O n Saturday Aug. 31, President Barack Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval for a military strike on Syria. The White House had previously established President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens as a “red line” that would provoke a direct response from the United States.
As evidence of such attacks mounts and civilian casualties continue to climb, there has been increased speculation of how and if the United States should get involved. Despite the White House’s push for intervention, at this stage, the best course of action – both for the U.S. and more importantly the people of Syria – is to not get involved.
Some popular arguments in opposition to intervention mention that we do not have the money, military strikes would inflict even more damage to civilian territories and the presence of the U.S. in the region would tarnish our already declining foreign policy clout. None of these are wrong per se, but they do not come close to capturing the horror that a military presence in Syria would bring.
The conflict in Syria is more than just an uprising of the citizenry against a brutal leader; it is a civil war between various sects of the population, all of which are attempting to wrest control of the region from Assad’s regime. A strike by the U.S., depending on the severity, could potentially destabilize the country even further, provoking an escalation of violence from Assad’s support.
The forces competing for control of the region further complicate the issue. Al-Qaida affiliates, notably Al-Nusra Front, a group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, have become some of the most potent opposition forces in the region. Weakening Assad’s regime would immensely benefit these groups.
Advocates for intervention have said that by not taking action, the U.S. offers at best tolerance of Assad’s violence and at worst tacit approval of it. We have seen, however, that multiple efforts to stabilize Middle Eastern countries through military force turn into unremitted failures.
Of course, it is hard to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being carried out by the Syrian government. Standing idly by as violence continues to grip Syria may feel like a moral failure on the part of the U.S., but ultimately is what is best for the region, not to mention the U.S. By intervening, the ensuing quagmire could potentially give rise to a generation of Syrians radicalized against America.
Reckless political imperialism through military force defined the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Obama must not let his legacy mirror that of his predecessor. His presidency will already be remembered – at least in part – for drone strikes that push the boundaries of legality and claimed several thousand civilians’ lives. It seems almost surreal that the president would end the Iraq War in his first term and then potentially push us into a similar conflict just a few short years later.
Congress likely will vote on whether or not to intervene in Syria shortly after it reconvenes on Sept. 9. Until then, we will just have to wait and see whether or not we are indeed doomed to repeat the failures of presidents past.u