With millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Syria and many well-documented cases of children and families being tortured and killed by the regime, Free Syrian Army Commander General Selim Idriss is begging for U.S. assistance.
Despite this, President Obama is erring on the side of caution over action. Unfortunately, “leading from behind” is not a practical strategy for the United States.
The Pentagon has developed a preliminary strategy for intervention, which would require air strikes in order to create safe havens for Syrians attempting to flee the country. By deploying Patriot missiles along the Syrian borders near Turkey and Jordan, no-fly zones could save thousands of people.
However, U.S. policy cannot solely focus on IDPs. It must also work on arming rebels so that one day the refugees within the region may return to an Assad-free Syria.
Last fall, CIA Director David Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joined forces to develop a plan to arm Syrian rebels. The plan was eventually derailed by the president, leaving the White House with little more than a plan to provide unarmed rebels with nonlethal assistance including food, medicine, and communications.
Although the State Department is actively campaigning for arms to Syria, the Department of Defense is still considering the potential drawbacks of U.S. intervention. Concerns range from the chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria to the role of foreign actors such as Iran and Russia.
While the U.S. stands idly by, the Russians have become the top arms supplier to the Assad regime. As the Russians continue to provide the Syrian government with anti-aircraft missiles, the risks of U.S. inaction become increasingly more dangerous.
The time for action is now, and with former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon being replaced by Susan Rice, Obama's “pivot to Asia” policies are also likely to be replaced as Rice has spent a majority of her career focusing on the Middle East, typically advocating for U.S. intervention in various conflicts on humanitarian grounds.
Similarly, with Obama’s appointment of the outspoken liberal hawk Samantha Power to the United Nations, another arming strategy is likely to unfold.
This strategy must include no-fly zones similar to those established in Libya as well as a legitimate strategy to counter the effects of Russian arms and Hezbollah fighters placed in Syria by Iran.
With an average of 5,000 Syrians dying each month, the U.S. must develop a clear strategy of intervention. In doing so, America will solidify its role within the Middle East, stabilize the region, advocate on behalf of liberty, and protect millions of people.