Fmr. CIA officer believes Syrian conflict will continue


Former CIA officer Robert Baer has been described as perhaps the best on the ground field officer in the Middle East. Baer talked with ABC7 Thursday about the continuing conflict in Syria.

Videos posted online by Syrian activist show tanks circling the city of Homs as Syrian rebels attempt to retreat from the besieged district of Baba Amr.

"My best take on Syria is it's become a sectarian war," Baer said.

Baer says Syrian President Bashar Assad's government is controlled by Alawites, a sect of Shia Muslims, who are in the minority. The rebels, along with a majority of Syrians, are Sunni and the animosity between the two sects runs very deep.

"And when you get a war a sectarian war in the Middle East like this they tend to go on and on and on and on," Baer said.

Especially when both sides have a lot of weapons. Assad and his Alawite minority are being armed by Russia and China and Iran, which see opportunities their influence. The rebels are being supplied by the Sunni governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"Let me put this very cynically, it's probably in America's interest that the current government subdues a rebellion and a civil war," Baer said.

It's not at all like Libya, where most Libyans are Sunni Muslims and getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi didn't lead to a Sunni-Shia divide.

Baer says the situation in Syria can be illustrated by a conversation he had recently with a Syrian Muslim brother who wanted to know why the U.S. won't do more to help. Baer told him it was because the U.S. fears a civil war in Syria.

"And he said, 'Well you know just get rid of the regime and everything will be OK,' and I said, 'What are you going to do with the minority ruling sect,' and he said, half jokingly, 'We're going to kill them,'" Baer said.

Underneath that joke there's a certain amount of truth, says Baer, and as Assad's tanks circle around the rebel strong hold, that's what the U.S. is facing.

"I don't think this is the end of the conflict but I bet if you were a fly on the wall in the Oval Office they're saying, 'God I wish this would end quickly,'" Baer said.

Baer says the Alawites aren't fighting to keep power in Syria; they're fighting for survival. And as you heard him say, he believes the fighting will go on and on.

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