October 23, 2020

Send in the spooks

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Send in the spooks

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Obama is in Africa for the next week, making friends and influencing people, and what’s happening in Syria will have to wait probably until he’s back on U.S. soil. That could be a mistake because events on the ground in Syria are moving very fast, and the U.S. is rapidly losing whatever momentum it had towards Obama’s chief objective there, which is the removal of President Assad.

If that’s the outcome that Obama wants, how do the administration and its allies achieve that result? For a time, Obama seemed confident that Assad’s days were numbered, that it was just a matter of time before he would realize that he had run out of options. Then Hezbollah fighters loyal to Iran crossed the border from Lebanon into Syria, and suddenly Assad’s forces regained the upper hand.

Now it’s a free-for-all in Syria with fighters flooding into the country from Libya, bringing with them arms left over from the Libyan uprising, and from Egypt, where the year-old government is struggling to maintain power. Before President Morsi took power, Egyptian fighters couldn’t cross the border to fight. Now they’re entering Syria with his blessing.

Jihadists of all stripes, and from several countries, are pouring into Syria much the way they did in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Syrian uprising initially looked like part of the Arab spring, an awakening of democratic impulses in response to so many decades of repressive government. That view had more than a measure of wishful thinking on the part of Americans looking on from afar.

As Assad cracked down on the dissenters, the fighting looked more like a classic civil war – the majority Sunni population rising up against the minority Alawites, who are the ruling elite. For Assad and the Alawites, this is an existential struggle. If they lose, they assume the Sunnis whom they have systematically denied power, will take the ultimate revenge.

Now this deadly civil war has taken another turn for the worse. It is rapidly morphing into a region-wide Sunni-Shia war with young men drawn by the romance of a religiously inspired conflict. The hope of containing the battle within the Syrian borders has been dashed with the recognition that arms are coming in from Libya, and the realization that the stakes are far greater than simply ousting Assad, even if that were possible.

The largest Shiite country is Iran, which means the Sunnis of the Arab world are up against Iran and its allies. In some ways this is appealing to the U.S. because it checkmates Iran, much the way the Iran-Iraq wars contained Iran for some 15 years before President G.W. Bush in effect gave Iran a get-out-of-jail-free card by invading Iraq.

For Obama, he must decide whether all this makes a compelling case to stay out of the Syrian conflict, or to get in more deeply. The president has said repeatedly there will be no U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, and he has support for that decision from Republicans as well as Democrats. But that doesn’t preclude using other available tools, notably the CIA to covertly deliver assistance.

That’s not the kind of intervention the U.S. should advertise. We won’t see bumper stickers that say, Send in the Spooks, but this is the kind of aid that can make a difference, and is no doubt already underway. If Assad stays in power, it would be a huge setback for the U.S., and Obama must do all he can short of direct military intervention to avoid that outcome. On the other hand he must somehow help wean the moderate rebels away from their immoderate al-Qaeda Jihadist allies.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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