Most, if not all, Americans are at least vaguely aware of the cruel and miserable war taking place in the streets and countryside of Syria. Over the last two years, the Assad regime has clashed with a heterogeneous rebel group known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other oppositional entities, most significantly the Al-Nusra Front — a radical Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Recently, President Obama announced that he would leave the decision of whether or not to engage the U.S. military against the Assad regime up to Congressional vote, an action that has sparked a national debate over the merits of U.S. interventionist foreign policy in the case of the Syrian conflict.
While the implacable and oppressive actions of the Assad regime, which include the senseless murder of civilians and suspected deployment of chemical weapons, seem to provide sufficient reason for the U.S. to intervene, there are myriad reasons why doing so would be in direct conflict with American interests and only serve to amplify the chaos. The horrific externalities of a misguided U.S. attempt to throw its blood-stained glove into the ring would be substantial, which is why this issue doesn’t boil down to the simplistic and near-sighted view spouted by politicians in which the immediate safety of civilians is prioritized over all else.
Ironically, intervening may have actually been a viable strategy when the movement against Assad was in its infancy and the death toll was in the quadruple-digits. The initial opposition began in response to outcries for secular political and economic reforms, with the original reformists seeking to overthrow Assad and liberalize the nation, a movement that the U.S. could have proudly stood behind. Unfortunately, the Free Syrian Army has since assimilated radical Islamists into its ranks due to lack of funds, weaponry, and manpower. As a result of this lack of resources, the FSA now consists of ideological factions which compete for control of the movement, and therefore divide it. These new factions seek to institute Salafist policies into the Syrian government, and to establish a more religiously-autocratic system of governance after Assad is removed from power. The presence of these radicals in the FSA makes it difficult to even determine who the U.S. would be potentially aligning itself with, meaning that American soldiers would be sent into this battlefield essentially blind.
The confusion is exacerbated by scattered, and often conflicting, news reports coming out from the front lines of Syria’s revolution. My own argument is based on the reports of journalistic entities and online news sources, which one has no way of confirming to be accurate, especially considering the sheer number of incongruous stories being published every day. For example, many reports came out this week relating to the alleged use of chemical weapons in a rebel-controlled area. While some argued that the attack was clearly conducted by the Assad regime, and would thus necessitate U.S. involvement in Syria, other reports from rebel forces indicate it may have been an accident committed by untrained FSA troops. With such shoddy information, it’s absurd to jump to any conclusions, especially conclusions that would result in military intervention on the part of the U.S.
Furthermore, it’s worth considering that the Free Syrian Army is not the only rebel force competing for control of the Syrian government. Other even more radical groups have formed an alliance (which is doubtlessly temporary) with the FSA against the Assad regime. However, these groups all have different ideologies, and different visions for a new Syrian government. Among these groups is the UN-recognized terrorist group, and Al Qaeda-affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Although al-Nusra has worked with the FSA to oust Assad, they employ Jihadist tactics, such as suicide bombings, that are vehemently opposed by the FSA. This has led the FSA to accuse al-Nusra of hijacking their revolution for radical purposes, and has opened up a rift in the opposition movement. As such, it is likely that Assad’s fall would leave a power vacuum in which al-Nusra and the FSA would violently compete for power. Allowing this conflict to evolve into a regional power vacuum will do nothing to bring peace for the Syrian people, which is why a diplomatic solution to the conflict is necessary to avoid the senseless death of more innocents.
Ultimately, the U.S. has little to gain from an extended military intervention in Syria. The Assad regime receives significant backing from Russia and China — two nations that are extremely influential in the United Nations and in regard to our foreign policy — while, conversely, some of the radical groups affiliated with the rebel forces are strongly opposed to our ally, Israel. The potential for this conflict to escalate beyond the borders of Syria is thus real and a significant barrier to our military involvement. When one considers this geopolitical uncertainty, and the overwhelming evidence to suggest that this conflict will not end with Assad’s fall from power, it becomes clear that our attempt to, yet again, police the world is idealistic and misinformed.
Michael Denigris is a member of the Class of 2017.