With the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now exceeding 265,000, the United Nations is struggling to provide long-term assistance to the refugees, and the question of whether a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria is necessary or desirable is imminent.
Yes, what’s happening in Syria is bad. It’s wrong. But, well-intended military goals can often get twisted later when military actions become ineffective (just consider Vietnam, Korea, Iraq ... ). Armed conflict should be the product of balanced and thorough discussions on the unintended consequences that could arise and alternative routes to take if they do.
Though Western intervention in Libya was deemed largely successful in bringing down its dictator, Moammar Qadhafi, many wonder whether a similar intervention would be feasible in Syria — especially in the context of Egypt’s post-revolutionary instability. While an intervention may be necessary, it does not require a primarily military focus . The U.S. should continue diplomatic intervention in Syria, with the aim of getting other countries to pull their weight and exert the influence needed to stop the humanitarian crisis unfolding there.
There are a number of different methods the U.S. could engage to speed up the fall of Assad:
- Enable opposition groups with arms and intelligence and logistical support.
- Engage in diplomacy with the Arab league, insofar as they agree on Assad being required to step down.
- Encourage other concerned nations to financially support pro-democracy movements in Syria, both during the conflict and post-Assad reconstruction.
- Entrust other concerned nations to take the lead, especially those taking active roles any actual military operations against Assad.
The Obama administration has intervened in Syria over the past year with the intention of offering support to Syrians seeking a peaceful change and isolating the Assad government in Damascus — with a strong focus on seeing what other countries, such as Turkey and Iraq, are willing to offer. This foreign policy approach is one that places greater emphasis on the responsibilities of other countries.
A "Made in America" intervention in the Middle East is probably the last thing the U.S. needs now. Such a military intervention would only end up enflaming the already divided region. For now, the U.S. should continue to emphasize that other nations need to play a role in crafting a solution to the Syria problem, especially key strategic allies like Turkey and Iraq. Turkey is a NATO ally and is also able to potentially provide the best safe haven for Syrians fleeing the conflict zone. Iraq has strong economic ties to Syria and the U.S. could use its leverage with the Iraqi government to gain international support for isolating the Assad regime in Syria.
Syria’s civil war poses the greatest risk to regional actors involved by threatening to draw them into a wider battle; therefore, key regional players need to take the leading role in the Syria conflict, with the U.S. acting as a guiding mentor. To be sure, the U.S. should remain engaged and prepared, but any military solution from Washington is unnecessary and unwise.
Syria is surrounded by wealthy and well-armed neighbors, who, unlike the U.S., have a greater possibility of being directly affected by what’s unfolding in Damascus. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population and the biggest debt burden—a weak position to be in when telling the other 95% of the people in the world how to behave.