The U.S. Must Stop Assad — Because It's Not Just About Us

Whatever one believes about military action in Syria, there is one truth: The situation in Syria is severe, and the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has made this crisis even more dangerous for the region and world.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Israel, a U.S. ally that could face retaliation for U.S. military strikes. While President Obama has made it obvious that the anticipated military action does not include American “boots on the ground,” he has been just as adamant that the United States must respond to Assad’s heinous acts.

For America, this is not just a moral issue about whether we can sit by in the midst of a humanitarian crisis in Syria, but also a matter of our nation’s security and the Middle East’s stability. It is also a matter of our nation’s credibility in the world, and our ability to deter future threats. Wars are uncertain ventures, but there are some things we do know:

The scope of strikes proposed by the president is relatively narrow — targets that will discourage or prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future. There should be little doubt that we can destroy these targets with a relative degree of certainty.

Second, “retaliation” for U.S. strikes will likely be limited. We shouldn’t expect to see a significant reaction from Hezbollah or Iran, aside from increased support to Assad. Israel may have to face limited rocket attacks, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is confident in his country's ability to deal with the threat posed by Hezbollah.

Third, it is important to remember that while Iran supports Syria, the Iranian people have no love lost for Assad, and Iran, too, has suffered from the scourge of chemical weapons — losing 60,000 people to them during its war with Iraq. Iran is neither suicidal nor foolish, and while it may ratchet up support for Assad within Syria, it is not likely to risk a regional war. Indeed, the Iranians and others are almost certainly looking to American decisiveness as they consider their own nuclear ambitions.

In the end, Israel and America face the same question: What are the costs of inaction? The lack of a response could embolden not only Assad, but Iran. The ambiguity of inaction sends a message of uncertainty throughout the region, an uncertainty that will make Israel less safe.

It is important to remember that the strength of U.S.-Israeli relations transcends individual crises. While they share similar commitments to democracy and basic freedoms, Israel and the United States — like any close allies — will not always agree. After all, what is in Israel’s national interest is not always in the U.S.’ interest.

In this instance, however, there is a shared interest in deterring a brutal dictator from using chemical weapons on his own people — and it will be for the United States, as a leader in the free world, to take on that responsibility in the face of inaction from the international community.

This post previously appeared on the Truman National Security Project blog.

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Mark Jacobson

Mark R. Jacobson is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States where he focuses on a wide range of security and defense issues, particularly with regards to emerging threats, strategic challenges, and the politics of national security. He is also a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to joining GMF, Jacobson served from August 2009 July 2011 at the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan in several capacities, ultimately as the Deputy NATO Senior Civilian Representative (SCR). In this capacity Jacobson helped to bring cohesion to a coalition of nations and international organizations and served as the principal foreign policy advisor to two ISAF commanders.

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