A BGM-109 Tomahawk missile launches from the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104) during a weapons training exercise off the coast of San Diego, Calif., June 23, 2010. Sterett launched two Tomahawk missiles during the weeklong training evolution in preparation for its upcoming deployment. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Carmichael Yepez, U.S. Navy/Released)
The April 6 U.S. cruise missile strikes against the Syrian airfield that recently launched a chemical weapon attack against rebel civilians raises the question whether the international community should at this point forcibly remove Bashar al-Assad from power.
Let there be no mistake that when the term “international community” is used in this context, it means that the mission will be largely an American one with some token help, more or less, from NATO allies.
As top U.S. general Joseph Dunford has noted, a U.S. air campaign to remove Assad will trigger war with Russia. That fact alone should give pause to the recent momentum to forcibly remove Assad from power.
However, if President Trump is determined to go this route -risking war with Russia in order to topple Assad- then he should do so only, and only if, he also authorizes putting on the ground in Syria a couple of hundred thousand American troops to provide the law and order that will be necessary to stand up a transitional government.
As to the exact number of U.S. troops, the U.S. military can provide President Trump with that precise number. However, given the U.S. experience in Iraq, the likely number at minimum will be between one hundred and two hundred thousand troops.
We know also from the experiences in Iraq and Libya that if you remove a Middle East dictator -who likely resides over a sectarian population- that the dictator’s government will implode once the dictator has been removed. The result of the imploding government will be anarchy, violence, and civil war.
The threat of anarchy, violence, and civil war should be taken seriously because today many Americans regret that the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya because of the resulting messes.
Let it be clearly understood that if President Trump removes Assad through air strikes alone, but does not put a couple hundred thousand American soldiers on the ground, the rebel opposition, much of which is composed of radical jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS, likely will not unite behind a single leader to form a representative government, but will instead inflict revenge on Assad and his constituencies, and afterwards, devour one another in a new phase to the Syrian civil war.
No longer will news reports feature the slaughter of Sunni rebel civilians but will feature massacres of Syria’s Shiites, Christians, and Assad’s other allies.