For nearly seven years now, the debate over whether or not the West, specifically the United States, should intervene in the Syrian Civil War has persisted.
Prolonged American intervention in Iraq, generally viewed as a failure, has caused the public to become fatigued and jaded to suggestions of sending troops to fight against a Middle Eastern nation that poses no direct threat to the US.
Yet, it is still difficult for many to see the images of children lying dead because of the actions of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Obama administration’s attempts to stop Assad without getting directly involved were mostly unsuccessful, highlighted best by the failure to follow up on the now-infamous “red line”
Now the Trump administration has inherited the puzzle of creating a comprehensive policy for Syria.
In the wake of last week’s airstrikes, it appears that Trump’s foreign policy on Syria will be mostly retaliatory.
This will likely keep the U.S. from entering another full-on war, while still adhering to the U.S. national security objective of promoting democracy.
But is Trump’s strategy the best one we can hope for?
Well, perhaps it is prudent to examine the other major options.
Let’s start out by eliminating the idea of a full ground invasion of Syria.
First of all, such a large-scale operation would not receive enough public support, as the American public is still resentful about the results of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Second, an actual invasion would result in American casualties as well as cost billions of dollars, which isn’t feasible, since the Assad regime, horrendous as it may be, does not pose a direct and serious threat to the US.
Now to turn the attention to the opposite recommendation: to do nothing.
A common argument laid out against intervention is that the U.S. could inadvertently start World War III with Russia.
This claim certainly sounds concerning, but the chances of direct conflict with Russia are extremely low, as one must consider that Vladimir Putin is aware of his nation’s small chances of emerging from a conflict with the US successfully.
Another argument from those opposing strikes against Syria is that Western airstrikes will lead to civilian deaths.
This is not completely without evidence, as American drones and missiles have had a penchant for creating casualties other than the target.
However, the facilities hit by the April 13 airstrikes were outside of urban areas and were directly responsible for the regime’s earlier chemical attacks against the people of Douma.
Nevertheless, if the West were to simply take no action against the Assad regime, what do anti-interventionists think would happen?
More than 400,000 Syrians have already been killed, so not acting is certain to result in civilian deaths, but without the chance of restricting Assad’s ability to use weapons of mass
destruction against civilians.
Additionally, those who support the idea that intervention is always wrong often ignore successful operations like NATO’s military action against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, which prevented Slobodan Milošević’s government from carrying out further war crimes in Kosovo and led to the eventual overthrow of Milošević’s government and the convictions of Serbian officials.
This is not to say that the situation in Kosovo is parallel to Syria, but it does demonstrate that the goals of an intervention are achievable.
So what should current U.S. policy on Syria be?
I support the April 13 strikes against the facilities that Assad used to create his chemical weapons.
I would have been more willing to support intervention at an earlier point in the war, particularly when opposition forces stood a better chance at winning and there was a good possibility
that Syrians could rid themselves of their dictator.
However, the U.S. has squandered that opportunity and its inability to develop an actual list of objectives for a potential intervention in Syria makes me hesitant to support any large-scale action.
It’s because of this lack of clearly stated goals that I only support limited intervention at the moment.
But unlike those who argue for no action whatsoever, I struggle to justify inaction when the U.S. certainly has the ability to lessen the suffering of the Syrian people.