Hussain Abdul-Hussain

The case for war on Assad

Barack Obama in the White House in August.

If President Obama summons me to the White House to ask whether there is any US national interest that calls for intervention in Syria, I would answer no. If he asks whether the US should intervene, I would say yes.


Despite its brutality, the Syrian civil war poses no threat to the US or its allies. Israel has been able to take care of itself by bombing several Iranian arms shipments transiting through Syria and destined to Lebanon's Hezbollah. Turkey has enjoyed the use of US drones flying from the Incirlik airbase and monitoring its borders with both Syria and Iraq. NATO and US Patriot missiles have been deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border. Meanwhile, Jordan has received vast amounts of money to deal with the Syrian refugees, along with security and technical assistance to contain any possible fallout from Syria.


So America's allies are doing fine. The killing has been mainly in Syria, and sometimes in Lebanon. And apart from the humanitarian disaster, the Syrian civil war has been relatively contained. Even if Bashar al-Assad wins, Syria – and Lebanon – would remain under Iranian influence, a configuration that has been in place for over two decades and that – if changed – is not clear how it will benefit the US.


A US strike on Assad targets would not win Washington Syrian friends either, even among Assad's opponents. Abu Loay Muqdad, the spokesperson of the Free Syrian Army (the moderate rebel group closest to the US and its allies), said that he had no opinion on a possible US strike on Assad, and that his group would act according to what transpires after the strike.


Burhan Ghalioun, a Sorbonne professor and member of the opposition's Syrian National Coalition, opposed foreign intervention in the past. This week, he went on Al Jazeera to say that he opposes a limited strike, and instead prefers war that deposes Assad. Both Muqdad and Ghalioun did not utter the word America.


Many in the Syrian opposition have blamed the world for watching as Assad massacred Syrians, and have called for foreign intervention. Yet they were rarely heard calling on America to do the job, perhaps unable to get over the Arab historic animosity toward the US. After American intervention seemed inevitable starting last week, these anti-Assad Syrians took a strike for granted and cheered for it without cheering for the United States. These Assad opponents behave like Iraqis who courted the US during the Iraq War. Once in power, they joined Iran in spewing hate against the very Americans that deposed Saddam and gave them a chance to elect their own government, which incidentally emerged as autocratic as Saddam, even if less brutal.


These Syrians, like Iraqis before them, think that Americans should sacrifice blood and money to depose their autocrat, but do not seem to believe that they owe America anything in return, not even a thank you, or a statement that highlights how the Syrians share with their American friends the values of freedom, and thus the common goal of toppling a brutal dictator.


So all Americans who think a strike on Assad would secure US interests or win America new friends in Syria should be under no such illusion. Also, telling from the current behavior of the Syrian opposition, there is little chance that any democratic government will emerge after Assad.


Yet, the US should pound Assad targets.


Chemical weapons are barbaric, and if this planet needs to maintain any semblance of civilization, those who use them should be punished, and there are very few countries that have the will to preserve world order, or the ability to do so, other than the US.


An American strike will not transform a bloody civil war into a rosy democracy. A strike will only limit Assad’s formidable ability of inflicting harm on others, and maybe convince him that he has become one among equals, that his fight is going nowhere, and that his best bet is compromise that is based on him stepping down. By the time the dust from an American strike settles, Syrians should start figuring out how to make peace.


The US cannot fix Syria. It can only help level the ground among combatants. It will be up to the Syrians to bridge their gaps, end their war, and build a new state.


America should strike Assad because it is the right thing to do. After all, when the Founding Fathers were debating America, they were not big on interests, but on values that they hoped would make their country the world's "indispensible nation" or a "shining city on a hill."


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain


Read this article in Arabic

Barack Obama in the White House in August. (AFP photo)

"An American strike will not transform a bloody civil war into a rosy democracy. A strike will only limit Assad’s formidable ability of inflicting harm on others."

  • addoola

    so when you say the "right thing to do", what is your definition of right? right in whose perspective? I think it is only fair to explain the righteousness referenced and justify to the readers how does the strike fit into that right behavior, so that readers like myself, who are not clear where to stand on this issue can support such a strike with conviction instead of emotion.

    August 29, 2013