The Syrian Dilemma: A Call for U.S. Government Restraint


As civilian casualties in Syria mount and the humanitarian crisis grows, there is growing talk among leaders in the U.S. for some type of military aid to the resistance movement. This call for arming the Syrian rebels is starting to emerge from all sides of the ideological spectrum from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) saying it would advance America’s interests in the Middle East to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s not so subtle suggestion that the opposition forces with find arms “somewhere, somehow.” This rhetoric is dangerous for American foreign policy as it provides tacit support for a resistance movement with unclear goals and motivations.

Proposals to use U.S. funds or arms to support the militant wing of Syria’s resistance movement are not as clear of solutions as they might seem. While the humanitarian crisis is abhorrent to common Western values, the problem will not simply go away by providing arms to a rebel group that vaguely aligns with American interests in the region. Proponents of sending arms rather than committing direct military power to the rebels may seem correct in calling for support of the more morally-acceptable actor, which appears to be the rebels, but with so little understanding of what is actually going on in the resistance movement, it is impossible to tell if this is a viable strategy.

The first major problem with a Libyan-style support of the rebels, is the military strength and moral indifference of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. As the Syrian crisis has played out over the past several months, it is obvious that Assad has no problem with killing thousands of his own people and has the military capability to do so. Any intervention in Syria would place international actors against a large, battle-hardened Syrian military that would not fall so quickly as that of Gaddafi. The U.S. government providing arms to the rebels would escalate the conflict and create another potential quagmire for the U.S. while the outcomes of this uprising are so unclear.

The second major problem is the perverse consequences that will arise from a U.S. intervention in an area with so many different strategic implications for different countries. The Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Turks, and many other countries have complex interests in the outcome of the Syrian conflict. At these early stages of the war, it is very unclear for any American leader to know how the flow of arms would affect the conflict and how this would upset the delicate state of Middle Eastern affairs.

So what can be done to stop the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime? It will take a decisive military intervention by troops from the Arab League. At this point of the conflict, the Arab League, and the international community at large, have failed to stop the violence in Syria. It is time for the Arab League to come of age and intervene in Syria with an immediate, forceful intervention. They must act as a cohesive multilateral coalition that will intervene to stop the violence against civilians.  The Arab League has a unique opportunity to show that it has the leverage to maintain humanitarian standards within the region, without the intervention of Western powers.

Action must be taken to stop the humanitarian crisis in Syria, but this action must be free from direct military assistance by the United States. The U.S. can’t afford to be pulled into another conflict in the Middle East that would create foreign policy complications for decades to come. It must be decisive action from the Arab states that solves this crisis erupting in their own backyard. While the U.S. should continue to be a beacon for democracy and human rights by calling for an end to the bloodshed, providing arms in this rebellion is a step too far.

 Photo Credit: FreedomHouse