Syrian Civil War Pt. 2: Don't Intervene in Syria

The Syrian civil war has produced the largest single humanitarian and refugee crisis in the world today. According to the U.N., “over 250,000 [Syrians] have been killed and over one million injured since the onset of the crisis in 2011” and “more than half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their homes”. About 4 million civilians have been displaced from Syria itself, with the majority of these housed in refugee camps under terrible conditions. Among those displaced within Syria, as many as 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

If the U.S. holds the well-being of Syrian civilians as a priority, they should not attempt to increase military intervention into the civil war, and should instead respond by granting more displaced Syrians asylum and resettlement within our borders. No “no-fly zone”. No direct airstrikes against the Syrian army. No American boots on the ground. Just aid to a struggling civilian population.

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Decades of research into the nature of civil wars has shown that any international involvement has the strong tendency to prolong them. Additionally, when both sides of a conflict have support from strong international sources, as is the case in Syria, a military-political stalemate is often created that prevents any group from making gains that would tip the balance of war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to this point in a meeting with Syrian civilians this September. Kerry warned against U.S. military intervention, noting that as each side of the conflict “ups the ante” by launching more attacks, supplying more weapons and money, and bombing more cities, nothing is won and “you are all destroyed”. Increased intervention ultimately means increased suffering for Syrian civilians but only offers a small chance of ending the war. The recent bombing campaign of the Syrian city of Aleppo, termed a “slaughterhouse” by U.N. officials, is just one such example of escalating hostilities that have terrorized and killed thousands of civilians but have not significantly impacted the power balance in Syria.

In the U.S., a militarily interventionist strategy for dealing with the Syrian quagmire has been adopted by liberals and conservatives alike, despite evidence that it would further devastate the population. Secretary Hillary Clinton, her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, and Donald Trump’s running make Gov. Mike Pence all have advocated for the creation of humanitarian “safe zones” within Syria to protect civilians. However, the creation of these safe zones would require military intervention: the enforcement a “no-fly zone” by American warplanes. Donald Trump has not advocated for a no-fly zone, but he did imply in the third presidential debate that something must be done by the U.S. in Syria because, as it stands, “our country is so outplayed by Putin and Assad and by Iran”. It is not clear what Trump suggests be done. However, on multiple occasions he has proposed using nuclear weaponry to combat terrorism and enemies of the U.S. if he to take office, a very radical interventionist strategy.

Neither candidate has suggested an outright American invasion of Syria, but many experts believe that the implementation of a strategy such as a no-fly zone has the potential to drag the U.S. into war against Assad and Russia, as it would put American warplanes into direct contact with Russian anti-aircraft weapons. The Obama administration has resisted the implementation of a no-fly zone or similar militarily interventionist tactic for this very reason.

While it may appear that the regime forces are winning thanks to Putin’s support, the Russian position is not as strong as it seems. Since the onset of the conflict, Putin has failed to even significantly advance the stalemate in Assad’s favor, much less ensure a regime victory. Additionally, while he has secured Russian influence into any kind of Syrian future, he has come no closer to rapprochement with Western nations and has failed to rally the Russian public. In fact, intervention only earned Putin war crime accusations from the international community and has given European countries even fewer reasons to lift current economic sanctions against Russia. Putin did not back down when the U.S. State Department ceased talks earlier this month, but that does not mean he is willing to risk the consequences of a full-scale invasion of Syria either.

Overall, intervening militarily in Syria would “cost lives in order to save lives”, according to Professor Sarah E. Parkinson of Johns Hopkins University.  The interventionist attitude we currently have in American politics on the eve of a presidential election would likely cause Syrian civilians to continue to suffer, and holds no real promise of a resolution to the conflict. The fastest route to peace in Syria remains through diplomatic negotiations. If the U.S. is truly concerned about doing something to help in the meanwhile, it should consider adopting more refugees into its borders, as it has done the past for other war-torn nations. Immigration has been shown to bolster the economy, especially when you consider that the Syrian middle class is comprised of many educated, hardworking people, and that the process for applying for refugee status is too arduous to make it attractive to IS affiliates or members of other terrorist groups. Accepting more refugees is the easiest and most impactful way to assist millions of displaced and suffering Syrian families. The end.

Again, special thanks to JHU Professor Sarah E. Parkinson for lending her time and expertise to inform this author and this article.