U.S. Syria Full-scale Intervention Could Have Led to Confrontation with Russia

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What started with kids and spray paint cans (above), ended with Syria in ruins, thanks to dictator Bashar al-Assad

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian war.

What started as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's brutal reaction to peaceful protest and uprising mutated into a proxy-war, pitting Saudi Arabia, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and the United States against Russia and Iran.

Arms and fighters were sent in from all sides, leading to a bloody stalemate.

Another byproduct of the Syrian crisis was the rise of ISIS.

The death toll is now estimated to be between 250,000 and 470,000 and even during the recently implemented "cease fire," the numbers continue to rise.

It began on March 6, 2011, when a few school children- inspired by the Tunisian revolution on January 14  and the Egyptian revolution on February 11- from the Syrian city of Daraa sprayed graffiti on a few walls at school and around their neighborhood.

They wrote in Arabic:  "It's your turn Doctor" in reference to Assad being a medical doctor and "The people want the regime to fall."

Assad ordered the military police to arrest them at school, cuffed right in class and detained. They were all then viciously tortured, some of them were dismembered and sent back to their families in pieces. Their mutilated corpses was a sadistic message from Assad to the rest of Syria. 

If you rise up, your next, Assad was telegraphing to his people.

Instead of terrorizing the Syrian people into silence and submission, Assad's barbaric overture became a rallying cry to overthrow the child mutilating, authoritarian regime, sparking large protests in Daraa, Aleppo and Damascus.

Assad sent out his brother, Maher al-Assad, commander of the Syrian Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division, along with Syria's secret police to squash the protests by any means.

The Assad brothers began slaughtering nonviolent protesters en mass with military grade artillery, tanks, helicopters and even jet fighters dropping bombs from above.

But the more Assad bombed them, the more they rose up in protest.

After months of massacre, the Assad opposition began arming themselves and fighting back, escalating the uprising into a full blown civil war.

Fast forward five years.

What started with some kids with a couple spray paint cans and a little youthful angst, ended with Assad bombing Syria into ruins.

Hundreds of thousands of dead. Millions injured and displaced. The Syrian people have been bombed, gassed and starved. Their homes, their cities and families now live in bombed out ruble.

Yet, they still resist.

Now, the Syrian civil war:

What began after Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, metastasized in fertile blood soaked ground in Syria. ISIS has erased the border lines between Syria and Iraq and surpassed their predecessor, Al-Qaeda by declaring a caliphate led Islamic state in June of 2014.

The Obama administration deliberated for months on how to proceed. Divided into two camps, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice advocated that Obama arm and train opposition forces into a cohesive army, managed by the CIA and American special forces.

Clinton's plan was not to totally overthrow Assad, but to put enough pressure on him to step down, setting a political transition of power in motion ceding to opposition forces.

Clinton also believed that more United States support for the Free Syrian Army would stave of Islamic jihadists from entering the fray. Groups like ISIS would end up filling the void of United States inaction, leading to an even bigger crisis that may spill beyond Syria's borders.

On the other side, many on the National Security Council advised Obama to stay on the sidelines, believing that Assad would soon fall anyway.

Or so we are told.

But on April 18, 2011 Time Magazine said it all in its headline- The Revolution Stops Here, concluding the Arab Spring or the " train of the Arab revolution” would come to abrupt halt in Syria. The Assad family's "legacy of brutality against internal opponents," would prevail in the end.

Obama hesitated arming the Free Syrian Army until 2012, when it appeared that Assad,-as Time magazine predicted weeks after the protesting began and Assad's forces began to open fire on them- that the Syrian dictator was going nowhere.

Then, in August 2013, the so-called "red line" Obama drew in 2012 was crossed when Assad gassed a suburb in Damascus, killing over 1,400 people, including woman in children.

Airstrikes on Assad was imminent as Obama and world leaders started choosing targets, primarily military ones.

But on the eve of when U.S. airstrikes were about to launched, Obama blinked, withdrawing the threat of an air campaign over Syria.

Why?

Just this week, Atlantic Monthly's Jeff Goldberg published an epic story regarding Obama's thought process of threating Assad with airstrikes, then withdrawing that threat. It claims that Obama was tired of the Washington "playbook" of threats of intervention and wanted to liberate his presidency from it.

It is very thoughtful spin.

But the reality is this. Obama backed off Assad for one reason.

Putin.

A source I spoke to in the Americas that is quite close to Pope Francis told me that the just selected Pontiff spoke out against attacking Syria was not because he was against hitting Assad, but how Putin would have responded, defending Assad to the bitter end, no matter what it would lead to.

"Obama backed off Assad out of fear that Putin would escalate the war way beyond Syria's borders," I was told.

It may have been the right move, but it's still a striking moment in American history when a president's threat was walked back, diminishing our credibility.

But what about Hillary Clinton's plan of covert destabilization through proxy war?

We will never know.

And with the passing of five years of bloodshed in Syria, with ISIS promising a more secure Middle East while splattering chunks of children's brains in the streets, it is a haunting reminder that inaction led the world where it is today.

Assad did slam the brakes on the Arab Spring and it certainly had an effect on other popular movements around the globe.

Atlantic Monthly spin aside, Obama's legacy pertaining to Syria's uprising may be one we can't ever believe in if Assad is still in power after he leaves office in January, 2017.

 

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