The Syrian Crisis has entered a new phase with the reported chemical weapons attack on 21 August. The US is preparing to intervene in the civil war if it turns out that the chemical weapons usage was in fact committed by the Syrian government’s forces. As time goes on, it appears that Bashir Assad was responsible for the attack. Western military intervention is all but certain at this point. However, the size and scope of that intervention has yet to be decided upon. Neither has the diplomatic side of the intervention equation. The only cast-iron certainty at this point is that the number of questions outnumber the answers available by a considerable margin.
It is widely held that the US and her allies have not yet intervened in Syria. That is not true. The US and her allies have not overtly intervened militarily. Up till now the United States military role has been behind the scenes and limited to the delivery of weapons to opposition groups deemed to be ‘acceptable successors’ to the Assad regime. It is safe to assume that US Special Forces groups are operating in Southern Syria to help instruct the opposition fighters on weapons and tactics, as well as paving the way for a larger US military role in the future should the situation call for it. The time for that larger role could be fast approaching.
If and when it comes, what will intervention look like? Will it be unilateral, or will the US build an international coalition to confront Assad’s regime? Will it be a limited strike restricted to the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles and air launched stand-off weapons against a small number of targets? Or will it take the shape of a larger effort to topple Assad? An operation using the Libyan blueprint as its foundation.
Given the outrage caused in Washington by the use of chemical weapons, the destruction of Syria’s remaining chemical weapons stockpiles should be an immediate objective of any intervention. Destroying them will not be an easy task. Assad no doubt has them dispersed in hardened, well defended locations throughout the country. When the locations are determined, it will not be as easy sending a fighter or bomber overhead to drop bombs on them. Air defenses have to be degraded, command and control sites neutralized and most importantly, air superiority must be established across the width and breadth of Syria.
The aforementioned things need to be done prior to any military action aside from a limited strike. Right now, the US forces in the area are limited to four destroyers and an unknown number of attack submarines in the Eastern Med, as well as a contingent of USAF aircraft in Jordan. More military assets will be needed. The numbers and types of forces that move into the region in the coming days will provide an idea of what type of action is coming. British aircraft are already arriving at RAF Akrotiri. US aircraft are probably not far behind. Akrotiri, bases in Jordan and the large airbase at Incirlik, Turkey are all available locations for US warplanes, as well as warplanes belonging to the other nations of a forming Anti-Assad coalition.
Last month the Egyptian people were forced to make a choice. Challenge the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and disrupt democracy in Egypt while still in its infancy. Or, remain inactive as Morsi’s hold on power became more absolute. The citizens of Egypt opted to challenge Morsi and the military stood beside the people for the second time in two years. This battle between secularists and Islamists in Egypt has been won and lost. The war, however, continues on.
Whether or not the military was justified in its handling of the crisis depends on perspectives. Many western observers quickly labeled the toppling of Morsi as a classic example of a coup d’état. An elected president was removed from office by the military. For the average Egyptian citizen, Morsi was an unpopular president who was making fundamental changes to many facets of Egyptian life. The average person’s life has not improved in the past year. In fact, things have become more difficult for Egyptians since Morsi’s election in 2012. The military may have moved to save the nation from dissolving into chaos and civil war.
The coming days and weeks will determine whether or not the military’s intervention was successful. The quicker Egypt returns to civilian rule, the better. Interim President Adly Mansour cannot afford another ‘massacre’ like the one that the Muslim Brotherhood claims happened outside of Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo yesterday. A large number of Morsi supporters were allegedly killed by security forces and police. The Muslim Brotherhood claims the ‘massacre’ took place during prayer time. Other reports are that the demonstrators shot first when they tried to storm the headquarters building where Morsi is being held. Details are scarce and what really happened may never be determined.
So far, the democratic experiment in Egypt has not brought forth the stability most people were hoping it would. But the path to democracy is a marathon course, not a 100 yd sprint. Something to keep in mind.
The eyes of the world are beginning to focus on what’s happening in Turkey. The events unfolding there are of crucial importance to the region, as well as to the United States. What began as a peaceful protest against the closing of Taksim Gezi Park has transformed into riots in cities across Turkey and the burgeoning of a nationwide anti-government movement. The riots and protests have shoved Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan into the global spotlight.
Erdogan has been one of the most impressive politicians that Turkey has seen in generations. He is extremely popular, having a long list of economic and political achievements to point to as proof of the success of his policies. However, at the same time, Erdogan is a polarizing figure. Since he took power in 2003, his critics complain that he has accumulated more and more power. For a democratically elected leader, he is becoming more and more authoritarian. Dissent against him and the government is dealt with swiftly. Turkish prisons are filled with journalists who spoke out against him and his policies.
The government’s reaction to the riots lends credence to the argument that Erdogan is somewhat authoritarian. Police have used tear gas and water cannons against the protesters in Istanbul and other cities across the nation. Erdogan has gone as far as to insult the protesters in numerous speeches. Instead of seeking resolution, his actions and words are adding fuel to the fire.
The Arab Spring has shown us how a minor protest in a square can take on a life of its own. The Middle East is already a powder keg. Turkey has been a major player in attempts to wind down the Syrian civil war. It is a key nation in the region and a valuable ally of the United States. Erdogan needs to recognize that his response to the protesters has to be measured and effective at the same time. Water cannons, and patronizing speeches will only strengthen the resolve of the protesters.
The coming week will be interesting. Will Turkey become the next Egypt? Or can Erdogan stop his nation from becoming a cauldron of instability.
The democracy that Egyptians fought so hard to obtain during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution is slipping through their fingers at a quickening pace. Fresh from playing a positive, internationally visible role in the latest cease fire between Gaza and Israel, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued a proclamation at home which exempts his decrees from judicial review until a new constitution is in place. The move is the latest in a series of controversial decisions handed down by Morsi since assuming the duties of the presidency in June of 2012. Although he has been in office for less than six months, Morsi has devoted much of his time and efforts towards obtaining and solidifying absolute power over Egypt. Thus far, these efforts have been largely successful and it is hardly unrealistic to imagine that Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood will have an unassailable lock on power by the end of the year. With Egypt potentially on the cusp of more political violence at the moment, it is only fair to look back and determine how a nation that fought so hard for a shot at democracy has reached this point so fast.
The reality is that Egyptians have used their newly minted powers of selection to elect a leader with an agenda that is embedded in a foundation of autocracy. Mohammed Morsi was elected by the voters and this fact should not be overlooked. Egypt has exchanged one autocrat for another. Only with Morsi they have done so of their own volition. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have incontrovertible support among a sizeable bloc of the people. Large numbers of those supporters are taking to the streets now to battle opponents of Morsi’s judicial decision. The coming days will certainly play a role in defining the future of Egyptian politics for years to come. If Morsi is allowed to continue along his course unchecked, Egypt’s brief fling with democracy is dead and the only lasting result of the Arab Spring in Egypt will be an Islamic autocracy in absolute control.