In last night’s primetime speech, President Barack Obama articulated to Americans and the world that the United States plans to shed its passive stance toward the Syrian conflict and launch airstrikes in defense of Syria’s civilians.
On that same day, in a not-so-pleasant and desolate Syrian community, a civilian holdout ought to have asked this question: why now? Why now after hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been maimed, murdered and displaced at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government? The infamous ‘Red Line’ had been crossed: as U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently asserted, thousands of Syrian men, women and children have been attacked and murdered by the repeated use of chemical weapons.
Before last night’s speech, President Obama had exercised restraint and prudence over intervention in the Syrian conflict. His hesitation came with the not-so-subtle reminders of where America has emerged from: twelve years of war, over two trillion dollars spent, thousands of American casualties, strained relations abroad, and weariness at home. However, the images of deceased children lined up in rows could not be ignored, and the administration now plans to step off of the sidelines to beat the drums of war.
Amidst the talk of intervention, there has been a development in recent days that could spare the United States from war altogether. A Russian-initiated diplomatic effort through the United Nations is underway, which would require President Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons stockpile to international authorities. As such, President Assad has agreed to this plan and has equally pledged his cooperation. As former President Ronald Reagan once said – the same wisdom that President Obama himself invoked recently – the United States needs to “trust, but verify” these intentions. To avoid heightening this conflict, Russia and Syria must show the United States and the world that they will back their words with action.
If these diplomatic efforts fail, and the Syrian conflict moves to the precipice of escalation, an important question needs to be raised: what will this mean for the world at large? American involvement in foreign affairs is not without its consequences.
Launching surgically-guided Tomahawk missiles from U.S. Navy warships or sending bombs from U.S. Air Force fighter planes will not be the start or the end of this conflict. President Assad will not stop this war on account of American intervention. Assad’s country is already in ruins and his image in the world is tarnished. What remaining credibility does he stand to lose? If anything, the civil war will continue and it will be worse than before. As a matter of opinion, American ‘humanitarian’ strikes will push Assad to escalate his retaliatory strikes against the rebel armies that ruined his country.
President Assad has been known for his unpredictability and capriciousness. Because of his temperament, what will obviate him from using America’s involvement as an excuse to escalate the conflict outside of Syria’s borders? If Assad dares to strike neighboring countries in the Middle East – particularly Israel, America’s closest ally in the region – the volatility will increase to a magnitude unimaginable. Not only would this force Israel’s hand into the conflict, America would be forced to come to Israel’s defense. Regrettably, such a scenario is not without precedent; during America’s first Gulf War in 1991, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein launched scud missiles into the Israeli city of Tel Aviv in retaliation to U.S. airstrikes. As apocalyptic as this scenario seems, the world must be prepared to encounter it.
What about America’s diplomatic ties with Russia? An icy relationship as of late, President Obama has not been discrete about the tensions between the White House and the Kremlin. As soon as America launches the first missile against the Syrian government, they will be locked in a proxy war with Russia like the Cold War days of old. The Russian government will continue to aid and support Assad’s regime and the United States will be committed to aiding the rebel insurgency. To me, we can only expect that the diplomatic ties between Obama and Putin to be further strained.
If American intervention comes to fruition, what happens to Syria? What happens to the remaining civilians who have not perished and have not chosen to flee their homeland? We are witnessing one of the worst civil wars and humanitarian crises in global history. For the United States, our present focus is solving this problem diplomatically; the alternative is a limited military engagement. If we do enter, we must be prepared to deal with the international implications of our actions. All told, Secretary Kerry will then have his hands full.