Syrian Chemical Weapons: Is U.S. Intervention Wise?

On Thursday, March 21, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote to President Barack Obama urging him to consider "limited military options" against Syria. Both members of the Armed Services Committee, these two senators feel that President Obama should look into the possibility of air strikes, more aid to the Syrian opposition, and working with Turkey’s militants.

After the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad and his followers reported that there were chemical weapons used in Aleppo, the senators expressed their alarm of this. 

"We write to express our strong belief that it is in our national security interest to take more active steps together with our friends and allies in the Middle East and Europe, to stop the killing in Syria and force Bashar al-Assad to give up power," they stated in the letter. "The longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse its consequences are becoming. The potential use of chemical weapons only makes the case for greater action more compelling and urgent."

The letter details a three step plan for Obama to take, entailing "credible options …including limited military options, that would require neither putting U.S. troops on the ground nor acting unilaterally." 

The White House has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons would be a point of contention for United States involvement in Syria. There has been no immediate comment from the White House regarding the senators' letter.

The debate over a United States military commitment in Syria comes just days after the ten-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Interestingly, McCain and Levin are urging the president to become involved in Syria while the U.S. government is currently bringing back troops from their involvement in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Syrian government is clearly committing acts of violence against its own civilians; however, they have not directly attacked the United States. Additionally, while drone strikes are a sound idea and have been effective for the United States military, as it kills our enemies without risking American lives, one third of the strikes have accidentally caused the deaths of noncombatants.

When Libya experienced a similar catastrophe, the United States intervened militarily to try to oust the brutal dictator and help out the Libyan opposition. The biggest difference between that situation and the one in Syria, though, is that President al-Assad has allies: Russia and Iran. Russia is a representative in the United Nations, and Iran’s weaponry is advanced; with Syria as its only ally in the Middle East, Iran will continue to help their government.

There have been warnings about the al-Assad regime for some time, and no interventions occurred then by any nation-state. It would be morally sound to help out the Syrian rebels for any country, let alone the United States; but without further information on whether chemical weapons have been used, and with our impressive drone program still accidentally killing civilians, it might be best for the United States to hold off on intervention.