The ongoing debate over United States intervention in Syria has dominated the news circuit recently. Many Americans are concerned about our intervention and do not want to get bogged down in another unwinnable, costly war in the increasingly volatile Middle East. As James Carville put it recently on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, the haunting memories of Iraq have made a burning impression in the minds of Americans and is contributing to their reluctance to get involved in Syria. Carville is right to say that Syria is not Iraq and the resolution which passed the Senate, does not call for troops. The potential Syrian situation is much different than other previous military interventions and could pose a series of consequences depending on what the Administration decides to do (Congressional approval pending).
One of the main arguments against Syria and for that matter the foreign policy resume of Barak Obama is that after we intervened in Libya, it is still remarkably unstable. When the United States intervened in Libya it was not an impulse decision. As Time Magazine puts it “ [Obama] at first stood by as rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi's forces found themselves outgunned and on the run. Obama finally intervened only when Gaddafi's forces massed outside the city of Benghazi, threatening a slaughter of innocents while pressure mounted from France and Britain.” Some say that Obama’s reluctance is his down fall despite being successful in Libya. Again, many believe Libya was not a success because the country is still in turmoil. However, it is imperative to ask what our role was to the people of Libya? What was our overall goal in intervening? The United States was not the lead but rather a supporting leg in the tripod of Britain and France’s efforts. In this case, regime change was the clear strategy and the United States was clear we wanted to assist the rebels in ousting their tyrant but we had no intentions of rebuilding.
Iraq was a totally different story. While regime change and nation building were the clear strategy at first, the Bush Administration had no clear vision forward. After the toppling of Saddam’s regime, they had no plan or course of action. They wanted to gain a diplomatic friend in the region yet the government they installed was, and still is, extremely corrupt and al-Qaeda is now resurgent again. To Iraq and their people, the United States was directly responsible for ensuring safety and soldiers became policemen. Because the Bush Administration insisted on nation building rather than limited strikes to “send a message,” we owed Iraq much more in terms of aid and training.
The Clinton Administration also had several dealings with humanitarian efforts in the face of wide spread terror and ethnic cleansing. Overall, Clinton’s policies were strictly humanitarian based and not aimed at rebuilding a nation or regime.
Obama has stated that he does not want a regime change in Syria which has faced stark criticism from politicians and pundits on both sides. Assad is a ruthless dictator but by establishing a goal of regime change, this would commit the United States to further intervention than simply “sending a message” through cruise missile strikes. The rules certainly changed after the September 11 attacks and the war on terror has become a staple in American foreign policy. Regime change would be great and many believe Assad must go but if the rebels are successful, who will rise as a leader? It is still unclear who the rebels really are and if they are sympathetic to terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda would love to gain control of Syria and create an outpost to base their organization from. It would be their highest profile outpost yet and would indubitably fortify their power.
The key difference between Syria as it stands now and other recent interventions is the U.S. is going in alone. There seems to be no support from the UN (partially because weapons inspectors have not yet completed a full analysis of samples collected of supposed chemical weapons attacks) and other nations such as France are reluctant to get involved. It is important not to neglect testimony on Capitol Hill this week. Regime change was been mentioned and some Arab nations have even offered to fund it. The Washington Post reports from the recent hearings on Capitol Hill that, “Arab counties have offered to pay for the entirety of unseating President Bashar al-Assad if the United States took the lead militarily.” Secretary Kerry states, “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes. They have. That offer is on the table. In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost. That’s how dedicated they are at this. That’s not in the cards, and nobody’s talking about it, but they’re talking in serious ways about getting this done.” This would be a major international issue and one most Americans would not be in favor of, blood for money. The Arabs know we have the military strength and do not want to get their hands dirty in a direct military conflict.
So, if the U.S. acts alone, what would our long term strategy be? Since we aided Britain and France in Libya we virtually escaped any international liability. Now, we will be liable for actions and any future dismay caused in the country. It is troubling that the Arab League is not actively involved and has only offered verbal support of military action. The United States would be committing to long term accountability to Syria if a strike is ordered. Our nation would be looked upon in shame from the international community if a limited intervention was carried out, mass chaos ensues, and we have separated ourselves from the conflict. Perhaps once the United States firmly commits to a military effort, the international community will assist lifting a portion of the burden off our shoulders, and cautiously assisting in the ouster and rebuilding of a country in dire need.