THE BLOG

Why Bashar Has the Upper Hand?

With the United States leading the charge and putting together a coalition of European, Levantine and Arab countries ready to bomb Syrian government positions, one would assume that Syrian President Bashar Assad would be worried.

Well he doesn't seem to be too worried. Why? Why should he? It is the United States and its allies that need to worry. And let me tell you why.

Because there is very little that the bombing campaign can accomplish that Bashar himself hasn't already done to the Syrians and to Syria.

At a luncheon meeting on Wednesday, organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, where the topic being discussed had to do with Syria: "Beyond the Redline," the advice offered by a panel of three Syria experts was basically this: do it right or don't do it at all was the wise counsel from Andrew Tabler, Jeffery White and Michael Eisenstadt.

But what exactly is doing it right entail in this context?

Basically here are the two options left to President Barack Obama and those calling for military action. Option One: Launch a bombing campaign where thousands of innocent Syrian civilians will die, and in the process create more anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world. This would ensure an unbroken line of future jihadis ready and willing to give their lives while causing harm to America and Americans and its allies.

Option Two: Do nothing and thousands more innocent Syrians will die as Bashar will use chemical weapons again and again. A recent study estimated that if the civil war in Syria continued at the same pace for the next year, the death toll would reach 400,000.

At this point, after having all but announced the time when the U.S. war planes would be taking off to drop their bombs on Syrian targets, the U.S. and its European and Arab allies cannot simply ignore what has been happening or their pledges to take action if a certain red line were to be crossed.

That red line was not only crossed, but the line itself was drawn with the blood of innocent Syrian civilians.

The very credibility of the United States as the sole remaining superpower is at stake, all the more so as Russia and China are looking very closely at what will be the U.S. reaction. Will Obama blink first? This is a test case for the U.S. and its allies.

This is a game of "chicken" being played out with sophisticated military hardware, stealth bombers and the sort.

A UN mandate to bomb Syria is not in the cards. The US knows that Russia and China, both permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto powers, will never authorize a UN blessing to proceed with a bombing campaign. Therefore any action taken outside the framework of the United Nations would be automatically illegal, under international law.

Whatever option the U.S. chooses is fraught with dangers and traps and no matter how Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Ankara, Amman, Riyadh, Doha and Abu Dhabi decide to act, there are better than excellent chances that it will turn against them. Particularly against the United States.

So we are back to the bombing campaign. Have you seen the recent images from Hama? Is the U.S.-led coalition prepared to go a step further than that? No? That's what I thought. In that case better forget about bombing then.

Or the U.S.-led alliance could opt for a limited bombing campaign, going after very specific targets such as command and control centers, artillery centers and troops barracks, etc. However, it would require much to weaken the Assad regime to the point of collapse while pussyfooting around, while Bashar Assad has no qualms of breaking every rule in the Geneva Conventions.

Of the 12 divisions in the Syrian military only three are committed so far to the war. The rest are being held in reserve. Because Bashar knows that this will be a long and protracted conflict.

Is there a third option? Such as? Such as boots on the ground?

Yes, there is always that option but I doubt there is a single American officer currently in uniform who would be mad enough to even hint at that possibility.

And even if Bashar was to be killed in the bombing, then what? Who would replace him? Or would the void in power create an even more unstable Syria with the hundreds of competing Islamist groups vying for ultimate power in what they hope will become the Islamic Caliphate of Syria.

But do not despair, there is yet one more option. Well, not actually an option quite yet, but it is something that the Saudis are working on and have re-commissioned their secret weapon: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency.

Using everything at his disposal, Bandar is trying to convince the Russians to drop their support of Bashar. Unlikely, but then again, if a miracle were to happen, this is as a good a place as any.
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Claude Salhani, a journalist and political analyst is editor of ArabSpringNow.com. His new book, Inauguration Day, is now available at Amazon.com.