Initial information regarding a possible US-lead strike against Syrian governmental forces underlines a common hubris found in the policymakers of our time. Following the 78 days air campaign in Kosovo it seems plausible that wars can be won with limited engagement and objectives can be attained with a restricted number of aerial missions. This “zero loss” policy is in fact an intellectual trap leading Western powers into the strategic fallacy of using force for loosely defined humanitarian goals.
The Syrian intervention may have catastrophic results has it will lead to the same errors committed in 1999. When taking side in a harsh civil war environment, the tendency has been since the bombing of Belgrade to target government forces as they are the most visible and tangible perpetrator of human right abuses. As NATO destroyed the Yugoslavian forces, the Western powers will tip the balance of the Syrian conflict by destroying Bashar Al Assad strategic advantages. If this should not be considered as a strategic failure in itself the result of such actions within the scope of a limited conflict may come in contrast to Western and Israeli interests.
More than Milosevic, Al Assad does represent a clear threat to Israeli, Western and international positions in the region and worldwide. His actions and crimes should be punished and his repeated support for terrorist organizations should be stopped. However, by simply destroying Syrian war making capabilities, the US, the UK and France will automatically play into the end of extremist networks representing vital threats to Israel, the EU and the US as well as to Christian communities in the Middle East.
Reports indicate that following the fall of the Yugoslavian army, over 5000 ethnic Serbs have been slaughtered for their Orthodox faith by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Churches have been regularly burnt while Serbian cemeteries have been desecrated. In Syria the outcome may be even worse. While the KLA and Albanian groups have been using systematic violence against Serbs and non-Muslim populations none of these aggressors was affiliated to Al Qaeda. In Syria entire regions of the country are under the black banner of terrorist organizations linked to the fundamentalist network. On August 27th, Wadi al-Nassara, a valley home of a vast Christian population has called for the intervention of regular troops as Al Qaeda has been threatening of launching a massive offensive against non-Sunni areas. The Wadi al-Nassara is home of more than 50,000 Christians thus raising the possibility of a far larger massacre than the one experienced in Kosovo after the destruction of Milosevic forces.
This does not mean that military option in Syria should be abandoned. The destruction of Bashar Al Assad forces, their partners as well as of Al Qaeda networks in the country may be considered a strategic goal for NATO member states and for Israel. However the nature of a military intervention should be reconsidered. A precise set of aerial and cruise missile strikes will only further deteriorate the security situation in an already volatile region. The only way through which an international coalition could avoid repeating the mistakes made in Kosovo would be to commit a large ground force in the country.
As President Obama is unlikely to ever contemplate this possibility, the option seems to not even be on the table. However, a force of hundreds of thousands units engaged in the country would be the only way of preventing the massacre of Christian minorities, the disintegration of Syria, a growing foothold by Al Qaeda and the acquisition by Hezbollah of game-changing weapon systems. International forces should be positioned on the Lebanese border, on the Aleppo-Hamah-Homs-Damascus line, on the Golan area and in the Kurd region as well as dispatched throughout the country to set up protection areas for local minorities.
It is clear that the demise of Bashar Al Assad military force will increase the chances that the regime will fall, for this the international community needs to put in place a clear strategy limiting the power vacuum which will inevitably result from these actions.
Committing a full ground force in Syria is the only way the international community will not play in the hand of blood thirsty jihadists. It must be clearly stated that the killing of innocent civilians for their political and religious ideals is a crime against humanity, whoever the killer may be.
Short of a full and long-lasting military presence in Syria, a military intervention following the Kosovo framework is likely to result in a strategic fiasco vitalizing Al Qaeda and leading to the destruction of Syrian minorities. The case for a humanitarian intervention is weak as no clear exit strategy or contingency plan seems to be drafted for the day-after the first shot is fired. Western and Israeli policy makers should question the result of a short-term aerial campaign since its goals may be limited but its effects on the ground are likely to be disastrous and far reaching.
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