Is the Syrian humanitarian crisis going out of hand? Yes. Should the West intervene in Syria based on humanitarian grounds? Yes. Do moral and humanitarian concerns take precedence when deciding whether to intervene in a distant land? No.
Humanitarian claims aside, here is why the U.S. should not intervene in Syria for its own good.
In the wake of the recent allegations of chemical-weapons use by Bashar Al-Assad against the Syrian opposition, there has been greater demand for the West to intervene to end the civil war. If the use of chemical weapons is proven, then Obama’s established "red line" for intervention will also have been transgressed.
However, any direct military intervention in Syria will run counter to long-term U.S. interests.
If there is one glaring lesson for the U.S. from its interventions in the past decade, it is this: It is relatively straightforward for the mighty U.S. military machine to intervene and destroy a government, but what is extremely difficult — if not completely impossible — is to establish a new political order and a new government. The current imbroglio in Afghanistan, the quagmire Iraq finds itself in today, and the chaotic post-Gaddafi period in Libya are all testaments to this fact.
In Syria, the chances of any subsequent political arrangement failing are greater than they were in any of the cases mentioned above. There are between nine and 11 different opposition groups that together constitute the Syrian opposition. What is worse is that other than a mutual hostility towards the Assad regime, these groups have almost nothing in common. They do not agree on religious ideology, on political ideology, or on what a post-Assad Syria will look like. Furthermore, these groups are funded and armed by different foreign backers with varying interests in the region.
With such a divided opposition, does the U.S. really want to shoulder the responsibility of being the entity entrusted with finding a feasible political solution in a post-Assad Syria (especially in the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan)? If the U.S. ends up backing and bringing to power the wrong group or a failed coalition, it will be embroiled in yet another long and extremely costly misadventure in a distant land. The intervening powers will find themselves trapped between the reality of Syria's chaotic politics, and the assorted fantasies that occasionally drive U.S. and European foreign policy.
Furthermore, recently one of the main Syrian opposition groups, Al Nusra, openly declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda. The Al Nusra Front (or Jabhat al-Nusra) became the most effective armed group in the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition last year. Its cadres, Islamist militants recruited internationally with combat experience from other wars, have inflicted several defeats on Syrian government forces while carrying out sectarian atrocities against minority groups and alleged regime sympathizers. Again, does the U.S. really want to back and abet the Islamic extremist and fundamentalist elements among the Syrian opposition?
More holistically, another intervention in a Muslim country is the last thing the U.S. needs for the sake of its reputation and credibility. Any attack on chemical weapons sites or a direct full-scale military intervention will come with substantial civilian casualties at the hands of the interventionist forces. It will serve to only deepen the perception that Washington is trigger-happy about dropping bombs on Muslim populations and regimes. Two years after the conclusion of any U.S. in Syria, if the very likely scenario of a failed attempt to establish a new government occurs, what people will remember is that the U.S. created another Iraq: a divided, insecure, violent and chaotic country.
Despite the fact that Syria demands immediate intervention when assessed purely on humanitarian grounds, in the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. cannot afford to involve itself in another armed intervention.