Friday, September 6, 2013

Managing expectations...

The situation in Syria is awful. People are dying. People have died. A dictator is doing whatever he has to do to maintain power. It's a nightmare. But it's also a moral conundrum. Our country is fatigued by ten years of war in Iraq that was begun with an unclear objective (or possibly even a lie) and a continuing conflict in Afghanistan that is mired by continuing problem of what will happen when we leave.
Certainly there is an argument to be made that getting involved in Syria is a moral imperative to stop the killing of the opposition by Bashar al-Assad. But is the opposition "right"? Is there a "right"? Do we wan to support either side in this conflict? What are the long term benefits and consequences to getting involved? Also, why is the use of chemical weapons the "red line", but we've stood by while the government troops have killed around 100,000 opposition fighters. That's not a red line?
So besides the unignorable fact that we've stood by and let 100,000 people die during this conflict, there is also the larger problem of the goals and expectations of getting involved in Syria. If we were to go in with limited airstrikes - which would be mostly a symbolic gesture - what would the long-term impact be on the actions of the Assad regime? Little to nothing. Airstrikes may make it known to Assad that we're willing to "get involved", but would be more likely to show that we're interested in making gestures but actually NOT getting involved. Basically an  airstrike would indicate exactly the opposite of what we would hope to indicate. But on the other side of the coin is a full-scale, "boots-on-the-ground" military involvement. This is the furthest thing anyone in the United States wants, and that includes citizens and those within government. It's a sticky situation that not even foreign policy hawks want to become involved in.
So the question then becomes what to do? I guess my answer is I don't know. But I don't support military engagement. I would support an multilateral effort involving countries in the region and international players making a decision about what the best course of action would be. But a unilateral, or even bilateral (if France stays interested), incursion would be the furthest thing from beneficial that we as a country could do. So while the moral implications way heavily on my heart, I don't see how launching airstrikes (that have the unfortunately high potential of adding to the civilian death toll) or sending soldiers in can be anything but harmful to both U.S. interests and civilians in Syria. My prescription is that we either sit this one out and keep a watchful eye on situation, or try to bring together an international coalition (that includes countries in the Middle East) that comes together to figure out whether military intervention would be a net positive or negative.