It is no secret to Former Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib, and to the masses of insurgents who follow him, that the United States military budget exceeds the next 12 countries combined, and that aid from the U.S. in the rebels’ ongoing conflict with President Bashar al-Assad’s overbearing government could give them the leverage they need to actualize real political change.
So, seeking to defend rebel-controlled areas of northern Syria, last Tuesday Alkhatib urged Secretary of State John Kerry and his NATO partners to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missile batteries currently located in the neighboring Mediterranean country of Turkey into Syrian territory.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. government, however, denied any intention of intervening militarily in Syria.
The decision to avoid direct involvement in the now two-year long domestic conflict that has left an estimated 70,000 people dead and has been since labeled by the International Red Cross as a state of civil war carries conflicting implications.
The United Nations has long been standing on the precipice of sending armed troops into the war-torn state of Syria. Last April, the then-UN-Arab League Peace Envoy Kofi Annan lead a Peace Plan aimed at compromising Syrian-led dialogue regarding democratic reform without demanding a departure of President al-Assad from office. Though the objective of the plan was to avoid military intervention and to instead monitor the country with diplomatic ambassadors, when the violence reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2012 and the UN was forced to pull its peace monitors out, there was again serious discussion of relegating military enforcement to the Syrian insurgents. But again, no action was taken.
In the three-quarters of a year following that decision to pull out its peace monitors stationed in Syria, the UN and the U.S. have continued to balk at taking any direct military action and have instead elected to monitor the pervasive conflict from the outside.
Although the U.S. military is already over extended and is connected all over the world in a myriad of military commitments with numerous countries, one can’t help but connect this current situation in Syria and the decision to abstain from intervention with other instances over the years, most notably the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and the War in Darfur in the early years of the new millennium. There were, and still are, many who argue that the U.S., given its hegemonic international position and reputation for spreading democracy, had a “moral responsibility” to prevent mass killings throughout the world. But there were, and still are, many who argue that the U.S. had no incentive to take on the role of international policeman, especially given its history of getting sucked into prolonged interventions, Vietnam and Iraq clearly demonstrated.
It’s a hard balance to strike for the United States (which, I realize, I’m using to encapsulate the decisions made by the entirety of the larger international UN organization). But in this particular situation, we’ve made the wrong choice.
The United States has taken, and should continue to take, a zero-tolerance attitude toward political dictators such as al-Assad, whose lust for violence has included the use of aircraft, helicopter gunships, and cluster bombs to deter peaceful protests of his citizens. Additionally, with an eroding Syrian government, the U.S. could put an end to the civil war relatively quickly and help to re-institute fair, democratic morals to the decrepit state.
Of course, recent history indicates that the U.S. hasn’t had the greatest luck in instituting the democracies its set out to construct in some Middle Eastern and African countries; I will easily concede to that. But there is such a great deal of room for improvement in current Syrian politics that the United States should be more willing to take advantage of being able to help curb such change, and part of that involvement begins with protecting the insurgent rebels.