CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- President Barak Obama had obviously made up his mind to bomb military targets in Syria to weaken Bashar Assad's regime and thus strengthen the opposition forces that have been fighting the regime for more than two years.
President Obama's decision came after the regime used chemical weapons resulting in death of over 1,000 innocent civilians -- a charge the regime is still denying. While, it is our responsibility to deter any nation that uses such horrible weapons and to help the oppressed people to win their freedom around the world, I think that there are other safer alternatives -- not only for Syria but to the United States of America.
Launching high altitude air strikes might save the lives of our soldiers but will undoubtedly kill many Syrian civilians. As we witnessed in 1998 with "Operation Desert Fox" launched by President Bill Clinton against Iraq, it proved that "smart bombs" were really dumb bombs that killed hundreds of Iraqis, but did not hurt Saddam's regime at all.
The United States does not need to fear Assad threatening the security of Israel. Neither he nor his army is any match for the stealth and technological might of Israel. Assad knows this. Israel knows this. Israel has reportedly struck Syria multiple times in which the Syrian army could simply do nothing except realize how overwhelmingly outmatched they were.
Syria is not an oil country and thus it's relatively poor in resources compared to Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The damage of the bombings will fall squarely on the Syrian people, not on the government. The dismal financial aftermath will put much pressure on Syrians and will lead many of them to join extremist movements within Syria and elsewhere.
The Arab countries that support the United States actions against Syria are not democratic states. They themselves are led by dictators that in some cases are even worse than Assad's regime as we have witnessed in the past -- especially in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain where opponents of their despotic monarchies are often tortured, imprisoned, or simply done away with.
Much like the Iraqis were in the 1980s, a majority of Syrian people are moderate with their politics and religion. It would be a true shame if a U.S. airstrike turned many of these people into violent Islamic radicals. It is quite amazing how in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds killing 5,000 civilians in a mere few seconds, to which the U.S. administration under Ronald Reagan did not even condemn the act. Why only now is a U.S. administration decrying the use of chemical weapons?
Chemical weapons may fall into the hands of Hezbollah and al-Qaida if Bashar's regime were weakened. This will add even more trouble to American interests in the Middle East.
Regime change works better than bombing a regime because bombings will only hurt civilians and strengthen the al-Qaida-backed Islamist extremists who want to divide Syria and even turn it into a Islamist pariah nation like Afghanistan under the Taliban. And to make matters worse, the Islamists are already killing the scores of Kurds, Shiite, Alawites, and even Christians.
A better alternative to war is for the United States to use this adversity as an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of the International Criminal Courts. The United States (along with the EU and the UN) could refer the Syrian leadership to the ICC for war crimes and demand the new regime leaders to destroy its stockpile of the weapons.
The Vietnam War started from a small conflict and ended up with full-scale war under so- called "snowball effect" or "slippery slope effect." This means that with the passage of time, the demands on the administration to do more in the war will be accelerated and in the case of Syria, the war could easily escalate into a regional war that could be devastating.
A war against Syria will affect the neighboring countries directly -- especially Turkey and Iraq. In Turkey, the Alawite minority consider the uprising in Syria "an imperialistic geopolitical battle between the West and the Sunni Gulf against the Shiite world," while Servet Mullaoglu an Alawite and the head of Antakya's Republican People's Party warned that " This war will not end any time soon, not for Syria, and not for Turkey." In Iraq, extremists aligned with al-Qaida are already mobilizing -- threatening to kill anyone who opposes an attack against Syria.
Yes, the Syrian people deserve better leaders than the present one, but the alternative is worse. I really hope that the Congress will follow the example of the British Parliament and vote against any military strike on Syria. We just can't afford to turn Syria into another Iraq.
Khalil is professor of business and economics at Fairmont State University.