Skip to main content

Why Western intervention in Syria will leave chaos

By Ed Husain, Special for CNN
updated 5:26 AM EDT, Fri August 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sectarian, ethnic, and religious dimensions have kept the U.S. away from direct involvement, writes Ed Husain
  • He asks: If punitive attacks on Syria are launched, what exactly are we targeting?
  • By bombing Syria today, we bear the burden of the instability we leave in our wake, he says

Ed Husain is a New York-based senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of "The Islamist" can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain.

(CNN) -- Syria's civil war is not America's problem. Syria is surrounded by Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab nations with large standing armies and advanced military equipment. Their cowardice in acting to stop a war on their doorstep should give us pause for thought. Why will they not act, but we must?

Why is American gullibility for war so strong that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel can dispense of their moral duties to the American taxpayer?

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

Make no mistake about it: al Assad is a war criminal, having had his own civilians and soldiers slaughtered in a war to keep his family in power.

The sectarian, ethnic, and religious dimensions of the war have kept the Obama administration (rightly in my view) away from direct military involvement in the conflict.

But what has changed now? The use of chemical weapons to kill people jolts us into probable action, but millions displaced, wounded and 100,000 dead did not. Why? Because the banality of the policy shift rests on the assumptions that American cruise missiles can prevent further use of chemical weapons, provide a face-saving measure for President Barack Obama who can argue that he acted after his "red line" had been crossed in Syria, and neuter critics of Obama's Syria policy.

READ: Why is chemical attack a red line issue?

There is no absolute certainty as to whether al Assad used chemical weapons, or rebel factions did. Al Assad has no credible motivation to use these weapons at this stage, and in this phase of the conflict. He is not losing.

If, as the Russians claim, it was al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusrah group or Free Syrian Army elements that used weapons to bait America into the conflict, then U.S. firepower would be futile in establishing how a ragtag army and terrorists obtained chemical weapons. No amount of surgical strikes on government facilities will prevent non-state actors from further use of these weapons.

UN: Syria's chemical use 'unacceptable'
Horror stories coming out of Syria

What justifies intervening if Syria uses chemical weapons?

But if we believe that al Assad used these weapons, and launch punitive attacks on Syria, what exactly are we targeting? The secretive and globally isolated nature of the Assad regime and therefore his chemical stockpiles means that we do not know where these are located.

We intervened in Libya with greater confidence because Gadhafi's chemical weapons were mostly eliminated by an international inspection arrangement prior to the Arab uprisings. By bombing Syria now we increase the risk of al Assad using chemical weapons on populations and cities that are not under government control, or to quell new rebellions. Damaging his air force and known military installation would force him to consider his more extreme options for regime survival. Syria is now a fight to the death for both sides.

READ: Gingrich: Stay out of Syria's civil war

U.S.-led military strikes in Syria will not change the tide of the war. That is not the mission, nor is it achievable by aerial blitzing. The Syrian opposition is not a government in waiting. It is too fragmented ideologically, overwrought by al Qaeda affiliates, deeply anti-American, and dominated by suburban fighters with little control of major cities, mercenaries who are not committed to peaceful coexistence with Syria's religious Christians, nor its Jewish neighbor.

The case against Syria
Arab League weighs in on Syria

Syria after al Assad will be worse. A new civil war will break out between opposition factions. By bombing Syria today, we bear the burden of the instability we leave in our wake.

President Obama imprudently mentioned a "red line" in Syria and is now hostage to fortune. The president has changed his policy stance on using illegal wire taps, closing Guantanamo Bay, gay marriage, and more.

Opinion: 5 reasons the U.S. must intervene in Syria

The heat of the moment and push from the chattering classes to "do something" without knowing what will consume Obama into another Middle East war. He beat Hillary Clinton as an anti-Iraq war candidate.

By intervening, Syria may well prove to be Obama's war, bequeathed to a new president in 2016. Civilian casualties are inevitable: The images on our screens will not be Syrians using chemical weapons to kill each other, but American bombs creating carnage and killings in yet another Muslim country.

READ: For U.S., Syria is truly a problem from hell

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Husain.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT