Last week the Saudis said they would send ground forces to fight in Syria, but only on condition that they would be joining a U.S. invasion force. While the Saudi proposal is a non-starter here in the U.S., they wouldn’t be able to fulfill their end of the bargain anyway:
The Saudis don’t really have an expeditionary army tailored for extended combat in Syria. Even its brutal, faltering campaign to defeat Iran-backed rebels in Yemen has been largely limited to airstrikes. Its Royal Saudi Land Force, with an estimated strength of 175,000 troops, is designed to maintain order inside the kingdom, experts say.
“The Saudi military is indeed heavily committed in Yemen, and its forces are not configured to allow for an intervention on the ground in Syria,” says a former senior U.S. diplomat in Saudi Arabia, who asked for anonymity because he now represents a major industry in the region.
At most, the Saudis are “offering” to participate in a ground war in which U.S. forces would be doing the vast majority of the fighting, and even then they would not be able to contribute very much to the effort. The Saudis are “inviting” the U.S. to put our soldiers at risk to advance their goals in Syria because they can’t do it for themselves and probably wouldn’t even if they could. This should make clear that all of the candidate pledges to orchestrate the creation of a Sunni Arab army to fight ISIS are nonsense. Syria hawks have to pretend that a ground war in Syria wouldn’t be fought primarily by U.S. forces, because once it becomes clear that this is what will be required their preferred policy will be rejected. Considering how unwilling the Saudis have been to commit large numbers of ground forces to their appalling war in Yemen, it was never credible that they would be willing to do more than that in Syria.
Even if the Saudis were able to make a meaningful contribution to such a campaign, it would come at the price of pursuing the overthrow of the Syrian government:
Even if the Saudis did mobilize an interventionist force for Syria, Miller and many other observers point out, the monarchy’s strategy is out of sync with the goals of Washington and its European allies: Its main effort is to bring down the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran.
The Saudis are trying to sucker the U.S. into agreeing to fight their war for them, and no Americans should be fooled into thinking that they have any intention of living up to what they promised in their “offer.”