What’s Next for U.S. Intervention in Syria?
The current round of civil conflict in Syria began with protests during 2011′s Arab Spring, and escalated soon thereafter into a civil war that has killed approximately 100,000 Syrians, according to U.N. estimates. On August 21, opposition forces alleged that President Basher Al-Assad, determined to hold power regardless of human cost, fired rockets containing chemical agents into a suburb of Damascus, ultimately killing 1,000 Syrians. President Obama has said for years that Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons represented a “red line”, potentially triggering U.S. military intervention in Syria. The August 21 attack appears to have crossed that red line as far as the United States is concerned: Secretary of State John Kerry alleged Monday that the United States has irrefutable evidence that Assad indeed used chemical weapons against his own people last week, and made a humanitarian case for military intervention in Syria in the wake of these attacks. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel added his voice, commenting today that U.S. military forces are “ready to go” if President Obama orders strikes against Syria.
The United Nations has sent weapons inspectors to Damascus to sample the soil in the area where people suffered the attack. However, critics including the United States allege that Syria’s permission for the U.N. inspectors came too late, because heavy bombing in the region in the days since August 21 may have destroyed evidence of the banned weapons’ use. The United States seems reluctant to depend on the U.N.’s response infrastructure, at least partially because Russia and Iran, allies of Assad’s government, have influence over whether the U.N. sanctions military action. Neither Russia nor Iran is likely to agree to allow military intervention, since such action is generally considered supportive of rebel forces who oppose Assad.
Three facts are undisputed: 1) civilian deaths of this magnitude are horrifying; 2) the lingering effects of chemical weapons are awful, and those weapons are banned for a reason; and 3) at least some major factions within Syrian opposition forces have gone on record begging for Western military intervention. In addition, it might be 100% correct that Russian and Iranian involvement within the U.N. will prevent meaningful U.N. intervention, and thereby allow the deaths of even more civilians in Syria. It does not seem accidental that these factors for intervention have appeared with increasing frequency in American news media over the past six months, with increased talk of The Obama Administration’s “red line.” Media coverage, together with Kerry and Hagel’s statements of support, make it seem extremely likely that the U.S. will intervene in Syria with or without U.N. involvement. Americans who remember 2003 all too well can only wait and watch, hope that the intervention is limited and that the cited intelligence in support of such intervention actually exists this time.