The enemy of my enemy
Monday, April 10th, 2017 @ 7:12PM
Chemical weapons cross a red line that was drawn in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol and reinforced by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1997. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad sent a letter to the UN secretary general on September 12, 2013 confirming a legislative decree to immediately accede to the CWC.
When President Donald Trump authorized the launching of 59 cruise missiles to destroy aircraft, radar systems, and refueling equipment at Al Shayrat Airfield to return focus on that red line, there was both praise and criticism. Even the critics, though, could see that doing nothing in the face of Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians would be problematic. If the salvo of precision guided weapons stops future chemical weapons use, then the $100 million investment in those 59 missiles will be judged to be worth the cost.
What’s being implied here, however, is that future use of chemical weapons by Assad will be met with, at a minimum, a measured response all the way up to an all-out effort to remove the dictator. The question is, as it was in Iraq, who fills the power vacuum if Assad is forcibly removed?
Syria is similar to Iraq in that its dictator is from a minority faction in a country that includes Sunnis, Kurds, Shiites and many other religious/ethnic groups and as many as 1,000 armed opposition groups with an estimated 100,000 fighters. There is talk of partitioning the country to accommodate a peaceful existence of the various groups, something that was contemplated in Iraq as well, but is a difficult if not impossible task.
An orderly succession of power from Assad to anyone else is likely out of the question. If there are further chemical attacks and if the United States took an active role in removing Assad, which would no doubt require more than guided missiles, we would be in a similar predicament that we found ourselves after the invasion of Iraq.
Let’s now start thinking like an opposition army that has struggled for six years against Assad’s forces, making progress for a time, but being out-gunned since the Russians appeared in theater and essentially being driven into a stalemate. How would this opposition army view Trump’s action after the sarin gas attack? Encouraged, I think.
Knowing that the red line is newly repainted, the most expeditious path to winning this war on Assad would be for Assad to once again use chemical weapons. That is because the United States is now committed to following up on any future use of the banned weapons, perhaps even to remove Assad. So why would Assad guaranty his demise by continuing to use chemical weapons? Logic would dictate that he wouldn’t.
But if an opposition group was able to get its hands on chemical weapons and use them against its own people, then the United States might break the stalemate for them and do what the opposition has failed to do for six years. Some intelligence from a plant in the Syrian air force as to when and where a bombing run is going to take place would provide adequate cover for the rebels to coordinate their chemical weapons attack and make it look like Assad’s air force once again killed more innocent people with sarin, chlorine, or another deadly gas.
This is a tactic that has been used many times in all parts of the world to compel a powerful force sitting on the sideline to come onto the field. There is much speculation that a purported drone strike on a school in Yemen was actually a munition exploded by ISIS operatives to generate hate and feed into their recruiting propaganda.
This gets to the crux of my caution to triple check who’s responsible for further use of chemical weapons before entangling our military in another regime changing exercise. There is likely no good outcome for Syria in such a situation. In fact, the rise of any of the most powerful factions fighting in Syria today probably leads to continued civil war with no end in sight.
In Syria, the enemy of my enemy might not be my friend.