusted. This complex array of actors must be a major consideration.

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Finally, and perhaps most crucial, Syria is embroiled in a religious and sectarian civil war with many sides. The reality is that the U.S. cannot choose a side without placing itself in the middle of a religious war in the Middle East.

Al-Assad and the regime in Syria are Alawites, a minority Syrian sect of the Shiites. This is why Iran, a Shia state, backs them. But the Iranians have their own plans and interests defined in terms of state power. Iran is dangerous and cannot be trusted.

Rebel forces represent largely Sunni groups and forces, leaving aside the Christian groups and others, many of whom have already fled. The Sunni groups – the majority faction in Syria – are backed by the Saudis. Among these groups are a host of different sects with different persuasions, such as the Salafis and Sufis, and many of these groups in Syria have differing tribal, regional and ethnic causes that they support.

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Al-Assad's regime kept this all together as long as their power went unquestioned. Now, though, throw in the potential Jihadist groups, several claiming to be al Qaeda affiliates, add in purely criminal elements among the rebels, and we are left with no sure way to choose sides among the opponents of the al-Assad regime in Syria.

The voices demanding President Obama and the U.S. take quick action are either ill-informed, have their own political ideologies, or they are just foolish. And those pushing for “quick and decisive action” are misleading the public.

While chemical weapons are a dark line that cannot be allowed to be crossed, thousands of people are being slaughtered in Syria with all sorts of weapons. Death is death. The use of chemical weapons cannot be the catalyst for a hasty, ill-considered U.S. response.

Once the U.S. negotiates a multinational agreement, one that also supports humanitarian needs, a move can be made that does not result in the U.S. taking sides (or certainly the “wrong” side, whatever that means in this conflict) in a bloody, long-term entanglement that could spread across the region. And remember, too, that we need to protect allies like Turkey, Israel and Jordan in this changing and volatile part of the world, in which it is virtually impossible to predict the outcome. Military action will surely be too clumsy to achieve this.

As the United States considers its response in Syria, we need wiser heads, respectful of the people throughout the region, to carefully consider the complexity of this extremely delicate situation.

Post by:
Topics: Middle East • Syria

soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Musiime Emmanuel

    Why won't somebody live Middle – East affairs alone! With the current economic mess the whole world is in, each country has more of their own business to deal with than getting into Syria, to intervene in a situation where two "wrong sides" are butchering each other... Actions that would plunge the international economy deeper into the abyss!!

    August 31, 2013 at 8:48 am | Reply
  2. Rex

    A bloody mess and USA should stay out of this. Let the Muslims kill each other off. May the best sect win. Middle East is still in the dark ages of Religion, society, modern times. How can we help them when they cannot help themselves. Slavery, Beheading, no women's rights, sectarianism, oppression, suicide bombers, etc etc. Yea? The Religion of Peace? Hello?

    August 31, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
  3. Bernard

    the military of the usa/europe/nato needs to tell their warmongering government that they will not go to war in syria. even the taliban has sent fighters to syria. the soldiers shouldnt have to fight the taliban in afghanistan but support them and al qaeda in syria.

    assad did not use chemical weapons, the rebels did. the rebels have been caught with chemical weapons in syria, iraq, and turkey. you think al qaeda wouldnt use chemical weapons? assad has enough conventional weapons to fight the rebels, he doesnt need to use chemical weapons.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:50 am | Reply
    • 2Bob

      'Assad did not use chemical weapons'. You make that like it is a statement of fact. Given you cannot possibly know this to be a fact at this point I have to place you in the ranks of all the other armchair experts rushing to judgement.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:04 am | Reply
      • DCBill

        Sorry, I'll go with Kerry on this one.

        September 2, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  4. Louise Gulartie

    Well written and thoughtful article, speaks truth, I hope everyone reads this!

    September 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  5. Marek

    Turkey and Jordan are not alike key allies which was clearly stated in the last statement of the US government as well. Turkey is a NATO member and a major ally of the United States with deep cooperation in countless channels. Jordan is just an "ally" as in "it is not an enemy".

    After Turkey and Jordan are mentioned, the paragraph continues with "the other Arab states" which gives the impression as if those are both Arab states. While Jordan is one of the 22 Arabic countries, Turkey is not one of them. Turkey is not an Arab state, Turks are not Arabs.

    A little more care is necessary while putting such an article together to avoid misinforming the general public.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Reply

    attack syria and hezbollah at once, second if iran retaliate then attack all iran nukes and we dont need un so we can get red of all evil at once...use turkey, israel, jordan and the sea to lunch the rockets and plans...destroy syrians command and control and the 21 air bases and leave the rest to the freedom fighters..they will fall like flies..

    September 2, 2013 at 2:23 am | Reply
  7. TacomaJack

    A tailor-made situation for any western nation or interest to really get in a mess. (Quagmire anyone?)
    If I recall correctly, many of the borders in the region were set up by colonial powers with the specific objective of denying any faction or region the ability to dominate the area. Talk about pigeons returning to the roost!
    Maybe when pie comes out of the sky they (the people involved) can rearrange some borders and fight some regular wars instead of these messy 'civil' affairs.
    And gas – all war is nasty, but gas should be beyond the pale. I think the only question about gas is how to get rid of it.

    September 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  8. Moscue

    Why have we heard NOTHING from Israel?

    September 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  9. Observer

    It looks like a deadlock situation. I cannot see any way out from this difficult situation...

    September 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  10. Peace

    History has shown that once you engage into undoing such a mess, you must be prepared to go the full 9 yards. Unfortunately doing nothing in Syria is no longer an option. Wise action is needed. Time, thorough planning and consensus for this are probably the most critical success factors indeed. This is not about hit-and-run but more about managing the mess and the after-mess in a very sensitive corner of our planet, for an unforeseeable period of time and against forces that are yet to be determined ...
    brace and pray!

    September 4, 2013 at 12:00 am | Reply
  11. jay afzali

    What happened to diplomacy? Why every problem in Middle East has to solved by more rockets and missiles?It seems to me none even considering that option anymore.What do we expect from our young men in Chicago,NY,Oakland where every little dispute is solved by guns.Oh wait a second Obama is from Chicago gang land,never mind LOL

    September 4, 2013 at 2:01 am | Reply
  12. Arthur

    1) "The other Arab states are on both sides in the Syrian conflict. Although the Saudis are backing the rebellion against al-Assad, Iran has the other (al-Assad) side,"
    Since when has Iran been considered as an Arab State ?!
    2) The author's insights implies that Turkey is on the fence to be for/against this possible U.S attack. On the contrary, Turkish Prime minister is hastier than anyone to beat Assad's forces.
    I suggest Author be more considerate in viewing countries in Greater middle east; not all are Arab States.

    September 5, 2013 at 6:10 am | Reply
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