US Proxy War in Syria

From the early days analysts have been saying that the United States is fighting a proxy war in Syria. It is not an attempt to dislodge Assad but to prove that the super power enjoys complete control in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). An article recently written by David Ignatius for The Washing Post gives more credence to this belief.

According to David the United States and its allies are moving in Syria toward a program of covert support for the rebels that look very much like what super power and its friends did in Afghanistanin the 1980s. In Syria, as in Afghanistan, CIAofficers are operating at the borders, helping Sunni insurgents improve their command and control and engaging in other activities. Weapons are coming from third parties.

He even goes to the extent of saying that major financier for both insurgencies have been Saudi Arabia. In his view Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who as Saudi ambassador to Washington in the 1980s worked to finance and support the CIA in Afghanistan and who now, as chief of Saudi intelligence, is encouraging operations in Syria.

As the proxy war in Syria is gaining momentum it is necessary to understand similarities/dissimilarities between Afghanistan and Syria. Afghan mujahedeen won their war and eventually ousted the Russian-backed government. CIA-backed victory opened the way for decades of chaos and jihadist extremism that are still menacing Afghanistan and its neighbors, especially Pakistanand Iran.

Therefore, before entering into any adventurism it is necessary to ask a question, will the intervention yield any result in case of Syria? The reply is evident if one keeps in mind the strategy of the covert war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Saudis understandably would prefer that Sunnis who oppose autocratic rule should wage their fight far from the kingdom; Damascus is a far safer venue than Riyadh.

But there are hazards of fueling Sunni-Shiite dynamic in Syria, though rage against Shiites and their Iranian patrons has been a useful prop for the United States and Israel in mobilizing Sunni opposition against Assad, who as an Alawite is seen as part of the Shiite crescent.

But this is the most lethal and potentially ruinous sectarian battle, the kind that nearly destroyed Iraq and Lebanon and is now plunging Syria into the inferno. The Saudis want to fight Shiites but away from their Kingdom.

United States is also using the tribal card, which may be as crucial in Syria as it was in Iraq. The leaders of many Syrian tribes have been supported to wage war against Assad. It may be said that the engine of this insurgency in Syria is rural, conservative and Sunni.

David’s conclusion is thought provoking. He cautions the rebels fighting Assad deserve limited US support, just as the anti-Soviet mujahedeen did. The intervention will cause chaos and extremism that can take a generation to undo if the United States and its allies aren’t prudent.