When President Obama declared a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, perhaps he underestimated just how far the Assad regime would go to stay in power. U.S. intelligence agencies now report that the Syrian army has likely used chemical weapons, in particular the nerve agent sarin, which is classified as a “weapon of mass destruction.”
In light of these revelations, the administration appears to have backed down from initial threats. In an obvious bid for time, the White House says it needs more proof, “credible and corroborated facts” of chemical weapons, despite the fact that Britain, France, and Israel have all reached the same conclusions. On the heels of a long, messy war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration may understandably be hesitant to send troops to Syria, but in the eyes of the international community, failure to intervene would be, to borrow from the vernacular, a “punk” move.
First and foremost is the implicit moral obligation that the U.S. has imposed on itself over decades of intervening in humanitarian crises all over the world. Make no mistake, with a death toll of 70,000, the Syrian War is humanitarian crisis. Let us not be hypocrites. If the United States can justify anti-terrorist drone strikes in Yemen that terrify and kill thousands of civilians, collateral damage so to speak, how can we not find justification to intervene on behalf of Syrian civilians?
One must also consider the tactical implications. The Assad regime is Iran’s greatest regional ally, and Iran continues to support the Syrian war effort with arms and a militia, that includes over 50,000 men from the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah. To back down, at this moment, would in essence give Iran a greenlight to continue nuclear progress, not to mention, potentially place chemical weapons in the hands of Hezbollah. This is not just about ending a gruesome civil war, it’s about curtailing Iran’s sphere of influence in the Middle East, and sending the message that the U.S. does stand by its word.
While the Obama administration shilly-shallies, the Syrian conflict grows in geographic scope and complexity. As thousands of refugees flee to nearby Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, conflict will inevitably spill into other countries. In Lebanon, there have already been armed clashes between pro-opposition Sunni and pro-Alawite Shi’ite forces.
In the meantime, Syria becomes a hotbed of Islamic extremism. The Al-Nusra Front makes up about a fourth of the opposition, and is considered by the US to be a terrorist group and Al-Qaeda affiliate. Composed of Muslims from all over the world, Al- Nusra is not that different from the Mujahideen during the Soviet War in Afghanistan, that, let us not forget, was the training ground for Osama Bin Laden.
Sure, there are valid reasons to not intervene, one of them being the U.S.' unfortunate history of misidentifying “weapons of mass destruction,” but given our fears of a nuclear-armed Iran and escalating terrorism, in this case, the end justifies the means.