The mess in Syria

Rick Holmes

When I try to describe the situation in Syria, I keep coming back to an earthy expression that begins with “cluster.”

As Joel Brinkley explains in a column I just received, the battles between the al-Qaida type insurgents and the Free Syrian Army insurgents has become as intense as the fight between the insurgents and the Assad regime.  A Sunni cleric has issued a fatwa decreeing all Syrian Shi’ite women be raped.

I regret choosing to watch the video of the  Syrian rebel pulling the heart out of a government soldier he’d shot and taking a bite of it.  There’s really no one to root for here.

The Syrian civil war is yet another tribal tug-of-war in a country badly mapped by colonial powers.  It’s a proxy war for regional powers Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  It’s a religious war for Sunnis and Shi-ites. It’s a struggle between competing radical factions, with Hezbollah on one side and al-Qaida on the other.  Now someone has thrown poison gas into the mix. How much does it matter who did it?  The Syrian air has been toxic for a long time.

It’s hard to think of another ingredient that would make the situation worse – except for the insertion of the U.S. military.

I don’t think this is 2003 all over again. Bush never really cared whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He wanted to invade. Obama has been resisting rising pressure to intervene for two years.  I’m certain the option of boots on the ground is off the table.

The best argument for doing something, comes from Brinkley, who warns that a continuing stalemate – a likely scenario – leaves al-Qaida in a control of a geographic base far more strategically important than bin Laden ever had in Afghanistan.

Brinkley doesn’t say exactly what should be done, and I’ve yet to see any plausible scenario with a happy ending. That’s why it’s so tough a call. All the more reason why Obama shouldn’t hurry to react to the chemical attack.  The act will be no less despicable, and the punishment less appropriate if the options are openly debated in the UN and the Congress. Let’s talk this over.