Syrian Tragedy, More Sunni vs. Shia Madness – What Should President Obama Do?

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Syrian Civil War

President Obama is facing a very difficult challenge in Syria. The President has already established a firm bright line that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government would have serious ramifications. I agree with the President that we should not act until we collect all the facts and verify our conclusions.

Photo Credit: Roberto Piperno

Photo Credit: Roberto Piperno RomeArtLover at Tripod Roman Amphitheater in Bosra, Syria

Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry has stated at the United Nations that the use of chemical weapons was a moral atrocity” and “undeniable,” inferring that overwhelming evidence has already been verified.

While the U.S. deliberates with their allies (primarily Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and Israel) and awaits the findings of the U.N. Inspectors in Syria, they have also expressed that the Syrian Government would not have prevented the inspections for five days if they wished to prove their innocence. The Assad regime would not have continued to shell the area in question, destroying evidence that would exonerate them.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied using chemical weapons, explaining that his army would never use such weapons, particularly when the rebel front is undefined—placing his own soldiers at risk. Furthermore, Assad claims that it was the rebels that launched the chemicals against their own as a false flag attack, with an intent to draw the Americans into the conflict. While this claim may seem to reach, it is plausible as many Al–Qaeda fighters have joined the Syrian rebels—so verification by the U.N. Inspectors is critical.

Moreover, Russia has supported Syria closely since Assad’s father assumed power in 1971. Assad himself trained as a fighter pilot in Russia. While Putin has re-iterated that any use of chemical weapons would merit an International response, Russia will only accept evidence produced by the United Nations. They have referred to Iraq where WMD were never found yet the U.S. attacked anyway, and that we should avoid a similar violation of International Law—a very good point no matter its source. The question is, will Russia act responsibly if the U.N. weapons inspectors present concrete proof?

To attempt to understand the current conflict within Syria, I assembled the following playlist of videos.  Religion accounts for much of the resentment, specifically the well-known Sunni versus Shia struggle, a dispute that started after the Prophet Muhammad died and a schism developed over his rightful successor. The majority of Muslims—now Sunni—believed that the people should choose the next Caliph, while a minority—now Shia, including Syrian Alawites—believed that the Prophet’s Cousin and Son-in-Law Ali was the rightful successor. Sadly this schism originated during the late 7th century and remains unresolved.

The following add complexity to Obama’s Syrian plate:

  • Russia has been a long-time ally and supporter of the Syrian regime, they have supplied the regime with arms, and although small, their only Russian Naval base outside Russia is in the Syrian city of Tartus on the east Mediterranean coast.
  • The rebels (majority Sunnis) are not ready to govern Syria and have attracted a large contingent of extremist elements and Al–Qaeda support.
  • The Sunni Saudis fund the rebels, while Shia Iran is supporting Assad’s forces. Ironically, Iran is delivering arms across the majority Shia Iraq—where we helped to install an Iraqi Shia government after defeating the Sunni Saddam Hussein.
  • Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, and Syria would like to take it back. Syria despises Israel and would attack them immediately if fired upon by the U.S. and her allies.
  • Ironically the Assad government is secularist and has a long history of equal rights for women, contrary to the rebels who would likely want to install Sharia Law, an extremely harsh and strict interpretation of Islam.
  • The Kurds are perhaps the only group to benefit from the dispute, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated from Northeast Syria to Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, where Masoud Barzani and his 300k strong Peshmurga militia welcomed them. As an Iranian people who fought against Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, who have been mostly independent from Iraq since 1991, they will likely become much stronger and perhaps draw more Kurds from Turkey and elsewhere—although a now Shia Iraqi government will be more open to accommodating the Kurds.

What should the U.S. do?

  • Take no action absent approval by the U.N. Security Council—where both Russia and China will likely veto any response?
  • Bypass the U.N. and form a large consortium of International support?
  • Take unilateral action no matter who agrees?
  • Other?

If the allies take action against Assad, should they:

  • Use Cruise missiles only, no boots on the ground?
  • Establish no-fly zones to protect the rebel civilians?
  • Increase arms supplies to the rebels, despite the reality that we would be arming Al Qaeda—again—like Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion?

GravitySailor’s Recommendations to President Obama:

  • Take no action until the U.N. has presented their conclusion.  This is critical to dealing with Russia and preserving mutual respect, despite recent squabbles.
  • Communicate directly and respectfully with Iran, as their new leader, President Hassan Rouhani, offers much hope.
  • If we take action, preferably remotely with precision Cruise missiles, the attack must be significant and send a clear message to the Assad regime that they are in no position to engage or argue with the allies. The strike must hurt them in an overwhelming display of accuracy and destruction.
  • If we take action, the Assad regime must be given a reasonable exit if they request it, but the commanding executive powers must be held fully accountable.
  • The President must communicate clearly to Congress, the American people, and the world—exactly what our objectives are, both long and short, establishing a unified vision for the future of Syria.


Mark G Capolupo

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I couldn’t agree more with Pragmatik, as you mentioned in your article, this has been going on for over a thousand years–I’m not sure it will ever end.


America has no dog in this fight, we really should stay out of it.


The use of chemical weapons typically is not a thing you would expect the international community to ignore. It has in the past with Saddam’s regime and should not have. “Fights” of this sort, civil wars etc., are no longer private adventures of any country wishing to conduct them. The world is now responsible. What do you think is meant every time the old guys solemnly repeat “Lest we forget”. It doesn’t however mean that so called surgical strikes by the latest new-beaut weapons will have neatly packaged results. Stop expecting miracles. We are all in this fight.

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