That warning has now been borne out, and by an unlikely source: veterans — deserters, actually — of the Syrian army.
NPR sent a reporter to Iraqi Kurdistan last week where she found literally hundreds of Syrian soldiers encamped. They chose to flee over the mountains and sit out the fighting rather than take up arms against their own citizens, which is understandable.
But they also chose not to join the Syrian rebels — more commonly known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — which is telling.
As one soldier told NPR of the rebels, “I don’t trust them.” He noted they are becoming more violent and more Islamic as the fighting drags on.
That is what concerns us. The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is ruthless, authoritarian and an affront to anyone with an ounce of humanity.
But we don’t know what this FSA would be like if it assumed control of the country. Would it be as anti-Israel as the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, which is closer than ever to the reigns of power there, and recently broke yet another pledge it made to the Egyptian people by announcing it would field a presidential candidate after all?
No one can say.
Truthfully, neither the United States nor any other Western power can exercise much control over the events inside Syria. Maybe, by siding with the rebels, we can have an outcome similar to Libya, where the regime of Moammar Gadhafi did eventually fall, but not without months of bloody civil war that left the country badly splintered and awash in gun-toting militia — all defying a weak central government.
Would that be better?
More likely, we would have a situation similar to Bahrain where a neighboring regime — Saudi Arabia — intervened militarily to put down the uprising. Iran doesn’t border Syria, but it’s close enough to easily fly troops, weapons and supplies into the country that acts as Iran’s arms pipeline to Hezbollah.
Better to exercise diplomatic pressure against the Assad regime than to bomb it and arm its opponents. We’re not naïve; we know that road will be long and fruitless — at least, at first. But it’s better than joining our third war in the Middle East in less than 10 years — one that could morph into a regional conflict that makes Iraq and Afghanistan look like food fights.