Friday, February 1, 2013
SHOULD THE U.S. AND ITS ALLIES INTERVENE MILITARILY IN SYRIA?
SENIOR FELLOW, PROGRAM ON ARAB
POLITICS, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR
NEAR EAST POLICY; AUTHOR, IN THE
LION’S DEN: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
OF WASHINGTON’S BATTLE WITH SYRIA
WRITTEN FOR CQ RESEARCHER, FEBRUARY 2013
“You break it, you buy it” may have proven true for
the United States in Iraq, but great powers are
often forced to help clean up conflicts they did
not cause but that threaten their interests. If Washington continues
its “light footprint” policy of non-intervention in Syria, the
American people will likely have to foot the bill for a more expensive
cleanup of the spillover of the Syria conflict into neighboring
states and the overall battle against international terrorism.
Every indicator of the conflict between the Alawite-dominated
Assad regime and the largely Sunni opposition has taken a
dramatic turn for the worse, with upwards of 65,000 killed,
30,000 missing and up to 3 million Syrians internally displaced
during one of the worst Syrian winters in two decades. The
Assad regime shows no sign of ending the slaughter anytime
soon, increasingly deploying artillery, combat aircraft and most
recently surface-to-surface missiles against the opposition. Reports
quoting high-ranking U.S. government officials say the
Assad regime has already loaded chemical weapons into
bombs near or on regime airfields for possible deployment.
Signs are growing of a sectarian proxy war as well, with
the Islamic Republic of Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah backing
their fellow Shia at the Assad regime’s core and Qatar, Saudi
Arabia and Turkey backing their Sunni brethren in the opposition.
Al Qaeda affiliates, as well as jihadists, are now among
the opposition’s best-armed factions.
The Obama administration has refrained from directly intervening
or supporting Syria’s increasingly armed opposition,
based on an argument that neither would make the situation
better. But allowing the conflict to continue and simply offering
humanitarian and project assistance treats merely the
symptoms while failing to shape a political settlement that
would help cure the disease: a brutal Assad regime that was
unable to reform trying to shoot one of the youngest populations
in the Middle East into submission.
The Obama administration spent its first two years encouraging
a treaty between the Assad regime and Israel that
would take Damascus out of Iran’s orbit and isolate its ally
Hezbollah. While the method proved wrong, the strategic
goals of containing Iranian influence in the region and keeping
it from obtaining a nuclear weapon remain as valid as
ever. Helping the Syrian opposition push Assad and his
regime aside more quickly would help the United States and
its allies achieve those objectives.