Skip to main content

A U.S. strike would be self-wounding

By Kapil Komireddi, Special to CNN
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Tue September 3, 2013
A protester demonstrates against potential U.S. intervention in Syria on Saturday, September 7, in Chicago. President Barack Obama has sought congressional approval to attack Syria in response to allegations that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons on their own people. A protester demonstrates against potential U.S. intervention in Syria on Saturday, September 7, in Chicago. President Barack Obama has sought congressional approval to attack Syria in response to allegations that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons on their own people.
HIDE CAPTION
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
Protests against military action in Syria
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kapil Komireddi: If U.S. engages in Syria over chemical weapons, it could be in for the long haul
  • He says rebels -- now including jihadists -- have long tried to draw outside forces to cause
  • He says opposition will know that use of chemical weapons works to its advantage
  • Komireddi: U.S. could end up fighting Syria's jihadists and the Assad regime

Editor's note: Kapil Komireddi is an Indian journalist who writes on South Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama said he is not seeking "regime change" in Syria. Military action in Syria, he said this weekend as he sought congressional approval, will be limited. These assurances are meant to reassure those who fear a repeat of Iraq. But the idea of a limited intervention is an illusion. Once the United States becomes directly involved in Syria, there can be no turning back.

The purpose of limited strikes would be to convey a message to Bashar al-Assad: Don't use chemical weapons. But a U.S. attack could potentially widen, rather than halt, the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Syria, as a united entity, exists today only on the map. On the ground, competing interests have fractured the country. No party can claim to represent even a modest plurality of Syrians, and no power can claim authority over a majority of the territory. But a formidable Arab state exists in Damascus, and the numerous forces striving to seize it or bring about its demise are so hopelessly riven internally that they cannot possibly win without external support. For more than two years now, they have attempted to incite Western intervention by exhibiting evidence of the Assad government's brutality.

Is it 'High Noon' for Obama on Syria?

Kapil Komireddi
Kapil Komireddi

By intervening now to inflict limited punishment on al-Assad because chemical weapons have been used, the United States is erecting a precedent that could be exploited in the future by the more unscrupulous factions of the opposition looking to provoke further interventions. The knowledge that Washington will intervene if chemical weapons are used could create an incentive for their re-use by those who would benefit from such an intervention.

By seemingly spurning meticulous multilateral investigations led by the United Nations in a rush to fix the blame on al-Assad, the United States is signaling also that, in its opinion, only the regime is capable of carrying out large-scale chemical attacks. This template will produce deadly temptations. As the novelist Amitav Ghosh, who spent long years studying insurgencies in Asia, has observed, in civil conflicts "the very prospect of intervention" often becomes a stimulus for the "the escalation of violence" by the weaker side.

If limited use of chemical weapons can succeed in drawing the United States into the conflict in a way that 100,000 deaths by conventional arms could not, they could be viewed by al-Assad's adversaries -- particularly by the foreign fighters affiliated with al Qaeda -- as a blessing rather than a scourge. The effort to "liberate" Syria could become dependent for its success on the partial annihilation of Syrians with chemical weapons -- since they are the only agents of murder that can trigger a U.S. reaction.

Obama, Congress in Syria quagmire
Understanding Syria's al-Assad family
Congress wants more details on Syria
iReporters mixed on Syria intervention

We cannot be certain about the security of the chemical weapon stockpiles in the Syrian government's custody. Its power structure has so far remained largely intact, but, as last year's suicide bombing in Damascus that killed al-Assad's inner circle and maimed his brother demonstrated, the regime is not impregnable.

Syria vote could have consequences for 2016

In a land shattered by war, loyalties are constantly shifting and obtaining fatal nerve agents may not be tremendously difficult. In 1995, for example, an obscure Japanese cult called Aum Shinrikyo managed to kill 13 passengers on the Tokyo subway by releasing sarin gas developed from commercially available chemicals.

So what will the United States do the next time chemical weapons are used in Syria? More than 1,000 deaths are prompting the United States -- despite the absence of conclusive evidence linking the Assad regime to the crime -- to intervene. Can it refuse to live up to its own precedent if 10,000 Syrians were killed in a fresh massacre after Obama's "limited" intervention has concluded? Won't the voices that are now so stridently opposing patient investigations and diplomacy in favor of military action amplify their demands?

But a deeper military involvement will be so self-wounding as to be suicidal. Syria has become a catchment for foreign fighters from more than 60 countries. Their ambition is not simply to defeat al-Assad. It is to establish a theocratic state in the most resolutely secular corner of the Arab world. It is the rise of these jihadists that has compelled Syria's secularists and religious minorities, who at the beginning of the uprising in 2011 had marched alongside the opposition, to return to al-Assad's fold.

To rid Syria of al-Assad's dictatorship and prevent it from falling into the hands of jihadists who are cut from the same ideological cloth as the men who drove the planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the United States may have to commit itself to Syria for more than a decade -- fighting the jihadists, subduing al-Assad and his allies in Hezbollah, protecting Israel and preserving Lebanon's fragile peace. After Afghanistan and Iraq, is there an appetite for such an enterprise anywhere?

Military has concerns about Syria mission

Intervening in Syria will perhaps pacify Obama's conscience. But in Syria, there's every chance that it will escalate the conflict. Ultimately tantalizing the losing side in the Syrian civil war with a brief, punitive, "limited" entry on its behalf will only hasten the creation of conditions that will eventually suck America back into the conflict.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kapil Komireddi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT