The U.S. is considering a military attack on Syria to weaken the Al-Assad regime. Sometimes making a decision is a lot easier than dealing with the consequences. Consider some of the possible consequences of a U.S. attack on Al-Assad:
1. While an attack may certainly weaken Iranian influence in the area as Al-Assad is an Iranian ally, it may push the Iranians to use nontraditional warfare tactics against U.S. interests in the region. This will be much more difficult to control and may actually cause more damage to U.S. interests in the region than would traditional warfare.
2. Radical Islamists who currently lead the opposition army against Al-Assad will wreak a horrible vengeance on Al-Assad supporters, especially those Christian minorities and liberals who do not want to live under a barbaric and oppressive Islamist regime. It is likely that we will see massacres of these groups, and also of the minority Shia Alawites who largely support Al-Assad. I fear such massacres will make the chemical weapon attacks look trivial by comparison.
3. Should that occur, the Shia in Iraq may take revenge on theSunnis (who will likely support their Syrian Sunni brothers in the east of Syria). This will further divide Iraq and may push the Kurds in the north of Iraq to separate themselves from the conflict.
4. Furthermore, the Shia majority in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia and in Bahrain may react to Sunni massacres of Syrian Shia in a manner that endangers the oil supply coming from the area.
5. The Kurds in the north of Syria will likely decide to separate to avoid living under a Mujahidin rulership. Were that to happen, it is not unlikely that the Kurds in Turkey and Iraqi will at last join with their Syrian brethren and push to make the dream of a united Kurdistan a reality. This would be a nightmare scenario for Turkey, which would fight to prevent its Kurds from separating from Turkey and joining the new Kurdistan.
6. The collapse of the staunchly pro-Russian Al-Assad regime is likely to force Russia to seek new allies in the region. The extremely negative current perception of the U.S. by most Egyptians -- due to U.S. failure to show clear support for their revolution against theMuslim Brotherhood -- could provide a huge opportunity for the Russians to establish a very strong foothold in Egypt, with its strategic access to both the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
7. Islamists in Egypt will celebrate a U.S. attack on Al-Assad as it is helping their Mujahidin or radical Islamist brothers in Syria. This will be seen as an act of betrayal by most Egyptians and will result in more crackdowns on the Islamists in the country.
8. A new political paradox will be created in which Egypt and Saudi Arabia are united on the removal of Morsi (the Saudis are rightly worried about the Muslim Brotherhood's global and pan-Islamic ambitions) but divided on the attack on Al-Assad (the Egyptians see it as an attack that will empower the radical Sunni Islamists in the area while Saudi Arabia is interested in removing Al-Assad to weaken Iranian influence in the region). This political division over the removal of Al-Assad is unlikely to weaken the currently strong Egyptian-Saudi relationship.
9. Iran may respond to the fall of Al-Assad by attacking Israel, which may drag Israel also into the conflict and end in a devastating attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
10. Sleeper Shia loyalist cells may try to attack the Suez Canal in retaliation for an attack on Al-Assad. Such actions against U.S. interests may also be supported by the extreme left wing & anti-American groups in Egypt (who are already trying to figure out how to boycott U.S. products). The U.S. must guard against this possibility by supporting the Egyptian Military, which is responsible for protecting the Suez Canal. Such support could significantly ameliorate the potential backlash against U.S. interests in the area.
Irrespective of whether or not the U.S. ultimately decides to attack Syria, U.S. decision makers need to be fully aware of the above possible consequences and need to have a plan to deal with them. Taking an action without knowing how to deal with its consequences is not only irresponsible but utterly irrational.
U.S. decision makers also need to answer this question: If it turns out that the radical Islamist rebels --and not Al Assad --were actually responsible for the chemical weapon attack, would the U.S. then attack the rebels?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.