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Assad: 'There Is a War'

12:23 PM, Apr 18, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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After more than two years now that the Syrian uprising began, the White House’s policy is still in disarray. Testifying before congress yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the need to step up pressure on Assad, while Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Dempsey counseled caution. “It’s actually more confusing on the opposition side today than it was six months ago,” said Dempsey, who three months ago acknowledged that he’d backed then CIA Director David Petraeus’ plan to arm the opposition. Dempsey explained yesterday that he’d reconsidered his position since then.  Now he is not sure the U.S. “could clearly identify the right people” to arm. That is to say, in spite of the billions of dollars that the American intelligence community spends each year, the United States is still virtually blind in Syria.

To keep the White House in check, Assad described his domestic foes as those very terrorists that the United States should be most worried about. "The West has paid heavily for funding Al-Qaeda in its early stages,” said Assad. “Today it is doing the same in Syria, Libya and other places.”

The United States of course is not backing al-Qaeda. In December, it designated Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization, which last week pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. Assad means to reinforce the conviction, expressed by Dempsey and others, that the White House would be foolhardy to support a rebel army composed of American adversaries. But in claiming that the West would “pay a heavy price in the heart of Europe and the United States,” Assad was also leveling a threat.

After all, until Sunni jihadist groups picked up arms against Assad, the regime used these same groups for many purposes, among them to kill American forces in Iraq. There is no telling which Islamist groups may still be manipulated in part by the regime, or to what extent the regime is capable of using the cover provided by jihadist outfits. In any case, the message is clear: Bring war to my borders, says Assad, and I will take the war to your shores.

As Tony Badran, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains in an article today in NOW Lebanon, the conflict in Syria pitting Assad, Iran and Hezbollah against what many have described as an al-Qaeda army is reminiscent to many of the Iran-Iraq war.

“Rather than back one side to win,” Badran writes, “the US would prefer, to paraphrase former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, both sides lose.

“This argument rests on a few contentions, which can be summarized as follows: a protracted war of attrition would bleed both sides and limit their ability to project power elsewhere or harm US interests. With neither side having won, both would emerge severely weakened from the stalemated conflict—just as Iran and Iraq did.”

The problem with the analogy, as Badran writes, is that both Iraq and Iran came out of the conflict more dangerous than ever to American interests. Saddam, bankrupted by a decade of war, invaded Kuwait and compelled the US to land its own troops to stop him. As for Iran, Badran explains, “it is precisely this period in the 1980’s that we associate most with Iranian terrorism against the U.S. and its allies.” 

It was also this period during which American policymakers showed the Iranians and their allies that they would do nothing in response to operations that targeted Americans, most notably servicemen and diplomats in Lebanon and Kuwait.  The Obama administration wants to keep its hands clean of the Syrian conflict, but yesterday Assad warned that he and his allies may have an interest in expanding their war well outside their borders.

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