Personally, I’m for not getting involved in a dog fight between these two tyrannical groups, and the fact that the Obama administration has never spelled out it its policy in the region. The US is being taken for suckers in the region by multiple sides, and tyranny seems to be winning the day, “Arab Spring” or not.
Syria minus the US equals regional power struggle
One thing Barack Obama’s presidency has done is lay bare just how little the world has changed. There has never been any such thing as a global “safe space” created by sunny international consensus, and there never will be. There is power and safety, and there is weakness and peril. If the US is using power to guard “safe spaces” – territory on which the people have choice and opportunity, unprejudiced by someone else’s use of power – then safe places exist. If we are not guaranteeing them, they don’t.
We are not guaranteeing right now that Syria can operate in a safe space and make choices based on what her people want. This is something we still have the power to do, although it would be harder to jump in now than it would have been 15 months ago. It need not necessarily involve using the US military on Syrian soil, and would be better, in my view, if it didn’t. Even if it did, however, an intervention with a partial military aspect is not beyond our power.
Such an intervention does require deciding what US interests are. That is probably the biggest task the Obama administration has declined to complete. It isn’t really possible to discern what Team Obama thinks our interests are; given our passivity as Iran and Russia dispatch weapons shipments to Syria, and our seeming encouragement of shipments to the rebels from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, what it looks like is that the Obama administration thinks a bloody civil war would be the best outcome. Others may assume cynically that that’s an accurate read, but I don’t see it that way. What I detect in operation is the terribly short-sighted ignorance of the 1960s radical, whose gift to mankind was rewriting history in 25 words or less.
The civil war developing in Syria is not a war for the good of the Syrian people. It’s a war for the influence of outsiders over Syria and the Eastern Med. It’s not as simple as “Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkey versus Shia Iran,” nor is it as simple as “Russia has a port in Syria.” There are multiple factors at work, one of which for Russia is that Iran, radical as she is, is a client and a devil Russia has cards to play against, whereas Sunni Salafists are already a major security problem for Russia, and would only gain courage and momentum from participating in a victory in Syria. Russia doesn’t want Turkey to be “the winner” in the Syrian outcome either, largely because such a victory would encourage Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman aspirations and empower his bid for leadership in geopolitical Islamism.