"Syria is one of those places where President Trump should follow his original instincts regarding U.S. military interventions . . . . he should avoid falling into another quagmire that will cost precious American lives and drain our military." Alfonse D’Amato
The conflict in Syria has been a long and terrible war of attrition; a brutal civil war exacerbated by a ruthless ISIS insurgency; all stirred mercilessly by Iranian and Russian intervention. Now all this misery is concentrating itself in Syrian city of Idlib, one of those hitherto faceless locales one has to check a map to find.
Sadly, Iblib may be about to witness its moment of infamy as the unlucky place where most of Syrian President Bashir Assad’s armed enemies appear to have hunkered down for a fateful last stand. Humanitarian groups predict a potential civilian catastrophe if the Syrian-Iranian-Russia axis unleashes its combined military force on Idlib.
Imagine the worst of urban warfare, with indiscriminate Russian-Syrian airstrikes on both military and civilian targets, followed by a Syrian-Iranian ground invasion that will level what’s left of the doomed city. In a word, think genocide.
Caught in this web of danger are both the U.S. and Israel, our one and only true ally in the entire Mideast. Our two countries’ interest in Syria converge in the imperative of finally rooting out the last virulent vestiges of ISIS and thwarting the spread of destabilizing Iranian aggression in the region.
But the U.S. also added another element to this Rubik’s Cube by siding with the armed Syrian opposition that has been trying to topple the Assad regime. The administrations of both Presidents Obama and Trump provided significant military support to Assad’s opponents, and had to walk a very narrow line to avoid being dragged into deeper conflict in Syria.
Remember President Obama’s faded "red line" against Assad? Or the showy but largely ineffectual missile strikes both he and President Trump launched after Syrian government gas attacks on civilians? Neither President wanted to risk a wider war, particularly one that might engulf Israel and the U.S. in a war with Iran.
In this entire sorry matter it’s useful to remember that for all its savagery against its own people, the government of Bashir Assad has for decades maintained a fragile peace with Israel. Maybe that’s because the last time Syria miscalculated Israeli resolve and military capability it lost the strategic Golan Heights to Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli "Six Day War."
In the decades that followed Syria made no serious attempts to retake the Golan Heights from Israel, and Israel made no serious efforts to undermine the Assad regime. This mutual live-and-let-live policy held until it unraveled with the onslaught of the Syrian civil war and the ISIS insurgency.
Ever on the ready to advance its own strategic interests and keep the U.S. off balance, Russia’s Vladimir Putin jumped into the Syrian fray on President Assad’s side. But Russia — which has fought its own Islamist insurgencies at home — has also cooperated with U.S. forces to help destroy ISIS.
This has required a very delicate balancing act, with American fighter jets coordinating with Russian forces for airstrikes against ISIS while at the same time providing U.S. air support to Syrian opposition forces fighting the Assad regime.
That this dangerous game of Russian-American roulette hasn’t resulted in a violent tangling of our air forces in Syria is a minor miracle. Though that’s not to say that direct U.S.-Russian conflict hasn’t come precariously close. The U.S. recently launched an attack on Syrian government forces that reportedly killed scores of Russian fighters.
And just this week a Russian reconnaissance plane was mistakenly shot down by Syrian government air defense forces in a classic "friendly fire" episode that may have also involved Israeli fighter planes.
All of this should make U.S. policymakers very wary. Not only may we be one mistake away from a violent confrontation with Russia; we are also risking having the U.S. sucked into another endless war like the one George W. Bush tragically stumbled into in Iraq.
Just suppose Bashir Assad were overthrown?
Does anyone really believe Syria would be more stable?
Were Iraq or Libya when their dictators were overthrown?
No, more likely Syria would sink into the very kind of anarchy and instability that befell these other "liberated" countries.
Syria is one of those places where President Trump should follow his original instincts regarding U.S. military interventions in the Mideast and elsewhere. He was right when he called the Iraq war a mistake, and he should avoid falling into another quagmire that will cost precious American lives and drain our military.
When it comes to Syria, let’s not invite another Iraq. Let’s avoid it.
This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.
Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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