Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Action Against Syria Would Further Inflame Middle East


And now let's hear another skeptical view of the benefits of U.S. military strikes in Syria. Alastair Crooke has been a Mideast adviser to the European Union and also a British intelligence officer. He runs Conflicts Forum, which says it seeks to increase Western understanding of Islam.

Welcome to the program.

ALASTAIR CROOKE: Thank you very much, indeed.

GREENE: We just heard in my colleague Michele Kelemen's piece, that the Russians believe that the opposition, not the Assad regime, might have carried out this chemical attack. How do they know that? Do the Russians have actual intelligence that they're going on?

CROOKE: Yes, the Russians have very good intelligence because essentially, not only do they have people literally on the ground throughout the geographical area of Syria, but also because they have people inside the government working closely on a day by day basis with the army, with the security services. They are right there sitting alongside them, in many cases.

GREENE: Is it plausible that the rebels would do something like this?

CROOKE: It's quite possible, and we've seen evidence of it before. In fact, Carla del Ponte, the U.N. commissioner inspecting war crimes in Syria, said very clearly that most of the evidence that she saw pointed to opposition use of the gas sarin. The other point, really, is that sarin is not a complicated gas. It's something that doesn't require a government laboratory.

GREENE: Why would the opposition want to do this?

CROOKE: Oh, because for precisely the results that they're hoping to gain - that there will be an intervention by the United States, and that that intervention will get deeper and eventually will result in the West deposing President Assad, which is something that the opposition can't achieve, themselves, through force of arms.

GREENE: There seems to be momentum leading to some sort of United States military action. They're talking about precision strikes, not necessarily anything to try and topple the Assad regime. What would be the consequences of the type of military action that the United States is talking about right now?

CROOKE: Well, I think the foreign minister of Russia, Mr. Lavrov, has said that essentially what this is doing is to sort of virtually toss a grenade into an already boiling cauldron of the Middle East, and I think this is a very apt description, and they fear that it will lead to greater instability.

Clearly, I think concerted Western attack on Syria is not likely to facilitate any political solution. It's more likely to polarize the sides within Syria even more than they're already polarized. But more than this, I think we will see a deepening of the geostrategical competition. That is, between Russia, Iraq, Iran on one side and Syria; and on the other side, the Western states.

I think it's going to be much harder after this to get any form of political agreement. And I think the other aspect of it is the unknown. The Middle East at the moment is in turmoil. To toss in a few cruise missiles into this explosive mix is not something that may just be received passively by Syria or by others. Many may see this as an opportunity for themselves to toss in a few grenades into the explosive mix of the Middle East at this time.

GREENE: Let me ask you, more than 100,000 people have died in this bloody conflict so far, and many blame the Obama administration for already being too slow to get involve. What would you recommend the United States and the West do with Syria?

CROOKE: I would recommend that the first thing that they should do is to leave aside, if you like, the flaming(ph) match with Russia that has been characteristic of this period and actually try and engage seriously with Russia and Iran, and the other regional players like Saudi Arabia, in an effort really to deescalate the violence and to be able to facilitate the beginning of some form of discussion.

Unfortunately, that hasn't happened, because of course it requires not only influence to dissuade President Assad and the Syrian government to deescalate the violence, something which they have offered in the past, but it also requires the same action to be taken with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states like Qatar and with Turkey if it's to be successful.

And there's been a notable reluctance on the part of the West to use any pressure at all on the Gulf states or on Turkey to wind down the level of violence and to commit politics to begin.

GREENE: Mr. Crooke, thanks so much for talking to us.

CROOKE: Thank you.

GREENE: That's veteran Mideast adviser Alastair Crooke. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.