CBS’ Norah O’Donnell asked former Saudi ambassador to the US Turki al-Faisal bluntly whether his country would consider sending ground troops into Syria. “Look, we sent in our aircraft,” Faisal replied nonchalantly. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t send in our ground troops.” Faisal expressed hope that Barack Obama would see it the same way “if the need for it arises”:
Faisal seems rather glib about the prospect of putting boots on the ground in Syria, considering the dangers they might face in a multipolar civil war. On the other hand, the Saudis may have an ally or two among those combatants already. They have been pressing Obama to aid some of those groups for more than three years, as Faisal notes, as well as going back into Iraq to deal with the Maliki government and the collapse of the security forces in our absence.
One danger might be a clash with Iran, which recently scolded Saudi Arabia for their “illegal” intervention in Syria with the US-led coalition air strikes. Faisal laughed out loud when O’Donnell asked about the Iranian reaction:
“What about his troops being on the ground killing Syrians?” al-Faisal said with a laugh, referencing Iran’s military support to the Assad regime. “This is the irony and, if you like, the rather arrogant attitude that they give themselves the license to send troops to kill Syrians but then when we try to defend the Syrian people they say that is illegal. That’s unacceptable.”
The Iranians want to keep Bashar al-Assad propped up, but Faisal insisted that dealing with ISIS meant settling with Assad too. “You can’t simply deal with ISIS and not deal with Assad.” The Saudi prince also rejected ISIS’ claim to be an Islamic state when O’Donnell asked about the Saudis’ participation in those attacks, calling it “Muslims killing Muslims”:
“You know, we don’t consider ISIS as being a Muslim group, because of what they do to Islam,” al-Faisal said.
ISIS claims to be creating an Islamic state, but al-Faisal refuted that notion.
“That’s what they claim. And unfortunately some people believe them. But their actions belie their words,” al-Faisal said. “You don’t simply create an Islamic state by chopping people’s heads off and enforcing your opinion on them.”
With Faisal’s easy offer of ground troops, one has to wonder why that didn’t become part of the coalition effort. One good reason may well be the Iranians, who will see a Saudi troop invasion as a threat to their position in both Syria and Iraq. It might transform the war with ISIS into a full-blown Sunni/Shi’ite ground war that could rearrange the Middle East in ways that no one will enjoy, especially not in the short run. That is why a ground effort will need to be closely managed and carefully controlled — preferably by those unaffiliated with that ancient conflict.