The Obama administration recently announced that the U.S. is going to support the rebels with military weapons. It is obvious that President Obama has been under tremendous pressure for a while to do something in Syria. The leading advocates of arming the rebels have been John McCain, Saudi Arabia and European Union.
Let's take a moment to evaluate the situation. Two years ago, the Syrian people, following the uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab countries rose against their government and demanded democracy. They faced a brutal crackdown that resulted in the killing of many innocent people. What started as a simple desire for democracy turned into sectarian violence. It became the struggle of the Sunni Muslim majority, against the ruling minority of Alawite Muslims.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both ruled by Sunni Muslims, took advantage of this uprising and have been supporting the opposition financially and providing them with military weapons. Needless to say, they have also been lobbying the U.S. and European Union to get officially involved. In addition, they have asked other Sunni Arabs to go to Syria and fight the Assad government. In the meantime, al-Qaida took advantage of the opportunity and established a base in Syria through its affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
According to numerous news reports, including CNN and NBC, most of the fighting in Syria has been done by al-Qaida affiliates. They are the ones who scored many victories against the Assad government and captured some towns and cities.
They have also used suicide bombers repeatedly to blow up universities and shops, killing innocent people randomly. Just recently, on June 28, according to a BBC report, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Christian neighborhood and killed four people.
Jabhat al-Nusra is part of the al-Qaida which attacked us on 9/11 and killed many Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. These jihadists are willing to die for their ideology. They constantly plan to blow up our planes, shopping centers, and train stations. They dream of imposing Sharia law all over the world.
To understand how rootless they are, consider a USA Today story from May, which reported that a Jabhat al-Nusra bit into the heart of a dead enemy soldier with pride and joy, in front of cameras. America arming these people is just mind-boggling.
As I noted before, two major supporters of the opposition are Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They are presumably helping to establish a democratic government in Syria. Unfortunately, they don't have a good record of democracy at home or abroad. Both have an unelected king who has absolute authority, meaning he answers to no one. In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, there is no right of dissent and women are marginalized with not much basic rights.
In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia helped to bring a religious movement called the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. Their version of Islamic law was so repressive that only three countries officially recognized their government; one was Saudi Arabia. Among the Taliban's moves was banning education for females, with violators stoned to death publicly. More recently, Saudi Arabia sent troops to neighboring Bahrain to crush peaceful uprising by Shiites, which make up the majority of the country, against the minority ruling king. My point is that Saudi Arabia does not care about democracy. Its main aspiration is to promote its fanatic version of Islam all over the Arab world. We shouldn't be drawn into that kind of war.
In an interview with Charlie Rose on June 18, President Obama said that some people want us to help Sunnis defeat Shiites. That is exactly what it is. It is Saudi Arabia's war, Qatar's war and it is al-Qaida's war. It is a sectarian war. This war is not our war. We have to stay away from it. It is between Sunnis and Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam.
Remember what Colin Powell told President Bush before going to Iraq? If you break it, you own it.
It is true in Syria as well. If we take sides, it will become our war. It's a slippery slope toward quagmire.
Sen. John McCain wants America to establish a no-fly zone and arm the rebels heavily. It is not as easy as it sounds. It is costly and it is hard to implement. Fur thermore, it will not guarantee in stopping more killings. In 1992, when we imposed a no-fly zone over some parts of Iraq, it didn't stop Saddam from slaughtering Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north.
In short, arming the rebels is not the solution. We should try to bring peace to Syria by negotiation. President Obama should swallow his pride and negotiate with the Assad government. Maybe Assad should be given five more years of presidency and immunity from prosecution. Maybe a Sunni should be given the position of prime minister with meaningful power. There can be many different ways that Sunnis and Alawites can share power in Syria.
War is not a solution. Arms will not save lives; peacemaking should be our only role.
Avaz Hajizadeh, Ph.D., is a retired professor of economics and finance at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.