Scrutinizing the rationale for war in Syria

by Robert Maynard

As our political leaders debate taking military action against Syria, it might be a good idea to scrutinize the rationale given for such a course of action.  One of the most frequent reasons given is the use of chemical weapons.  The problem is that it is  jot at all clear which side used them.  Back in May, a U.N. human rights investigator accused the Syrian rebels of using Chemical weapons:

“According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas,” del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, said in an interview with Swiss radio late on Sunday.

“We still have to deepen our investigation, verify and confirm (the findings) through new witness testimony, but according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas,” she added.

She stressed that the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, which she is a part of, had far from finished its investigation.

The Obama Administration is now arguing that it is the Syrian government that has used chemical weapons.  The problem for the Administration is that there are at least two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, arguing that the Obam Administration has falsified intelligence information to gain backing for a strike against the Syrian regime.

Both Congressmen are arguing that classified documents, available to members of Congress, contradict claims made by the Administration.

The other argument for military action against Syria is that “a weakened Syria would undermine Iran’s regional influence.”  Again, the matter is not so clear.  An intelligence brief from Strategic Forecasters makes the case that an attack on Syria could actually strengthen Iran’s influence in the region by solidifying it leading role in a coalition of nations opposed to military action against Syria:

Iran already has engaged diplomatically with many of those involved in the Syrian conflict. Over the past weekend, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the foreign affairs and national security head for the Iranian parliament, led a delegation to Damascus, presumably to discuss the potential U.S. attack. Earlier on Aug. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the phone. Their conversation followed U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Tehran, where he and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likewise discussed Syria. Even the Omani sultan paid a rare visit to Iran, reportedly carrying with him positive messages from the Obama administration for Iran’s new government.

 Iran’s influence in the region was strengthened by U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Iran’s strategy involves more than just activating these proxy groups. It entails the kind of skillful maneuvering it displayed as the United States sought regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tehran cooperated with Washington, and it benefited greatly from the downfall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein accordingly. The Iranian strategists who helped devise those approaches are once again in power. Zarif, for example, was Tehran’s point of contact with the George W. Bush administration in the early days after 9/11.

However, the Syria situation differs from those of Afghanistan and Iraq. This time it is Washington’s aversion to regime change that Tehran is trying to exploit. In fact, the only real reason the United States would want to replace al Assad is to curb Iran’s regional influence, which grew considerably after Saddam’s ouster. But Washington does not want to supplant al Assad only to see Damascus come under al Qaeda’s control. This partly explains why Hossein Mousavian, a close associate of Rouhani, wrote an op-ed Aug. 29 that said regime change in Kabul is “a blueprint for new collaboration” between Washington and Tehran. Mousavian called for U.S.-Iranian cooperation to extend beyond Syria to better manage the crisis-ridden region.

So, we are being told that we need to intervene in the region to curb the growth of Iranian influence, which grew partly due to our intervention in the region.   Iran is setting up a situation to benefit from more chaos in the region, which is exactly what any intervention is likely to result in.