Written by Michael Tonetti, Global Economic Intersection Associate
The civil war in Syria is one of the most complex, sensitive issues present in today's world politics. While the United States has been mostly passive up to this point on this particular issue, pressure is rising to make a definitive commitment to some kind of policy. Perhaps the most complex aspect of making this kind of decision is the widespread uncertainty about just exactly who is in the wrong. With allegations from both the Assad regime and the rebel forces of the other's use of foul play, such as use of chemical weapons (deemed the 'red line' by President Obama), distinguishing the respective parties as good or mal intentioned is not black and white.
Oppressive tactics by the regime against the opposition before they actually turned to armed rebellion led directly to a loss of Assad's recognition of legitimacy from the United States and other Western powers. In the west it is felt that there is no doubt the Alawite Assad is the wrong man to lead the heavily Sunni Muslim population. Without a democratic system, which is the self-stated underlying goal of the moderate rebels, there will be no peace in Syria. However, the opposing rebel forces have been linked to Islamic extremists including Al-Qaeda, who are arguably the United States' biggest security threat of the 21st century. While there are indeed some moderate rebels with good intentions, for the most part the rebels are not organized or consistent enough in their motives for the United States to blindly send lethal aid.
So, with which party does that leave the United States' interests? Neither. Intervention by placing US troops on Syrian ground would be a major mistake.
The main justification for the heinous acts committed by Islamist extremists upon the United States and its allies is exactly that: intervention in the Muslim world by Western powers. And this is the only legitimate reason that extremists have for their violence. One can understand where resentment towards the United States stems from when we intervene in the Middle East, but understanding and justification are not the same things. It is necessary to be aware not only of our decisions, but also of the consequences that these decisions bring. Providing military aid to these extremists, directly or indirectly, needs to be avoided at all costs. The United States public agrees. According to a recent poll on Gallup, 2 out of 3 Americans oppose military action in Syria. Even if the rebels were through and through well intentioned, we have seen in Iraq the difficulties in aiding a civil uprising against a government.
Although the rest of the world is getting involved in what soon may be a proxy war, sitting out a foreign war that does not currently threaten national security seems a logical answer for the United States. As the current global hegemon, the United States should set an example and if anything, use its coercive power as much as possible to limit foreign intervention, from both state and non-state actors.
- Obama' Cautious Approach to Syrian Intervention Sparks Growing Concern (Dan Roberts, Guardian, 30 May 2013)
- What if the US doesn't intervene in Syria? (Editorial Board, Washington Post, 8 May 2013)
- Syrian Rebel Leader: We Won't Share U.S. Arms with Extremists (NPR, NPR Staff, 4 May 2013)