While more than 60,000 American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq falls further into sectarian chaos, President Obama has decided to militarily involve the United States in a civil war in Syria. His rationale rests on Syrian civilian casualties and refugees, his longstanding statements that Assad “must go,” and the use of chemical weapons by Assad. He is also seeking to offset the support to Assad provided by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and bring a balance to the battlefield.
President Obama has just stepped onto a slippery slope with a military and diplomatic quagmire at its bottom. There is no evidence that his decision is part of a regional grand strategy or that we have identified the ways and means that will achieve an (as yet unidentified) end. This is a civil war and both sides have contributed to the 90,000 deaths and Mr. Assad retains the support of a significant portion of the Syrian population. Further U.S. involvement morphs this civil war into a proxy war between the U.S., Europe, and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah on the other. The latter group has significantly greater national interests in Syria than the former. Furthermore, this alignment makes Russian support of U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program more unlikely and reduces Israel’s security. Finally, arming the rebels has the effect of prolonging and intensifying the fighting and makes a diplomatic or political solution less likely.
President Obama and his advisors have stepped into this dark, slippery slope by ignoring both history and current reality. Our history in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Egypt and Libya says that we have not been very successful bending outcomes to support our interests. And the current reality is that we are a debtor nation reducing funding for Head Start and cancer research while now deciding to spend scarce dollars in support of an unstructured rebel force in Syria without any end state having been identified. When reacting is substituted for strategic thinking learning suffers.