The War in Syria is at a crucial point, with an air strike and foreign intervention from the West and the UK more and more looking like a likely scenario. The conflict in Syria is one of the most complex not just in recent history, but in war and military history overall. What is the biggest problem? Every regional and international player wants different outcome. With so many different outcomes and players, the conflict is constantly escalating. With that being said, should the Western World start a military air strike intervention, similar to the one in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan?
At the beginning of December, as the British parliament was discussing whether to approve or not an air strike in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that launching an attack on ISIS “will make us safer”.
According to Cameron, a launch on Syria would not make the UK a bigger target for terror attacks than the country already is.
However, both Cameron and opposition leader Corbyn assured that the UK will never be dragged into a ground attack in Syria.
Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, UK has been reluctant to join the fight and help its allies the United States of America. But at the beginning of December, the Parliament voted 397 to 223 for an air strike, and British planes were in Syria the next day.
Many military and war experts point to the fact that the British have some of the best missiles, the Brimstone missiles. They are extremely accurate and precise laser-guided missiles, and the government itself argues that those missiles will reduce civilian casualties.
The missiles have a “fire and forget” capability. They use wave radar seeker to lock on a moving target, which essentially helps the missiles strike on the right target, not on civilian targets.
However, even the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron has stated that an air strike alone is not enough to defeat ISIS.
The simple fact many western experts forget is that even if the West bombs Syria and ISIS, it will be decided on the negotiating table, not on the battlefield.
Several planes will not make practical difference in Syria. The problem is that the Western world lacks a clear strategy for “what next” after the bombing. The conflict must be resolved on the negotiating table, and simply removing Bashar al-Assad from the cabinet is not enough. Additional problem is that Russia openly supports Assad, and the country has even sent military tanks and soldiers to solidify Bashar’s regime in Syria.
Two questions will be crucial. First “Russia needs to decide if it will give up Assad”. Second, the West needs to decide “if it can tolerate talking to Assad, Isis and Iran all together”. Talking to ISIS is the key, as the West has little to no sense of what the Islamic caliphate wants.
This is where force might help, since a small force can get key players to sit at the negotiating table.
Some experts claim that the West should not be haunted by the ghost of Iraq, where they started a ground attack to support the air strike and lost thousands of good soldiers. In fact, some experts believe the ghost of Bosnia is what haunts every conflict since then.
Back in the 90s, when the civil war in Bosnia was at full strength, thousands of Muslims were massacred. The Western World watched and did nothing at the beginning. At that point, generation of Islamists decided to take matters in their own hand and the experience radicalized them.
Back in 2013, the UK parliament was also voting for Syria. The parliament voted against a war in Syria, and the result was the Islamic State. The country became a main source for recruiting jihadists.
As some experts put it, we are where we are “because nothing was done when ISIS was just starting out”.
What many people underestimate when they think of a war in Syria is the refugee aspect. The Civil War is lasting for quite some time now, but a foreign bombing will only increase the problems for the Syrian people.
So far, the numbers are the following:
- 4.3 million Syrian refugees across the world, and additional 6.6 million displaced within Syria. Half of those are children
- 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria
- Just 10% of the refugees have traveled to Europe, with most of Syrian refugees remaining in the Middle East in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq
- More than 320,000 people have been killed so far in Syria, with 12,000 of them being children.
- Almost 1.5 million people in Syria have been wounded or permanently disabled
And according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the war has become more deadly from the moment foreign forces joined the conflict. With winter coming at our doors, it is even more crucial to avoid casualties, refugees and similar. Refugees in settlements all over the world have fewer resources than before, and with rain and cold, more refugees are attempting to cross the sea and reach Europe.
The refugee aspect is only one of the reasons why the West should not bomb Syria. Syrian people have suffered so much, and are already being bombed by so many different factions that it would be utter madness to bomb and worsen their suffering. The question many humanitarians ask is “who on Earth would want to kill civilians”?
And like in many other wars, innocent and civilian people are paying for the work of the terrorists. So far, more than half of the population in Syria has left their homes due to the Civil War.
Another strong argument that people against bombing make is the Iraq question. While the UK and the West were invited to take part in air strikes in Iraq, they do not have such permission and justification in Syria. Unlike in Iraq, there are few forces in Syria that the West can support. Essentially, it would be crossing an international line and fighting in foreign country without permission. With the Russians supporting Assad, bombing in Syria might result with an international war. And while it is also true that both Russia and the Western World are fighting against ISIS, one can never know what happens next.
Last, but not least, the question is whether the West has a strategy for the conflict as a whole, and what will they do next after a military intervention in Syria?
And while RAF weapons are accurate, the downside is they rely on strong intelligence for their accuracy. At the moment, the West doesn’t have much of an intelligence data to support a war mission in Syria.
Another lingering question is whether the West need to send ground troops to Syria. Many war experts claim that only ground troops will beat ISIS, and that air strikes will always risk civilian casualties. But the UK, and the Western world in whole are reluctant to use ground forces. Since Iraq and Afghanistan, the West has learned its lesson that “boots on the ground” is not a popular and successful strategy.
On top of civilian casualties, boots on the ground have resulted with many military casualties for the Western world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lasted far longer than anyone predicted, and the result was change in strategy for future attacks.
According to former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, the war in Syria could have been prevented in 2012. The former Nobel peace prize laureate said that in 2012, the Russians had a plan in place to remove Bashar al-Assad from cabinet, which would essentially mean that there would be no point of a war.
At the moment, the war in Syria is between Assad and opposition forces and ISIS on the other side. For four and half years, Russians have supported Assad in the Civil War, claiming that removing him from cabinet should not be part of any peace negotiations and operations.
But Ahtisaari notes that in 2012, the Russians were determined to remove him. The problem was, the Western World was overconfident that Bashar was about to fall, and they ignored the proposal. The terms of the agreement and the negotiations have never been fully disclosed, but Martti has stated in September this year that in 2012, the West failed to seize an opportunity.
Using the word “hate” is too strong of a term here. However, it is clear that the Western World and Syrian President are on different pages at the moment. Politically and ideologically, the two are enemies.
One of the reasons why the US government is against Assad is because he is the face of a fiercely independent nationalist regime that has defied US influence. The US prefers governments such as Egypt and Jordan, where they have close relations.
Syria, on the other hand, has very close regime with the Russian government. The crucial point came when Bashar refused to step down to allow Syria to transform into a western-style democracy, reacting to the protests that preceded the war with a military crackdown. A liberal democracy would be easier for the West to control.
Additionally, the economic aspect also comes in play. Syria does military business, buying weapons from Russia and China, and the US wants to have that piece of the cake. Assad also has trade deals with Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina.
Maybe the biggest economical change that Assad made was in 2006, when the president changed the currency for foreign goods from US dollar to Euro.
All in all, one can say that the US and the Western World do not hate Assad and Syria. It is just a matter of the current political climate. You can never know, Syria might become an ally in the same way as Pakistan became an ally following the 9/11 attacks.
Jeremy Scahill is one of the best reporters in the United States. He is the founding editor of The Intercept, an online news publication, and author of some of the best US mi...