Amplifying a disaster

American military intervention in Syria would lead to more harm than help

In light of the 10-year anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, proponents of “humanitarian intervention” by the United States in the Syrian civil war should think long and hard before encouraging the U.S. to step in.

I do not wish to understate the horrors of the Syrian conflict or to prioritize one nation over
another, but it is imperative that the U.S. does not intervene militarily in Syria. While the U.S. government has, however impotently, called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down and has supplied trusted rebels with non-military aid (medical supplies, food, etc.), it has rightfully refused to supply arms or to conduct an intervention.

But some people are demanding that the U.S. take more direct action to stop the Syrian conflict, which now enters its third year with a death toll of more than 70,000. That number is staggering, but so too is the conflict’s complexity. Because of the country’s highly divided resistance groups, the deeply entrenched fears of sectarian violence among regime supporters, and international backing of the Assad regime, the idea that American intervention would bring a quick end to the conflict is grossly misinformed. Expanding the war through intervention would not help the Syrian people. Instead, it would make the hostilities bloodier by further embittering the warring sides and making peace processes difficult. It would help Syrian citizens more for the U.S. to merely continue to supply non-military aid. Sending in troops entails numerous difficulties and would not bring clear benefits.

One difficulty involved in military engagement is the question of how long American forces would stay in Syria after deployment. Those who argue for an intervention to end the conflict point to the NATO intervention in the Libyan uprising in 2011 as a model for intervention, as NATO forces left the country soon after Libyan rebels triumphed. The enforcement of a no-fly zone and the use of air power in Libya gave rebels a significant advantage in the conflict, but it also made the aftermath very difficult. The resulting power vacuum, fostered by the quick withdrawal of foreign troops after Muammar al-Gaddafi’s assassination, has garnered fears of “warlordism,” as well as concerns about the new government’s stability. Even though American or NATO action in Syria would involve similar air strikes, missile launches, and other measures that do not involve troops on the ground, such an intervention in Syria would be cataclysmic.

The uncertainty and social tension accompanying the formation of a new government in the wake of a clear-cut defeat of regime forces — assuming such a defeat is feasible — could easily cause Syria’s divided rebellious factions to turn to sectarian violence, as some already have. Moreover, countering this power vacuum by leaving forces to occupy Syria would inevitably lead to some degree of nation-building — providing foreign manpower to supervise the creation of a new government — a concept that has proved fruitless, as demonstrated by the American-led adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I do not mean to say that the best answer to Syrian violence is to simply let the conflict fizzle out on its own. For one thing, that outcome is not certain. But an American military intervention is sure to create an international crisis. Upon American involvement, the Assad regime’s ties to Iran, Russia and China could bring the conflict to a staggering height, worsening the civil war instead of ending it. Continuing to provide basic necessities to Syrian civilians and rebel groups is a much more helpful alternative to this kind of multi-national war.

Another trouble with U.S. intervention is the rebellious forces’ disunited character. A growing number of rebellious groups are militant Islamist factions, some of which have links to Al-Qaeda. Fighting alongside these radical forces would clearly be against the United States’ interest because doing so would involve supporting one of the nation’s biggest enemies. Even if the U.S. chose to simply provide arms to non-radical rebels, there would be no way to ensure these arms did not find their way into the hands of potential terrorists. In addition, supplying deadlier weapons would cause an escalation in violence that would greatly expand the number of Syrian refugees fleeing to already-overwhelmed camps in Turkey and Jordan.

Most importantly, the U.S. must refrain from getting directly involved in Syria because the goal of the majority of the rebellious forces is to establish democracy in the country. For the Syrian people themselves to remove Assad from power that comes from the Syrian people would be highly valuable to implementing democratic ideals in the country. An American military mission in Syria, on the other hand, would make any resulting government seem to have international appeasement placed above national questions, delegitimizing it entirely.

Unless forces on either side in Syria make the despicable decision to use chemical weapons, a military answer to a military stalemate will only heighten death tolls and fan the flames within the Syrian nation, making a peaceful idea of ending the war even more deadly than beneficial. The American government should not revert to neutrality when it comes to Syria, but the U.S. must not use force to impose its will. Continuing to supply basic needs to civilians and trusted rebels will ultimately prove much more helpful and humanitarian than a violent military involvement.

Walter Keady is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.

related stories