There is a fundamental problem in how the U.S. continues to fail to comprehend that it can do nothing to address the continuing human tragedy occurring in Syria unless it wants to put U.S. forces on the ground. The U.S. and the best intentions of the West to try to intercede in the growing political/military/sectarian conflict in Syria will only end if and when the various Muslim forces decide they want to stop killing each other. Until the Sunnis and Shiites and all their surrogates and minor splinter groups believe that living together is better than killing each other and hoping to win, nothing the West can do will change the equation. Here are two forgotten specific pieces of recent history to corroborate why all the hand-wringing and agonizing will fail.
The West forgets that from approximately 1980-1988 Iran and Iraq were engaged in a bitter conflict which produced approximately half a million Iranian and Iraqi military and civilian deaths and thousands of injured. This was a war fought over a power game for oil dominance in the Gulf and fears of a Shiite take-over of Sunni Iraq. After almost eight years of fighting all the U.N. achieved was a ceasefire and no changes in the status quo. It turned out only to serve as a preparation for Iraq’s next power play—this time against Kuwait– which eventually produced Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
During that 100 hour coalition war against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, General Norman Schwarzkopf and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell asked President George H.W. Bush for 100 additional hours to continue to complete the rout of Saddam Hussein and eliminate the Revolutionary Guard. America’s Saudi “allies” made it clear to Bush that American forces must stop the fight to permit Hussein to save face and not be defeated by the West. Thus the prelude, at least in part, to the Second Gulf War and almost ten years of U.S. forces in Iraq, with all that alleged war on terror produced. Once again Muslim forces dictated the time and the nature of the resolution of their battles, not the U.S. or Western humanitarian norms or values.
Any thoughts, therefore, that the U.S., the West, or the U.N. can truly bring the Syrian slaughter to an end as long as the Sunni-Shiite confrontation persists, sadly are mistaken. While the various powers in the region do line up on both sides of the conflict, ultimately the Iranians and the Saudis and all the other Muslim players—some radical, some religious, some ethnic, some ideological, some rich, some poor—will need to want to stop the fighting and bring about a resolution. Even an assassination would not bring about a peaceful end to the horror. Economic sanctions can speed the resolution, but, in fact, it probably only intensifies conflict and encourages more players.
There is one final ominous signal from this conflict’s continuation which actually affects the Palestinians’ willingness to make serious moves towards in a genuine peace process with Israel. Once again, only a general agreement among all the other Muslim belligerents will make any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians stick. How to proceed in this situation will be addressed a future posting.