More Blithe Syria Warmongering
This would mean a Libya-style coalition air campaign but shouldn’t require many boots on the ground. Western air power could make short work of Mr. Assad’s army: though often described as formidable, the Syrian military is having trouble completely suppressing the rebels and could never withstand a sustained outside onslaught. After all, Saddam Hussein’s much feared and much bigger army dissolved quickly in the face of American firepower.
This is the first time in many years I have seen someone using the experience of the Iraq war as proof that starting a new war in the Near East is a good idea. Four objections to Tepperman’s “short work” claim immediately present themselves: 1) Syrian forces fighting for Assad likely believe that keeping the regime in power is a matter of survival for them, so they are not going to give up or break as easily as Iraqi forces did in 2003, and they have already seen what happened to Iraq once the country was under foreign occupation, which gives them added incentive to resist; 2) the 2003 invasion had been preceded by more than a decade of destroying Iraqi air defenses as part of the enforcement of the no-fly zones, whereas Syrian defenses are intact and significant, and they are not something to be ignored entirely as Tepperman does; 3) piecemeal interventions risk a “messier regional war,” but Tepperman’s proposal guarantees one; 4) once an internal Syrian conflict becomes a U.S.-led war for regime change, Assad’s allies will be able to portray their support for Assad in the usual terms of “resistance” against the U.S., which will give Iran and Hizbullah new incentives to provide support to Assad and keep more of the U.S. military tied up bombing Syria.
Iran might assume that a U.S.-led war to overthrow Assad is a prelude to an attack on their facilities, so the Iranian regime would want to keep the U.S. fighting in Syria for as long as possible. If the regime believed it had nothing left to lose, it could use its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. It is possible that a U.S. attack on Syria would result in the use of those weapons on rebel population centers or on neighboring countries that are supporting the U.S. attack. It would also be difficult to prevent the regime from carrying out even more devastating attacks on cities supportive of the rebellion without causing significant civilian casualties. The issue is not whether the Syrian military could “withstand a sustained onslaught,” but that defeating Syrian regime forces militarily would result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands that would likely flee Syria to escape the war zone. Almost everything that is wrong with “piecemeal” intervention proposals is also wrong with the call for a direct attack on Syria.
P.S. Aaron David Miller argues against any form of military intervention in Syria.