The Edmond Sun

September 3, 2013

AGAINST THE GRAIN: Syria expert says U.S. should wait, focus on peace

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — The French government’s refusal to support the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a certain animosity toward things French in the U.S., at that time, and there was talk of “French Fries” being replaced on restaurant menus as “freedom fries.” But some thoughtful commentators pointed out that France had been practicing statecraft since the time of Charlemagne, and that the French government’s refusal to back the American action in Iraq may have been based in part on France’s experience in foreign wars.

A similar point could be made about the refusal last week of the British Parliament to approve Prime Minister David Cameron’s request to take military action against the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad for its use of chemical weapons against rebels. The United Kingdom also has centuries of experience in foreign conflicts. And some members of the British Parliament may have served in that body when it voted to commit troops to the American invasion of Iraq, and where assured by then Prime Minister Tony Blair that the military action would be brief and would bring democracy and stability to Iraq.

Those who are urging the U.S. to intervene in the Syrian civil war speak of the brutality of the Assad regime, but as Syrian expert and University of Oklahoma Professor Joshua Landis has pointed out, they have not made a convincing argument that it is in the vital interest of the U.S. to become involved in that conflict. According to Landis, there a more than a thousand different militias that are currently fighting against the Assad government and some of them are affiliated with Al Queda and other militant Muslim groups that are hostile to the U.S. and its allies. There is no “government in waiting” that is prepared to take power in Syria if the regime collapses, and that country may slide into anarchy if the militias succeed in ousting Assad.

The government is supported by the Alawite minority, a sect that is an offshoot of Shia Islam that the Assad family is affiliated with, and Landis believes that Alawites may be massacred if the militias prevail. In addition, the Christian minority in Syria is fearful that some of the Muslim militias fighting to oust Assad may seek to drive them from Syria if they take power.

And U.S. military involvement in Syria could lead to conflict with Iran and possibly Russia, two states that are supporters of Assad regime. It has been reported that Iranians are playing an increasing role in Assad’s war with the rebels. There are also Russian citizens who live and work in Syria.

Landis believes that if U.S. military forces were to exchange fire with citizens from those nations it could result in a military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia and Iran. Iran has indicated that it is prepared to strike Israel if the Syrian conflict widens. And the OU professor also said that the Syrian conflict may spread to Lebanon and Iraq, two neighboring states that have religious divisions. Landis believes that U.S. interests would be better served by the U.S. working with other interested parties to bring some type of peace to Syria.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.