The Road to Damascus Is Fraught With Pitfalls -- for the U.S.

03/29/2013 06:18 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2013

Calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria as a means to put a stop to the devastating civil war -- as an increasing number of pundits in the U.S. are doing -- is a monumental mistake.

The urge by many that civilized nations cannot -- and should not -- stand idly by while innocent people are slaughtered and a country is pounded to the ground is understandable and commendable. No one wants to see innocents become victims of the madness of war.
Indeed, the butchery into which Syria has transformed has already claimed the lives of some 70,000 people, according to United Nations estimates. Typically, with such figures of fatalities it is safe to estimate that another 150,000 to 200,000 have been wounded, some more severe than others.

And still, according to numbers provided by international relief agencies, some four million people have lost their homes and many have become refugees living in camps in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

So, yes, it is understandable that many are moved to the point where they believe it is time to ask for U.S. military intervention, particularly all the more so in view of the inability of the Arab League to accomplish anything. This is an argument that carries even greater weight when one factors in the political consequences of allowing the conflict to continue to escalate.

Never mind the "collateral damage" caused by the war, after all, innocent people are always caught on the sidelines of war. That is just the stone cold reality of how things work in a war zone. But what also (if not primarily) needs to be taken into consideration are the geo-political consequences of allowing the Syrian civil war to continue with all the risks that entails and the effects that could have on the region and beyond. More to the point is the threat of Islamist expansion.

Supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar the Islamists have made tremendous progress in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. And already in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, a pro al-Qaeda group is emerging as the most powerful and most prominent of the opposition factions.

Following the removal of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, his replacement came from within the ranks of the Brotherhood. As did the new Tunisian leader.

Lebanon, where Islam counted half the population but where Islamism was practically non-existent, has seen an impressive rise in the number of adherents who opted, for whatever reason, to follow the calling of stricter Islamist observance.

And similarly the numbers are growing in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and so on.

So, yes, when taking all that into account it probably makes sense to send in the Marines. (And the Army and Navy and Air Force and the CIA and several battalions of "contract workers," otherwise known as mercenaries.

One of those calling for U.S. military intervention is my esteemed colleague Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times. More importantly (from my perspective), Doyle is a dear friend of more than three decades. He is without question one of the most respectable journalists and certainly one of the most level headed columnists reporting on the Middle East. Doyle knows the Middle East well. He has visited numerous Arab countries multiple times and was based in Beirut during the civil war. I do not recall disagreeing with him over policy issues in the past but this time I believe he is out of sync with reality.

U.S. troops to help stop a civil war in an Arab and/or Muslim country? Hold on just a minute! Rewind the tape. The last two Muslim nations in which the U.S. intervened militarily -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- actually helped ignite and perpetuate a civil war. Why will Syria be any different?

I take that back, Syria will be different. It will be different by the level of violence it will attain and it will be different by the number of U.S. military casualties the military will sustain if such a folly is allowed to become a reality.

Remember the deployment of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983? Now project that into a situation that has all the potential of being ten times worse. Not only will U.S. military intervention in Syria place several hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and the civilians working with then at risk levels greater than those experienced in Iraq before the surge. In all likelihood dispatching U.S. forces into the Syrian quagmire will also place Americans living and working in neighboring Lebanon in great jeopardy, where Syria continues to count on many supporters.

The United States should take a really good look before it leaps into this Syrian morass. There really ought to be some other option.

Claude Salhani is an independent journalist based in Washington, DC and the Middle East. He specializes in Middle Eastern affairs, terrorism and politicized Islam. He tweets at @claudesalhani.