The Case for American Intervention in Syria

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People gather near a destroyed building said to be a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) supported hospital in Marat al Numan, Idlib, Syria, February 15, 2016 in this still image taken from a video on a social media website. Social Media Website via Reuters
People gather near a destroyed building said to be a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) supported hospital in Marat al Numan, Idlib, Syria, February 15, 2016 in this still image taken from a video on a social media website. Social Media Website via Reuters

The hawks in the West, and the US, are fully aware that the range of ideas for a possible intervention in Syria cannot change the course of the war. So the real argument is not about saving innocent lives or ending the conflict. Rather, it is about whether America should get involved in the war, and to what extent. Regardless of the outcome

ATIF SHAMIM SYED | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he ceasefire deal between the US and Russia reached on September 10, 2016, collapsed only after eight days. It was painstakingly engineered by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.  The agreement called for a cessation of hostilities between the Syrian government and ‘mainstream rebel groups.’ It specifically excluded the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

The initial days of the ceasefire saw relative calm on several fronts but on September 17, a coalition of US, British, Danish and Australian aircrafts carried out an attack on the Syrian army in northern Syria resulting in the death of several military personnel. Americans said it was a mistake while the Russians declared that the attacks were deliberate.

Soon afterwards, a convoy of food belonging to the United Nations was bombarded near Aleppo. American blamed the Russians. In the ensuing diplomatic squabble, the government of Bashar Al Assad declared the ceasefire over on September 19. It was officially ended by the US on October 3rd.

The breakdown of the agreement and the consequent collapse of diplomacy resulted in a resumption of Russian bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo where hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped. These civilians are bearing the brunt of the Russian bombs while the regime and its allied militias are carrying out a push on the ground to retake the city. Russia has repeatedly hit civilian targets in the besieged enclave including the very few functioning hospitals.

The situation has turned into a dire humanitarian crisis and the West seems powerless in the face of relentless Russian bombardment which, by UN estimates, will completely destroy eastern Aleppo within the next two and a half months.

The West in general and America in particular, are contemplating how they can intervene in the situation and offer some kind of relief to the besieged civilians inside eastern Aleppo. The ideas on the table include establishment of no-fly zones, providing sophisticated weapons to the rebels in the area, and carrying out airstrikes on regime forces. All the above options carry risks of further escalation of the conflict and perhaps, a direct confrontation with Russia.

The situation has become so complicated because it is being gauged with the pre-established belief that all the players want to end the conflict so that the suffering of Syrians could be reduced. In reality, this may not be the case.

The hawks in the West, and the US, are fully aware that the range of ideas for a possible intervention in Syria cannot change the course of the war. So the real argument is not about saving innocent lives or ending the conflict. Rather, it is about whether American should get involved in the war, and to what extent. Regardless of the outcome.

There is genuine belief on the part of some of the advocates of intervention that America can stop the bloodletting in Aleppo. It can also weaken the Assad regime to an extent that it will be forced to come to the negotiating table, however, limited intervention will not bring an end to the war.

The current Russian onslaught on Aleppo may hand the city over to the Assad regime but it will not be settle the conflict. Russia will be sucked further into the war since it will not be able to win the entire country and it will not be able to leave it either. What it will do is cause a lot of harm as it wiggles and withers in the Syrian quagmire.

The Syrian war is a stalemate. This was obvious when Assad defied earlier predictions and clung to power despite overwhelming odds. From that time onwards, any diplomatic effort aimed at resolving the conflict should have recognized the fact that a stalemate has set in. Such a deadlock can only be broken when all the parties in a conflict – domestic and foreign – have been exhausted and are genuinely seeking a resolution. Unfortunately, the Syrian conflict hasn’t yet reached that point.

In this situation, limited Western intervention will not break the stalemate. American airstrikes on regime targets or the establishment of no-fly zones will only aggravate the problem since the regime and its backers will retaliate in kind. The war will become more violent. More blood will be spilled. Civilians will again pay the highest price.

This brings us to the moral question. Is America, being a super power, obligated to enter the fray in Syria on behalf of the innocent people who are being indiscriminately slaughtered by the regime and its allies?

In the diplomatic calculus, morality plays a minor role especially when the risks are greater and the rewards illusionary. The risks are obvious: high costs of war. Possible confrontation with an aggressive Russia, and the prospect of a prolonged conflict which might endanger American lives and its economic interests.

The immediate reward of American intervention will be a decrease in human suffering in Eastern Aleppo. For the idealists, this is a sufficient enough reason to jump into the fray. But leaving morals aside, Americans still have a lot to gain by getting involved in Syria.

The Russians are on the offensive because the Americans have cornered themselves into a defensive position. If the United States shows its muscles in Syria, Russia will have to take it more seriously. Russia is not as powerful as Putin thinks it is. He knows that Obama is not ready to invest his political capital in the Syrian arena. If the Americans tell him otherwise, he will listen.

Next come the Allies of America. Whether in the Middle East or in any other part of the world, all of them are disappointed by American tacit acceptance of Russian actions in Syria. If they see America forcefully entering the fray on behalf of its allies and proxies, they will be more inclined to follow its lead.

Of course, some of the above benefits may never be realized and that is precisely the reason why the Obama administration is so reluctant to act. It has the recent examples of Iraq and Libya to learn from. Yet, if they fail to do anything now, Americans and the West will have to live with the grim consequences of watching a historic city reduced to rubbles along with its entire population.

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