An editorial in Saudi Gazette laments that Arab expectations of a decisive blow against Syria undertaken by the US, UK, and others is not what the US, UK, and others are actually thinking about. Those countries, the writer says, are only considering punitive actions, not ones that will result in the ousting of the Al Assad regime.
There’s a good reason for that, actually, and it’s a pity that Arabs who would wish for more cannot see it. While ridding Syria of the Ba’athist government now helping to destroy the country might be a worthy end in itself, there’s a big question about what comes after. If a power vacuum results, the entire region loses. If extremist groups end up on top, the entire region loses, and what’s worse, those groups will now have access to chemical weapons and the advanced weapon systems now held by the Syrian military. I do not think that the Saudi government would sleep well at night knowing that Al-Qaeda has tons of Sarin gas at its disposal. Nor should Saudi citizenry.
A bit problem with this type of editorial, though, is that it seems to be of the “Let’s you and him fight!” type. Saudi Arabia is providing humanitarian support for displaced Syrians. It is also reported to have provided small arms to certain opposition groups. That’s good. But where is Saudi Arabia when it comes to providing armed forces to overthrow the Syrian government? Saudi Arabia has no “skin in the game”, as it were. Rooting from the sidelines for someone else to take action is pretty inexpensive, if not outright cheap.
In the situation of Syria, the US will lose if it does nothing; it will lose if it over-reaches; it will lose if it does something in between. So why, exactly, should the US be rushing in to take action when Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and the proximate neighbors of Syria are just acting like innocent bystanders?
The Arab world is expecting the United States to inflict serious military damage on the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad, in retribution for its use of chemical weapons against its people. There is a clear expectation that the devastation that will be inflicted upon the Syrian military machine will permit the Free Syrian Army to finish the job that it has set about so heroically in two years of vicious struggle
Yet reading between the lines of the statements coming out of Washington and London and Paris, there is no clear commitment to do anything more than punish Assad for misbehavior. It is almost as if the airstrikes, when they come, will be little more than a slap on the wrist for a naughty dictator who has been using poison gas on his own people. The intent would seem to be that with a few of his choice military assets blown apart by Cruise missiles, Assad will behave himself and continue to fight his own people without recourse to deplorable, terroristic tactics, such as the use of poison gas.
If this is truly the analysis that is driving the plan for military intervention, then it is not only morally wrong but it also carries high risks of failure. A strictly limited, punitive military campaign that degrades only a small part of the Damascus dictatorship’s capacity to slaughter its own people is absolutely not what is required.