WASHINGTON, September 2, 2013 — Why should we be in Syria? What are our interests there? Is it worth spending billions of dollars and risking American lives to help either side — the side with the dictator who uses chemical weapons on civilians, or the side supported by al-Qaeda?
Ask most people about Syria, and they will tell you it’s a country on the other side of the world. They may know that our relationship with the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad is not friendly. They know that they don’t want to squander more American wealth to play sides in a country they don’t understand, to enter a conflict that has left almost 100,000 dead.
The rebels were initially domestic freedom fighters, but they have turned into a coalition force primarily led by radical Islamists, including al Qaeda. Both sides of the conflict are hostile to the United States.
“There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw,” says Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in the New York Times. A decisive victory on either side would be a loss for the United States.
Unfortunately, President Obama marked a “red line” in August 2012, when he threatened “enormous consequences” if chemical weapons were used by either side. With evidence surfacing that Assad used sarin gas, a deadly chemical weapon, on civilians, Obama has been put into a bind.
In order to prove that his threats are not empty, the president must act against Assad if the intelligence is true. Unfortunately, the “shot across the bow” that Obama is advocating will have little effect. And he’s forgotten rule number one of war: If you’re going to strike, don’t tell the enemy where and when.
Americans are hesitant to embrace military action that resembles the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are tired of long “nation-building” campaigns that are difficult to connect with American interests.
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic says, “It is certainly the sort of humanitarian assistance most likely to make us bitter enemies, which inevitably happens when you pick a side and start killing some of the people on it.”
The British Parliament agrees; they just voted down a motion to initiate military action in Syria.
As a leader in the world, we have a responsibility to stand up against the use of chemical weapons. Condemning a regime that breaks the rules is important, but sometimes it is just not enough. Threats only work so long as the consequences of ignoring them are immediate and severe.
The evidence and circumstances in Syria are not enough to warrant a military attack. Obama has failed to convince the United Nations Security Council and was notably silent when the rebels allegedly used sarin gas last May. If we want to stand up against chemical weapons, we would need to support both sides. The best way to do that in this case is to avoid getting involved.
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