Will Obama's Syria Plan Hurt or Help al-Qaida?
President Barack Obama is simultaneously saying he intends to take military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to punish it for using chemical weapons, but that he will not put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.
Is such a plan more likely to advance the interests of the American people or those of the Assad regime's most vehement foe — al-Qaida? Will it increase or decrease future acts of evil?
On Feb. 11, 2012, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a videotape in which he urged Muslims to support the rebellion against the Assad regime. He likened what is taking place in Syria and Egypt today to what took place in the 12th century. when, first, the Muslim warrior Nur ad-Din took control of Damascus, and then the Muslim warrior Salah ad-Din took control of Cairo and, uniting Egypt and Syria against the crusaders in Jerusalem, recaptured that city in 1187.
"Remember your ancestors' bravery in protecting Islam's honor and the Muslims' sanctity," Zawahiri said in his videotape. "Oh, Arab lions, Oh, Kurdish lions, Oh, Circassian heroes, Oh, brave Turkmen, unite under the flag of 'There is no god but Allah,' with which Salah ad-Din led you to the victory, conquering and liberation of Bayt al-Maqdis [the area around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]. You will not be victorious unless you are under this flag. And remember that Salah Ad-Din's liberation of al-Quds [Jerusalem] began with Nur Ad-Din's liberation of Damascus and Salah Ad-Din's liberation of Cairo."
Has al-Qaida made any progress toward achieving Zawahiri's fanatical vision since he made this February 2012 videotape?
On Dec. 11, 2012, the State Department named the al-Nusra Front, a combatant in the Syrian rebellion, as an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.
"Since November 2011, al-Nusra Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks — ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and improvised explosive device operations—in major city centers including Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib and Dayr al-Zawr," then-State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said at the time.
"During these attacks numerous innocent Syrians have been killed," said Nuland.
In April, as reported by CNN, al Nusra Front publicly pledged its allegiance to Zawahiri.
On July 10, the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament released its annual report, revealing that British intelligence agencies and the British Joint Terrorism Analysis Center "assess that al-Qaida elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the U.K.
and the West.
"There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets," said the report.
"Large numbers of radicalized individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the U.K. and Europe," said the report. "They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. Furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons."
The British report noted that the "Syrian regime possesses vast stockpiles' of chemical weapons, and fretted these could fall into the hands of terrorists if the regime fell.
"The Chief of SIS (the Secret Intelligence Service) noted the risk of 'a highly worrying proliferation around the time of regime fall,'" said the British report. "There has to be a significant risk that some of the country's chemical weapons stockpile could fall into the hands of those with links to terrorism, in Syria or elsewhere in the region — if this happens, the consequences could be catastrophic."
At a March 7, 2012 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., noted reports that Syria had "the biggest chemical weapon arsenal in the world," and that 20,000 man-portable anti-aircraft missiles had disappeared from Libya during the revolution there. She asked then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta how he compared the situation in Libya to that in Syria.
"I think it's a hundred times worse than what we dealt with in Libya," said Panetta, "and ... that's why it's raised even greater concerns about our ability to address how we can secure those [chemical weapons] sites."
A Congressional Research Service report about Syria's chemical weapons published on Aug. 20, footnoted a CNN report, in stating: "The Pentagon has estimated that it would take over 75,000 troops to neutralize the chemical weapons [in Syria]."
Both the Assad regime and al-Qaida are evil. Obama says he wants the Assad regime out, but vows he will put no boots on the ground in the military action he intends to take to punish that regime for using chemical weapons.
If the Assad regime is removed — as Obama intends — whose troops will prevent its chemical weapons from being used by someone else somewhere else?