The Syrian Opposition and Regional Instability

On Monday we addressed an ongoing effort by members of an interventionist element in United States foreign policy circles to immediately invest U.S. “…lethal support…” on behalf of the rebel opposition fighting to unseat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the ongoing civil war in Syria. An article at Foreign Policy Magazine, written by Michael Doran and Salman Shaikh, posited that President Barack Obama had overruled “…an ironclad consensus… among his most senior advisors…including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey…supporting a call by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, to provide lethal support to the Syrian opposition”. The counterpoint to this argument was that unless the U.S. intelligence community has sufficient understanding of the loyalties and associations of the myriad number of groups comprising the ground opposition in Syria, providing lethal support would present a significant chance for blowback in the power vacuum that would succeed any removal of al-Assad’s regime. This point was apparently well-founded.

Today The Long War Journal reported that an Islamist group with significant al-Qaeda associations and participation took control of an airbase in Syria: “One day after the largest dam in Syria fell to jihadists spearheaded by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Islamist fighters seized control of a nearby airbase. Jihadists have now taken control of four major military installations in Syria since October 2012…” (Long War Journal). Preliminary reports from the ground in Syria indicate the the overwhelming majority of elements comprising the entirety of the anti-Assad opposition rebel movement and fighting force are Islamists. Many are direct affiliates of Al-Qaeda.

The constant clarion calls in congressional neoconservative circles, specifically led by Arizona Senator John McCain (who has called for immediate ground intervention in support of the rebel forces in Syria for over a year) were criticized repeatedly by more pragmatic elements in Realist circles (led by personalities such as former Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar and former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel- now the nominee to head the Defense Department) for being hasty. The failure to properly assess potential outcomes for the removal of the Ba’ath party regime under Saddam Hussein in Iraq continued to haunt the U.S. and the military for nearly a decade after the intervention. It is important to recall the mistakes of earlier conflicts so as to gain perspective in assessing the possible outcomes of future U.S. military action, especially in a resource-rich and vital region where any potentially-destabilizing military action can reverberate in strategically vital areas and global markets for years afterward. Intervention in Libya occurred only after Muammar Gaddafi’s forces had surrounded the northern Mediterranean port city of Benghazi and openly threatened to kill all inhabitants, civilian and militant. Air support and intelligence gathering were combined to support the efforts of the ground opposition to Gaddafi’s regime, to great success at this point.

However, when removing a source of power from an area of great concern to U.S. national security interests, it is absolutely essential to assess the possible outcomes for the action; what will fill the vacuum in the wake of removal of that which stabilizes (even in hideous fashion) countries like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya, al-Assad’s Syria, and the theocracy ruling Iran? What are the possible alternatives for open support of militant groups with “lethal” means? What is the potential for blowback? How might the situation be addressed otherwise? A simple lack of fidelity in understanding who the opposition is, what they plan to do with the country, and whether a post-Assad Syria can spread instability to places like Lebanon and Jordan in jihadist madness are all known unknowns.

Throwing support, “lethal support” as the authors cited above state, to unknown elements is rash and rife for disastrous results with regard to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. Below, we’d like to start a discussion on alternatives to the use of military force in eliminating threats such as the Iranian nuclear enrichment program, Syria’s anti-U.S. regime, and the North Korean regime’s use of nuclear weapons capability to intimidate and threaten U.S. interests and allies in East Asia. Please share this blog, click ‘Like’, and begin commenting below.


Eric Jones
Editor-in-Chief and Senior Analyst

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Eric Jones

Eric Jones

Director, Co-founder, and Editor in Chief at Foreign Intrigue. Eric researches and writes about international affairs and US foreign policy, particularly Europe, Russia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. You can email Eric at Follow Eric on Twitter via @Intrigue_Jones. Follow Foreign Intrigue on Facebook here: