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Claude Salhani Headshot

The Armchair Generals Are Itching...

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As per the norm the usual gaggle of armchair generals in Washington are beating their war drums and sharpening their bayonets, calling for armed U.S. intervention in Syria. An honorable cri de guerre, indeed. The killing of innocents and the shelling by heavy artillery of civilian targets in city centers needs to be stopped.

Hundreds of innocent people are dying every day as pro- and anti-government forces battle for ultimate control of the country. Having never experienced war themselves, they will not hesitate to send America's sons and daughters into the line of fire and into danger's way. After all, no one forced those serving in the military to sign up. Yes, but there is a difference between defending one's country and defending stupidity and ignorance.

Whereas armed intervention is quite possibly the only way to put a stop to the endless fighting that has been going on for more that a year and half now, for the United States to intervene militarily would be the worst possible idea. If foreign troops are to go into Syria, as will most probably be the case at the end of the day, let them be Russian, Indian and Arab forces; and here are the reasons why.

The United States is not trusted in Syria, as in much of the Arab world. If you are hesitant about sending U.S. troops into Syria, unsure of what the outcome is likely to be, there is a relatively simple exercise that you can do in the safely of your pontificating armchair.

Google any article from any newspaper, magazine or website, or look up any passage from any book written about the United States' military intervention in Iraq and replace the word "Iraq" with the word "Syria." There! You have a window -- a quite precise one, I may add -- as to what a U.S. military intervention in Syria will resemble. Give or take a few IEDs, a few hundred casualties on the American side and several thousands more killed on the Syria side; some more anti-American sentiments around the Muslim world, perhaps a few kidnappings of American citizens here and there and the result of an American war in Syria should be, indeed, very similar to the American war in Iraq.

Why would Russian and Indian and Arab troops fare better? The Russians, first, because they have over the years trained the Syrian military and know their modus operandi. They certainly know most, if not all, the top-ranking officers. Second, because the Russians would not have any qualms about using strong-arm tactics to impose the peace, if they had to. And they very likely will have to. Additionally, there would be no dire consequences for the civilian leadership back home. And fourth, because the Russians would overall be better received in the Arab world, and particularly so in Syria. There would be less apprehension of a Russia-led force than of an American one.

The Indians because they have one of the largest military in the world, they are well-trained and well-armed, and they have experience in serving with the United Nations in multiple peacekeeping mission around the world. And they seem neutral enough.

As for a token Arab force to legitimize the intervention under the banner of the Arab League, regardless of which countries contribute troops, many Arab countries are likely to be disliked by one side or the other. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two most likely candidates to send forces, will be seen as being too sympathetic toward the opposition and too anti-regime, but they could serve as a buffer force on the rebellion side. Between the rest of the 19 members of the Arab League, they should be able to come up with at least a brigade-sized (3,000 to 5,000 men) force.

Alternatively, the U.S. might want to consider creating a foreign legion similar to the French Foreign Legion. Think of the advantages such an elite unit could have on the ground. First, recruits are largely foreigners so that their deaths do not affect American public opinion, nor do they affect the president's ratings in the polls, an all-important factor in an election year. Second, it offers a "home" to refugees from other forgotten conflicts, keeping them under the watchful eyes of the U.S. military rather than having them become guns for hire. Or as the case may be at times, instead of fighting for jihad with as reward a place in paradise and 72 virgins, the ultimate reward would be an American passport with a clean slate and relocation to any part of the United States or its territories with whatever identity the legionnaire selects to assume. And that reward would come only after seven years of service. Sure beats strapping explosives to oneself just to get into paradise. (Though I fail to understand how spending eternity with 72 virgin is supposed to be joyful.)

Second, the foreign legion, if modeled along the lines of the French Foreign Legion, would be established as a "presidential tool" meaning the force could be dispatched anywhere in the world at the president's command, without having to seek the approval of the Congress, or the government,

And perhaps, just perhaps, some of these armchair generals could stop preaching, sign up and get a first-hand taste of what war is all about. Nah! The 72 virgins are more likely materialize before my eyes before that would occur.
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Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst focusing on Middle East Issues and terrorism. He is the author of several books, including Islam Without a Veil. He tweets @claudesalhani.