Syria is burning and it looks like the United States is about to add some gasoline to what almost became a dying flame. When I originally planned this post I planned to write a list of reasons to avoid getting involved in Syria. Of course, the administration thwarted me by announcing that we were about to get involved. So instead this is an analysis of the implications of our involvement and some things that I think are important to know.
We don’t need to read about Syria because we know the story. The rebels are struggling against the evil rulers. The Rebel alliance must defeat the evil empire; that’s how Luke Skywalker did it. The problem with trying to make broad assumptions about the Syrian conflict is that there multiple narratives. In the west, we have heard the heroic rebels versus the evil emperor (with some unpleasant aberrations from the narrative). If you ask the Russians, however, it is a war of chaos versus stability. Russia desperately wishes to be seen as the protector of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Assad had a better track record for protecting minority groups than Sunni majoritarian movements. Unfortunately, it seems like many Sunni clerics have decided that this is a war between Sunni and Shia for the future of Islam. This has led to some particularly nasty Fatwas and makes the conflict look disturbingly like ethnic cleansing.
For the United States, however, there is only one narrative that really matters: This is a conflict between the Arab Gulf states and Iran. Any enemy of Iran seems to be a friend of ours, and Saudi Arabia has long supported our interests in the region. Thus, we support the rebels. And thus, the rebels are virtuous freedom fighters.
Half a year ago, the President boldly declared a “red line;” Should Assad (or anyone, was the implication) use chemical weapons, the US would intervene. This was a stalling method at the time, and this has been proven meaningless again and again. Yes, chemical weapons are horrible, but almost one hundred thousand people have been killed by bullets, shrapnel, and other non-chemical weapons. The red line was a convenient decision-postponing method. Furthermore, the red line was crossed very soon after it was drawn. International organization after organization declared it had been crossed after examination. European nations recognized that it had crossed. Everyone except for the United States seemed sure that chemical weapons had been deployed. Yet we delayed recognition for some time. The red line was a political tool that allowed the administration to stall until it was needed (like perhaps until a wave of political scandals piled on top of each other?).
There will be many consequences of Syrian intervention, but I can think of three near-certainties. The first is that there will be many more dead Syrians. This was is devastating the nation and arming the side that is clearly losing is not going to make that any better. There is no good news for Syria in this. The second consequence will be exhausted foreign fighters. This war started as Assad versus the Free Syria Army, but it has become a battle of Hezbollah and Iran Revolutionary Guard versus Jihadist and Al-Qaeda backed forces. Both armies will continue to grind each other into dust (and the civilians caught between them). It would be unfair to say that this was a goal of the administration, but it wouldn’t be the first time we tried to stretch a war out so that both sides would be further exhausted (refer to the Iran-Iraq war). The final result will be a change in US influence. Either we will give support, but not enough to turn the tide (leading to US embarrassment) or we will continue giving more and more aid until the rebels win (meaning large amounts of involvement in Syria indefinitely).
The Syrian people are caught in the middle of this deadly chess game. Pray for Syria; the road ahead will not be easy. Pray for the President; he is faced with the life and death of thousands no matter what he does.