I can’t prove this. But it’s my hunch that one of the reasons the Saudis and other Gulfies chose to become part of this coalition is about more than just fear of jihadists. They also see an opportunity here to get the United States to engage militarily in Syria not just against IS but against Assad, too. The Arabs understand the contradictions inherent in U.S. policy.
They know that like a magnet, the logic of the situation could pull the Obama administration into the fight against the Syrian regime because the very groups the United States is training will pull in that direction. Indeed, they’re counting on it, and given their previous concern about America’s waning credibility, they probably argue it would be a good thing to help us and them stand up to their real fear: the mullahs in Tehran. It’s a veritable three-for: You hit Assad and you weaken their No. 1 adversary Iran and its Hezbollah minions too. Now there’s a bargain.
I’m sure the president is nowhere close to signing on for nation-building in Syria. This is one red line I’m certain he believes he’ll never allow to turn pink. And in the current situation, it would be insane to “defeat” Assad only to have the Islamists — from IS to al-Nusra Front — fill the vacuum, take Damascus, and set into motion ethnic cleansing of the Alawites.
But life is funny. Shit happens, particularly in this region. And things never turn out quite the way you plan them. Some argue nation-building in Syria would be a good thing and that we should start planning for it.