If you read my last post get ready for a change of pace, this one is a little more serious. That’s because anyway you slice it, the situation in Syria is pretty bad. For more than a year, the Assad regime has cracked down on civil unrest and resistance with a true dictator’s brutality. With reasons that range from humanitarian to opportunistic, most agree that something should be done, but therein lies our conundrum: what?
Many are calling for military intervention a-la NATO’s campaign in Libya. Aside from the fact that there are some pretty serious political opponents to intervention – namely China and Russia – we should ask ourselves: what would happen if we did have the freedom to enter the conflict?
Oddly enough, it’s non-military types that are most ardently calling for the troops. But perhaps that is not so odd, considering that it is the same non-military types that often under-appreciate the constraints and limitations of the use of force.
Military intervention is normally a tool of last resort for good reason, which may not be a shocker to some of you. This is because military interventions don’t often cause peace.
That’s right. Believe it or not, sending guns to rebels, or launching a bombing campaign, tends to make conflicts longer. The worst cases are when both the rebels and the government have someone to send them guns and money (aka sponsors). Unfortunately this will be the case in Syria with US/NATO for the rebels and Iran/Russia for Assad. The result of these dueling interventions becomes what’s known as a “proxy war.” The people of Syria will end up being the pawns of a larger game between more powerful states. Ultimately nobody wins, but the Syrians definitely lose.
What’s more disheartening though is the finding in the Regan article linked above that “neutral” interventions, or peacekeeping missions, don’t necessarily hasten the end of conflict either. Often peacekeepers will only cool things off long enough for all sides to rest their weary and plus-up their supplies, and the fighting will renew shortly after.
So if getting involved at all is only likely to make the conflict last longer, we’re left with a pretty dark choice. The conflict will end most quickly if we leave it alone. But that would also mean that we would have to be prepared to accept “our side” to lose. The conflict would be shorter, and therefore (hopefully) incur a smaller loss of life, but a brutal dictator and stifling regime may remain in power.
There is the heart of our dilemma. If we intervene things will likely become worse in the short run, but may be better in the long term, assuming Assad’s replacement is more just. Alternately, if we stick with sanctions and leave the fighting alone things may calm down more quickly, but the people of Syria will be left with a despot for a considerable time yet (Assad is only 46 years old, and is the second so far in an Assad dynasty).
All said and done, the situation is obviously more complicated and nuanced than outlined here. Arguing that we should either “do something” or “do nothing” is really a false choice (sorry bout that). And although I seem to make the argument here that we should just stay out of this one, it of course is not so simple. There are MANY more reasons why military intervention is a bad idea, but we can’t realistically expect ourselves to just stand aside as a country tears itself apart.
If you want to read more see below for a few links to more in-depth sources. There is a lot to talk about here, so add your comments. As always, thanks for reading!
The Economist Debates: Should we intervene?
The Washington Post: Syria rebels gaining ground, strength
World Politics Review: Locating the Real Risk of Syria Spillover in Lebanon, Iraq
World Politics Review: In Syria, a Quick, Decisive Outcome is Unlikely
Center for a New American Security: Pressure Not War: A Pragmatic and Principled Policy Towards Syria
The Miami Herald: In northern Syria, rebels now control many towns and villages
The New York Times: Do Not Attack Syria