Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Obama and the Syrian Fight Club

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 2 September 2013 15:26

Here are a few thoughts about the intensified debate regarding foreign military intervention in Iraq’s western neighbour, Syria.

The controversy about the use of chemical weapons has essentially forced the Obama administration to present a condensed version of what it will do and what it won’t do in terms of intervening in Syria. In statements related to possible action, it has become clear that the Obama administration views chemical weapons use as the sole possible justification for intervention, and that such intervention does not aim at changing the balance of power between the warring parties or unseating the Assad regime. The only clearly articulated goal seems to be to punish Assad in a way that does not support one side in Syria over the other.

That seemingly surgical goal should in itself warrant some suspicion. If the plan is to strike at command and control centres rather than the chemical weapons themselves (which would be even more dangerous), how can this not affect the balance of power in Syria which is already so fragile that every little village is fought for as if they constituted some kind of Stalingrad in their own right? Additionally, with the ample advance warning provided, the Americans would be very lucky to avoid any attempt by Al-Qaeda to perform attacks against Assad scheduled to coincide to with the American attacks, which inevitably would give Islamist hardliners an unintended boost in the conflict.

More fundamentally, it seems contradictive in the extreme to perform this kind of attack if the ulterior motive is precisely to not affect the balance of power in Syria. Because that approach means that the main strategy remains diplomacy, doesn’t it? Surely, diplomacy will be collateral damage in any American attack, since the Assad regime, Iran and Russia alike will see no reason to soften their position following what will be perceived as an American provocation. That in turn means that the net outcome of any American attack, even if performed precisely according to the American ideas about pinpointed strikes, will be a setback for diplomatic efforts and hence mean a prolongation of the Syrian conflict.

From this point of view, President Obama seems to be about to shoot himself in the foot with his attacks. Maybe he understands it himself, and that is why he is almost reversing American constitutional order by turning so surprisingly to Congress? Unless, of course, the United States views Syria as some kind of Middle Eastern version of Fight Club, in which shirts and shoes are OK but no chemical weapons please. Go on, just slug it out with your “ancient sectarian hatreds”; we will stand by and remain intensely seized by the matter without doing anything at all, not even diplomatically. That is a view of international politics which fetishizes the difference between killing with chemical weapons and killing with other means, but then again it is also what has enabled American allies in Israel, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to continue repressing and killing their own citizens for decades without attracting much in the way of scrutiny by the US Congress.

9 Responses to “Obama and the Syrian Fight Club”

  1. faisalkadri said

    ” the balance of power in Syria which is already so fragile”
    You and I may believe the Syrian regime is so fragile but its allies won’t admit it. A small American military nudge is not out of order against the deep commitment of Iran and Russia. Anyway, the chemical attack is a crime of immense proportions, it is against humanity and the scope is way beyond Syria’s theater, it is a challenge to the status of the US as the sole superpower, if left without deterrence then I think the world will go back to bi or multi superpower politics.
    A US response with clear message of air-exclusion-zone-will-be-next has precedence in Iraq.

  2. Mohammed said

    HI Reidar:

    Nice to see more frequent posts from you!

    I agree with your argument, but allow me to play devil’s advocate—I think the proponent’s of a military attack would counter and say that for diplomacy and negotiations to have any chance at working, there must be a threat of military intervention by the USA and its allies, otherwise, very little incentive for Assad and company to make any concessions and negotiate.

    So attacks serve 2-3 goals

    1) Obama boxed himself in when he foolishly drew red lines, and now he has to deliver,
    2) CW and WMD cannot be tolerated by Iran or its proxies (satisfy israel lobby)
    3) Get Assad to the negotiating table by showing Assad that America is prepared to use force against him, and Russia/Iran cannot shield him from American might.

    I still don’t agree with the attacks. I think before going down that pathway, America should try to get a grand bargain between gulf countries and Iran about many issues.


  3. Salah said

    Freedom and democracy not can come with rockets and missiles and capital punishment of Syrian nation.
    The regime will survive as Iraq tyrant in 1991, however in my point view the crimes done by any regime around the world should be taken to The Huge and those who did or think they can live with continuing their crime should realise this is a dream of the past.

  4. Salah said

    The war coming, there is no need for discussion an analyzing, the war was planed along two-three years that Syrian conflicts going.
    What we see today of discussion can we start bombing with or without UN order, this just smoking gun for the big show will start as plan.
    The Playbook for the Syrian War Has Already Been Written — in Iraq

  5. faisalkadri said

    With the prospect of no vote in the US Congress increasing and the Obama-Putin rift in public view, it is now essential to address the US and international public’s concern, this is no time for secrecy, the world needs to see and smell the smoking gun, not just discuss circumstantial evidence, on the Syrian regime’s involvement.

  6. Salah said

    Obama have the power to over turn no vote in the US Congress and go to war…

    however Obama just a proxy to A Veteran Saudi Power Player

  7. Salah said

    “Despite agreeing to fully disarm by ridding itself of weapons of mass destruction, — — has worked to actually enhance its weapons program, increasing its stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and working to build nuclear weapons.

    “— — has used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors and his own people. He has attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, including an American president.

    “Alone, these facts are very troubling. Together, they present a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.”

    As you might have guessed, this speech wasn’t about Syria or its leader, Bashar al-Assad.
    Instead, this was a speech about Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2002. It comes from Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
    He voted for the Iraq war resolution. So did Reps. Dennis Moore, Ike Skelton, Todd Akin, and Jim Ryun.
    Rep. Karen McCarthy was a no vote in the House.
    On the Senate side, Sens. Kit Bond, Jean Carnahan, Pat Roberts, and Sam Brownback all voted for war with Iraq.
    The Iraq war: How area lawmakers voted

    Which one you can choose from all above that apply fully on Syrian regime, as causes for going to war or may be regime change??

  8. faisalkadri said

    I just listened to Obama’s 15 minutes speech, here is what I understood in a couple of sentences: I made up my mind, I could attack Syria anytime, maybe even before the congress votes, but everybody seems to talk about Assad agreeing to give up his chemical arsenal, I don’t buy that crap but I’ll let you try for as long as it pleases me.

  9. Salah said

    Perfect well stated.

    The attack of the regime in Syria will be certain in near future…

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