Suddenly, it seems as though the US government has finally begun to consider what will happen in a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria. CBS News reports that the State Department fears that al-Qaeda will fill the power vacuum from its power base in neighboring Iraq, and seize control of chemical weapons and whatever else Assad has lying around:
Senior U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about the growing presence of al Qaeda terrorists in civil war-torn Syria. In a statement released over the weekend, the State Department said the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has moved himself and the group’s operations to Syria. A State Department spokesperson also noted that the deadly suicide attacks and car bombings carried out in Iraq in recent days can be attributed to AQI.
CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell warned of the risk of the collapse of the Syrian government — which possesses a considerable stockpile of chemical and advanced weapons — namely, a power vacuum which would leave room for al Qaeda to take hold and take advantage of their weapons cache and technical capabilities.
Be sure to watch it all, but pay close attention to this:
Many of the fighters now based in Syria likely came from Afghanistan, North Africa, Yemen and Iraq, where they learned to fight the U.S., Logan explained.
“That organization [in Syria] is in very close contact with Ayman al-Zawahri, who is in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region,” she said. Al-Zawahri is Osama bin Laden’s successor, who in 2001, laid out his long-term plan for the global jihadi movement.
Remember when the so-called “core al-Qaeda” was “on the run”? Good times, good times. Lara Logan also mentions that AQI has a “guerilla army” capable of shifting to any front in the region. That army just got a huge boost in enlistments, thanks to a series of eleven almost-certainly coordinated jailbreaks from Pakistan to Libya, springing a thousand or more fighters from prisons.
Remember too that the US has tried to intervene mainly on the same side as AQI in this fight. The Obama administration has squared off against Russia over the future of Assad to the point of a near-breakdown in diplomatic relations. Russia wanted to prop up Assad both for their own economic benefit, but also for stability in the region. The US saw an opportunity to kick out a strut of Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions without considering what would follow an Assad collapse — even though we had just walked through the same exact scenario in Libya, with disastrous results.
In fact, CBS gets one key point wrong in this otherwise-insightful segment. AQ doesn’t really want control of a state, at least not primarily. Failed states like Libya, Somalia, and possibly Syria suit their needs just as well. They want to be free of states imposing security restrictions in order to export terror and shari’a oppression, as they nearly succeeded with Mali after the US and the West helpfully deposed Moammar Qaddafi for them. Their end game is a caliphate that stretches across the Muslim world, controlled by their own emir, not statehood in the Western sense. The decapitation of Assad, like that of Qaddafi, is their best outcome as long as it doesn’t come with Western boots on the ground to demolish their army — which we accomplished in Iraq until the political will to continue evaporated after the surge.
Intervention in this region requires the elimination of even the possibility of the kind of vacuum we left in Libya, and proposed to leave in Syria with our long-distance assistance to the same side as AQI. Either go big, or stay home.