In a question and answer session on Friday, Lt. Colonel Bill Connor discussed the history and geopolitical importance of the current situation in Syria. Connor served in Kuwait twice after the Gulf war in the early 1990s, and won the Bronze Star for his efforts in Afghanistan. He also served in Sinai and Egypt on peacekeeping duties which gives him unique insight into the complexities regarding the middle east. Connor gave his analysis regarding Syria and also addressed recent claims by John McCain and Lindsey Graham supporting the attack in Syria, as well as detailing important facts about the war unknown to most Americans. He also said that he was considering running for Lindsey Graham’s Senate seat, but had not yet decided whether it was the right course of action.
Connor said it was plausible that the rebel forces were behind the sarin gas attacks blamed on Assad’s regime, because the US does not currently have all the facts about the situation and it would be a much more logical course of action for the rebels than Assad. “If Assad did this, he’d be the stupidest military on the face of the earth,” he said, later continuing “If I’m a rebel commander, I would love for the whole would to be on my side against Assad.” He noted that both Assad and the Russian government had alleged that the attacks were perpetrated by rebels.
The Lt. Colonel also described a tape in which a high level Syrian official seeing the gas attack asking what was going on. “Now what this tells me is that probably Assad and those guys didn’t know.” That means, he said, that one of two situations occurred. Either it was the rebels, or it was a lower commander acting against orders. Connor admits that he does not have the same intel as Congress, but wanted to tell his audience that he has many concerns about a strike on Syria.
The rebel forces, Connor said, are very divided and diverse. Al Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood fighters undeniably make up a significant portion of the forces in the country, but they’re not fighting for its freedom, they’re fighting to set up a caliphate, another Taliban-like Islamist – more specifically Sunni – extremist government. Assad, in contrast, is Allawi, a minority sect in both Syria and the Middle East, considered “heretical” by the Sunnis. Connor said that although Assad is a brutal dictator, he still protects religious minorities like Christians because his own sect is considered little better than Christians.
The Free Syrian Army, though, seems to be a secular organization run by a military official. It seems that the Free Syrian Army has been attempting to protect churches and Christians in the country, but they have been slaughtered by “fellow rebel” Al Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood fighters. It’s possible that arming and supporting the Free Syrian Army via covert operations could lead to a positive outcome of the Syrian Civil War.
In his discussion, Connor also countered arguments made by John McCain and Lindsey Graham as they supported the idea of an attack. Quite simply, John McCain was shown the “rebel forces” by the Saudis, who favor intervention. Military personnel see and deal with what’s going on at the ground level, while politicians are “wined and dined,” and shown what people want them to see. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Turkey’s leader is helping to train Al Qaida forces because he is far more fundamentalist than the West realizes.
Regarding Graham’s Iran argument, he said it was “a separate issue in some ways,” but that “The fact that the Saudis are bankrolling all this makes it almost more worrisome.” The Saudis are interested in putting a Sunni radical in charge of Syria, but Syria has sarin gas. A radical ruler who supports terrorism – as the Saudis do – getting a hold of large quantities of sarin gas is a very dangerous situation.
Finally, he detailed the reasons that air strikes alone cannot be seen as an appropriate form of intervention. People know the air strikes are coming and can prepare accordingly, so they accomplish relatively little. When Clinton bombed Serbia and Afghanistan, it made no difference in the outcome of the situation or force one side to give in. These plans, in addition to military leaks, will simply give people who have WMDs the time to hide them, which will make this “a very silly operation.”
The operation will have geopolitical consequences, though. Russia provided the air defense systems for Syria, so they will automatically be involved if any American planes are shot down, especially if people are taken prisoner.
Bill Connor’s detailed analysis highlighted the problems with US intervention in Syria, from goal to execution. Simply toppling a dictator isn’t enough when he will merely be replaced by another dictator whose intention is to exterminate minority populations. Bombing campaigns achieve nothing without land-based military intervention. There are possible beneficial courses of actions America could take, but this is unlikely with its Saudi connections.