An Army to Defeat Assad

How to Turn Syria’s Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force

Syrian refugees wave the Syrian opposition flag during a demonstration in Amman, Jordan, October 2013. (Muhammad Hamed / Courtesy Reuters)


By Kenneth M. Pollack in Foreign Affairs

Syria is a hard one. The arguments against the United States’ taking a more active role in ending the vicious three-year-old conflict there are almost perfectly balanced by those in favor of intervening, especially in the aftermath of the painful experiences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cons begin with the simple fact that the United States has no interests in Syria itself. Syria is not an oil producer, a major U.S. trade partner, or even a democracy.

Worse still, intercommunal civil wars such as Syria’s tend to end in one of two ways: with a victory by one side, followed by a horrific slaughter of its adversaries, or with a massive intervention by a third party to halt the fighting and forge a power-sharing deal. Rarely do such wars reach a resolution on their own through a peaceful, negotiated settlement, and even when they do, it is typically only after many years of bloodshed. All of this suggests that the kind of quick, clean diplomatic solution many Americans favor will be next to impossible to achieve in Syria.

Nevertheless, the rationale for more decisive U.S. intervention is gaining ground. As of this writing, the crisis in Syria had claimed more than 170,000 lives and spilled over into every neighboring state. The havoc is embodied most dramatically in the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, a Sunni jihadist organization born of the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq. After regrouping in Syria, ISIS (which declared itself the Islamic State in late June) recently overran much of northern Iraq and helped rekindle that country’s civil war. ISIS is now using the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria to breed still more Islamist extremists, some of whom have set their sights on Western targets. Meanwhile, Syria’s conflict is also threatening to drag down its other neighbors — particularly Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where the influx of nearly three million refugees is already straining government budgets and stoking social unrest.

After resisting doing so for three years, the White House is now scrambling to expand its role in the turmoil. In June, U.S. President Barack Obama requested $500 million from Congress to ramp up U.S. assistance to moderate members of the Syrian opposition (such assistance has until recently been limited to a covert training program in Jordan). Yet at every stage of the debate on Syria, the administration has maintained that the only way to decisively ensure the demise of the Assad regime is to deploy large numbers of ground troops.

But there is, in fact, a way that the United States could get what it wants in Syria — and, ultimately, in Iraq as well — without sending in U.S. forces: by building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists. The United States has pulled off similar operations before and could probably do so again, and at far lower cost than what it has spent in Afghanistan and Iraq. Considering the extent to which the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars have become entwined, such a strategy would help secure U.S. interests throughout the Middle East. Indeed, despite its drawbacks, it has become the best option for the United States and the people of Syria and the region.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

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Categories: Foreign affairs, Foreign Policy, Opinion/Editorial, Politics, Syria

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3 replies

  1. I was in agreement with the editorial until the author proposed creating a new Syrian Army. Not only would that take a very long time to accomplish it would be seen as Western Imperialism. Many Syrians would refuse to participate in the army and a significant precentage would likely choose to fight against it as a way to battle the “American Agressors”.

    I think a better solution is use the existing Free Syrian Army and bolster it up, bringing in new recruits, and attemting to bring more law and order to the Army. We could have agreements that we would help the FSA provided they would make certain changes to bring more order and be more in line with international law and human rights. The Free Syrian Army has been around from early on in the conflict, loyalty runs deep. Creating a new army is unlikely to lead many to leave the FSA and join the new “American Army”. A new Western backed army certainly will not bolster support from more moderate Islamist which we will out of necessity have to at least win their neutrality from so we are not seen as the enemy. We would be foolish not to accept new moderate Islamist fighters into the FSA. The idea of a completely pro democracy and secular army may be an American ideal but it is not realistic in Syria. Syria is more secular then some Nations in the region but it is far from secular. War is not about ideals it is about what is realistic and acheviable.

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  2. I don’t think there is what most would consider an army on either side of Syria’s war. To me, it cannot even be considered a civil war anymore. It is a killing field and has been for two plus years, for whichever side or segment thereof someone wants to engage in killing. Those people, mostly men, are about all that’s left in Syria with approx. 3 million others, mostly women and children in refugee status in other countries. I suppose waiting for them to kill each other off.

    It was discussed at least from the beginning that the violence would cross Syria’s borders with other countries. So far, those have been contained.

    Assad has a so called ‘army’ and mercenary’s, the other ‘side’ has at minimum three different funded ‘armies’. Russia is involved because they are not going to give up their Mediterranean port. It’s probably cost them dearly over the years. One main reason they vetoed any Fly Zone over Syria and so did China but I haven’t figured out why they did it.

    Add all the others countries, and all that’s left is a killing field for thugs to learn how to kill if they aren’t shoot first and find new victims and places to loot and kill. Which they did and call themselves ISIS or ISIL. Whatever, they are a nothing more than a mob directed by a mini Stalin and they do not understand that this is not the 1920’s nor the Communist party purges.

    Really, they should read more history and learn that what they do, will not end well for them but I suppose they already know that one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes Syria is a mess and my heart is with the many good people still left suffering over there and in the region. May we help bring them some relief before the regime or ISIL gets a hold of them or the cruelty of nature and the elements. The refugees have always been my number one priority and concern.

      Liked by 1 person

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