Sharmine Narwani shares an email she received from a former US diplomat with service experience in Syria who has asked to remain unnamed. The email appears to have been written a week ago.
I have serious problems with all the talk about military intervention in Syria. Everyone, especially the media, seems to be relying solely on anti-regime activists for their information. How do we know 260 people were killed by the regime in Homs yesterday? That number seems based solely on claims by anti-regime figures and I seriously doubt its accuracy.
I served over three years in Damascus at the US Embassy and I know how difficult it is to sort fact from rumor in that closed political society. We were constantly trying to verify rumors that we had heard about assassinations, regime arrests, etc., and that included the Agency, which was just as much in the dark as everyone else. Today, we have a skeleton embassy which I am sure is under constant surveillance and with very few personnel to go out and report on what is happening. When I was in Damascus over two years ago, I was less than impressed with the Embassy’s sources and with its understanding of the dynamics of what was going on Syria. And the same is true when I talk to officials at the State Department.
The media, and to an extent the Administration, have personalized the conflict in Syria as being about Bashar Assad and his family. They have consistently underestimated the sectarian nature of the conflict there. It is not just Bashar Assad and his family that are hanging onto power at all costs, it is the entire Alawi system of control of the country, including the military, the security services and the Baath Party. I believe that Alawites firmly think that if they lose power, the Sunnis will slaughter them, That was one reason Hafez and his brother Rifaat were so ruthless in Hama thirty years ago. And everyone in the West conveniently forgets the campaign of assassinations and suicide bombings carried out in the three or four years before Hama by the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the country. I personally witnessed the aftermath of such bombings in which several hundred people were killed. While the State Department, the CIA and other organs of government may have short historical memories, the people in Syria do not.
There have been few good analyses of the conflict in Syria. With the exception of the journalist Nir Rosen and the International Crisis Group, most reporting has been superficial and biased in favor of opponents of the regime. This is no basis on which to base policy, especially if officials in Washington are contemplating some form of military intervention. We would be opening a Pandora’s box of sectarian conflict that could easily spread to Lebanon, Israel, Kurdish areas of Iraq and elsewhere.
One irony of the current situation compared to thirty years ago is Iraq’s role. Then, we had reasonably good information that Saddam Hussein was supporting the Brotherhood with arms, explosives and facilitating the smuggling of both across the Syrian-Iraqi border. Today, the Maliki government in Baghdad appears to be supporting the Assad regime. And thirty years ago, we also had information that the Brotherhood leadership was given sanctuary in Jordan by King Hussein and in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t think we know how to play in this arena, just as we don’t understand how to play in the Afghanistan-Pakistan arena. US military intervention, whether under the guise of NATO or some other umbrella, could have serious unforeseen consequences for the US, Europe and the region. Officials in Washington should have the law of unforeseen consequences hammered into their heads every morning.