Former Ambassador to Egypt, Israel Says Case Can Be Made for Limited Military Action in Syria

Lawmakers are debating whether or not the United States should take military action in Syria. Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel Daniel Kurtzer told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he believes an argument can be made for military force, as long as it’s limited in scope and duration, though he said he’s not convinced action by the U.S. alone would accomplish much.

Kurtzer said the evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria is “fairly robust” and is a violation of international law. “But the United Nations is really the place that has to decide what the enforcement mechanism is. If the United States attacks Syria and even if we degrade let’s say part of its air force or some of its delivery capabilities, does that really send a message if the rest of the international community remains silent? So I think the president is right to consult with the Congress and I think the Congress has a very heavy responsibility but I’m not sure what happens the day after,” he said. “Does it really deter Assad from using chemical weapons again or from using other means to terrorize his population?”

According to Kurtzer, there is a theory that Syrian President Bashar al Assad is seeing a stalemate developing in the civil war and wants to regionalize the conflict. “By bringing the United States in or the United States and some allies, it will change the equation with respect to Arab attitudes. For example, should Israel join the fray then a lot of Arab public opinion may decide perhaps they should side with Assad rather than with those who oppose him,” Kurtzer explained. “So Assad’s calculations here are not benevolent. The possibility of expanding this war and bringing in the United States and other regional powers is not very favorable for future developments.”

Kurtzer added that the Arab League is split. “They have come out against Syria for having used chemical weapons but they stopped short of approving any kind of enforcement mechanism,” he said. “That said, countries like Saudi Arabia and a couple of others in the Gulf want the United States to hit Syria hard.”

While Kurtzer said the Obama administration has made some tactical blunders since 2011, he doesn’t believe it’s responsible for the problems in Egypt that have happened. He explained that the U.S. was hesitant in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt and after Mohamed Morsi proved not to be able to govern the country.

“These were very much indigenous outbreaks of violence and of revolution based on longstanding grievances of the Arab population. The rallying cry was ‘bread, freedom and social justice’ having nothing to do with either the United States or the Arab/Israeli conflict,” Kurtzer said. “So I don’t think the United States is at all to blame, but we need to be a little bit more nimble in our footing with respect to our tactics and really decide what is in our interests and then pursue it as hard as we can. And I think there’s been a certain amount of uncertainty about that in Washington.”

Public opinion polls have shown New Jerseyans and Americans are hesitant to take military action in Syria, but Kurtzer said it might make sense for the U.S. to take action. “I think if the president can make an argument for what he wants to accomplish, and if it’s reasonable, limited in scope and duration, then I think there is an argument to be made for military force. But I would be hesitant about anything that might engage us in a prolonged confrontation,” he said.