Clearly, the failure of the Iraq War and the destruction it produced weighs heavy over the Syria debate, and for good reason. Recognizing the cause for past failures should amend the way we confront future travesties. Yet, just as I find it troubling to see the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Bill Kristol chiming in with their “expertise,” the near callous nature of those who oppose any form of intervention is also disconcerting.
Many have noted some of the unsavory figures and groups that make up portions of the Syrian rebel organization, as well as their disagreeable sources of support. Rand Paul argued against arming any rebel group because “It is very clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don't know who these people are.” This is simply fallacious. Hussein Ibish states:
“Those who argue against arming any of the rebels because of the strength of radical movements are citing the self-fulfilling prophecy, and grim logical consequences, of their own consistent "hands-off" policy recommendations: reluctance to support the FSA for fear of the emergence of extreme Islamists has inexorably and inevitably led to precisely that development.
Extremists became disproportionately important because they received far more financial and material support from their backers. Meanwhile, nationalist groups associated with the FSA suffered neglect from western and Arab powers that should have recognised their strong interest in a strong FSA.”
The fact that there exists groups we do not want to see with the levers of power should be reason enough to support the ones we would like to see come to power. We don’t have to look far to find them either.
Arming rebels and providing a No-Fly zone would look nothing like the Iraq War carried out in 2003. Much like the intervention in Libya, it would give the Syrian rebels room to maneuver without putting an American soldier in harm’s way. Marko Attila Hoare, writing in the Guardian, expands on this point:
“The west's inaction in the face of the pending Ba'athist and Shia Islamist victory amounts to a colossal failure of leadership. It is all the more surprising, coming as it does after the successful 2011 intervention in Libya, in which western intervention saved the revolution against Gaddafi, without the loss of a single western soldier. In the subsequent free elections in Libya, the liberals defeated the Islamists, dramatically disproving the Cassandras' claims that intervention amounted to support for al-Qaida. Unlike the misguided 2003 adventure in Iraq, an intervention in Syria – in the form of arms supplies to the FSA and the imposition of a no-fly zone – would enjoy broad support both in Syria and the wider region, including from Turkey and the Arab League. In these circumstances, the ostrich-like stance of the anti-interventionists appears all the more bizarre.”
As for any intervention prolonging or intensifying the conflict, I find this argument to be the most inadequate in the anti-interventionist’s arsenal. The war has already claimed countless lives and created strife in the region. Assad’s regime has stepped well beyond the previous “red lines” of acceptable behavior in war. This war is being perpetrated and executed whether the United States or the international community are involved or not, but that does not mean we are free from culpability. James Bloodworth adds:
“For those of us who did support limited military action, it is hard to see how intervention could have made things any worse than they are already. As we have seen before in Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Syria, inaction can have more deleterious consequences than action, the only difference seemingly that politicians who advocate doing nothing get off scot free when civilians die in a way that the proponents of intervention never do – undoutedly a part of its political appeal.”
The war in Syria will continue regardless of whether we are involved in the conflict. Nor can the international community “end” the divisions that exist in Syria. I subscribe the Michael Walzer’s position that any intervention should be to the benefit of the Syrian people, and only pursued if it would help alleviate the conflict over. The international community could clearly achieve these aims as it has in the past, and should act to do so.