Max Boot tells us that the Syrian military is nothing to worry about:
And what about that 330,000-man army? Most of the soldiers are poorly trained and unmotivated Sunni conscripts unwilling to do much to defend a regime dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
This is certainly possible, but if U.S. and other foreign governments start attacking their country it also seems possible that at least some of these soldiers will fight. It is a little too easy to assume that 60-70% of the other country’s army will just give up or desert. After all, they have seen what happened to Iraq during U.S. occupation, and they presumably don’t believe that the U.S. and our allies are hostile to the regime alone. At least some of these soldiers will have more incentives not to desert and possibly even to oppose those forces that they may see bringing about the ruin or dismantling of their country.
Even less reassuring is Boot’s assessment that Russia will not react to yet another client regime being attacked and toppled by Western intervention:
As for Russia, yes, Moscow has a naval station in Syria, but presumably U.S. aircraft would not target Russian facilities. Short of that, it’s hard to see how anything we might do would start any kind of conflict with Russia. This isn’t the Cuban missile crisis, and Russia would not go to war to defend the Assad regime.
Well, presumably the U.S. and NATO weren’t targeting the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, but it was bombed anyway. Even in an era of precision weapons, accidents are going to happen, and the possibility that a stray bomb or missile might kill Russian military personnel in Syria is not something to be shrugged off. In case Boot hadn’t noticed in 2008, Moscow reacts poorly when Russian soldiers are killed. If a conflict were to break out, it wouldn’t have to be a direct one between Russia and the U.S. If the U.S. attacks one of its clients, Russia might retaliate against one of ours, and Georgia would be the most likely target. No, Russia wouldn’t go to war against the U.S. to defend Assad, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a risk of increased international instability if the U.S. were involved in an attack on Syria.
Bypassing the U.N. and attacking Yugoslavia in 1999 was possible because Russia was weak enough that it was unwilling to do anything about it at the time, but that is no longer the case today. There is also the possibility that Russia could cut off U.S. access to its territory and airspace that our military uses for the Northern Distribution Network to resupply the war in Afghanistan. Of course, there’s always a chance that Russia values a good relationship with the U.S. more than it values its Syrian client, but Boot’s breezy assumption that this isn’t something to worry about in the event of a Syrian war is typical of his overall approach to military action.
Least persuasive of all is Boot’s response to concerns about prolonging and intensifying Syria’s civil war:
Aiding the rebels would hardly risk plunging Syria into civil war. Syria is already in a civil war, and it is getting worse. The more pressure we bring to topple Assad, the faster we can end that war and the more influence we can exert with a successor regime.
Syria is already in a civil war, and what Boot proposes is that the U.S. and other governments prop up the far weaker side. If the civil war is getting worse, what Boot proposes would guarantee that it continues to get worse much more rapidly. Doing what Boot proposes will not hasten the end of the civil war. It will prevent the civil war from ending with Assad still in power. The goal of intervention at this point is to achieve regime change, which will only come about at far greater cost in lives than anything that has happened so far.