In the mid 1990s, the US government was keen to spread the news that it had allocated USD 15 million to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime and that it was spending the money to train and arm Iraqi opposition groups in the Kurdish region.
Although the news resonated strongly within the media, when the Americans met with their allies they realized that the Arabs were not optimistic. They told the Americans: ‘We are now sure that you do not intend to topple Saddam. What can USD 15 million do to topple such a powerful regime?’ But when former president George W. Bush decided to oust Saddam, he sent 100,000 soldiers—and the message was clear.
But what can be inferred from the message the US is sending by posting only 200 soldiers to Jordan to confront the repercussions of the war in Syria? The US does not plan to intervene. The number of soldiers sent to Jordan is so small that it reinforces the belief that the US plans to carry out limited operations only, such as controlling chemical or biological weapons sites.
In previous wars, numbers speak for themselves. The previous American governments sent 178,000 soldiers to Iraq during the height of war. It sent more than 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan. If American president Barack Obama decided to intervene in Syria—and it does not seem that he will—he faces a great political challenge in trying to convince Congress to agree to such an intervention. This would only be made easy if the war in Syria develops into a front for terrorist activities, or if it clashes with Israel.
Indirect international intervention by supporting the opposition could have been useful at the beginning of the war, two years ago. It could have lessened the size of the human tragedy, enabled the civil opposition to govern, and prevented feuds, massacres and civil war.
In Syria, most of the country is now out of control—governed by neither the regime, nor controlled by the opposition. As time goes on, more areas will enter a state of anarchy.
This is due to a lack of intervention from the international community, leaving the war to be fought between heavily armed regime forces and scattered opposition forces.
Government forces have failed to retain control of most areas. They succeeded, however, in destroying everywhere they were forced to withdraw from. Thus most of these areas are no longer fit to inhabit, resulting in more than 3 million Syrians having fled their cities and towns. So what can international or American intervention do now? Perhaps the Americans can help the rebels seize Damascus or Aleppo, and help topple the regime—but they will not be able to end the conflict between competing revolutionary forces.
Another way in which the international community could help would be to assist the rebels in managing their battles against the regime. It could help organize them and run their affairs—a task the opposition has clearly failed at, despite being courageous fighters who, with their simple weapons, managed to subdue one of the region’s strongest armies.
Leaving Syria to battle in its own chaos has been a huge strategic mistake for the Americans, the West and the Arabs. Two hundred American soldiers will not frighten President Assad, nor will they raise the rebels’ morale. They will also not succeed in providing safety for Jordan, which has also become threatened.