The Syrian War
The conflict in the Middle East is a lot closer to home than you think.
By Timothy K. DesJarlais, University of Arizona
As you read in the news about yet another terrorist attack in Syria that claimed the lives of too many, you must only wonder when, not if, the United States will get fully involved in the Syrian Civil War.
The story of Syria is a disheartening one indeed, with recent statistics showing a death toll of over 400,000 Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011. America has been involved somewhat, but U.S. support has been primarily directed toward the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist group. In fact, even the Syrian government’s use of nerve agents, like sarin gas, against their own people, resulted in little more than a condemnation from the United States, at least until recently.
After President Obama laid down a “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the nation conducted another chemical attack against rebel groups and the civilians backing them, prompting nothing more than condemnation from President Obama. But, the fault was not Obama’s alone, as Congress also rejected a request to use military force in Syria.
Just weeks ago, Facebook feeds were filled with images of children and civilian victims who had been gassed by yet another Syrian government gas attack. The horrific reality of the war in Syria was enough to move President Trump, who ordered missile strikes on the Syrian Air Force base, where the aircraft carrying the chemical weapons were supposedly stationed.
Of course, the Trump Administration has remained tight-lipped about whether they’re planning further military action in Syria, even as actual U.S. troops are deployed on the ground to fight the remnants of the Islamic State in eastern Syria and Iraq. But, the topic has prompted Americans to consider whether or not the United States should or will go to war in Syria.
Typically, wars tend to lack popularity, especially when they seem to have no real impact or response to a direct threat to the national security of the United States. One of the most overused examples is the Vietnam War, where U.S. troops were sent overseas to prop up a “democratic” South Vietnam and guard them against the communist aggression of North Vietnam.
Here, American involvement was purely ideological, as the United States feared that if South Vietnam fell to communism, all of Asia would soon fall as well. America ultimately pulled out of the Vietnam War due to extreme public pressure, but not before lives were lost on both sides. Even after the North Vietnamese united Vietnam under their communist banner, Asia did not “go red” as America had feared.
The next major conflict was in the 1990s, as the U.S. fought against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. America was mostly protecting its oil interests in Saudi Arabia by putting down Hussein, and the Gulf War, as it was named, was aptly a success.
Later, though, under the presidency of the younger Bush, he decided to finish his father’s work and get rid of Hussein. The entire Iraq War was started on the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and the war that ensued not only destabilized the nation, but it created the environment that later led to the rise of the Islamic State.
Similarly, the United States also invaded Afghanistan to throw the Taliban from power, since they had supported Osama bin Laden (the infamous terrorist who masterminded the 9/11 attack). Since then, though, American troops have been fighting a cat-and-mouse game with Taliban fighters in rural Afghanistan, while attempting to prop up the nation’s weak democratic regime.
Both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have soured the idea of war and perhaps played a significant role in America deciding against committing troops to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. That same sentiment seems to be quickly resurfacing, as many begin to question how much America should commit in Syria.
The biggest argument I have heard against U.S. intervention in Syria is that it is not a problem for the U.S., and it doesn’t directly affect Americans. But, there are fundamental flaws with this argument, and what happens in Syria is important to U.S. national security, even more so than Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria possesses chemical weapons, like sarin gas, which was supposedly destroyed until recently, when the Syrian government showed that they still have stockpiles of it.
Syria is a destabilized nation, and once the Islamic State is officially defeated and disbanded, many of its fighters will likely scatter throughout the nation. Imagine the consequences if radical jihadists or Islamic State fighters actually get access to, or even capture, one of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles. The results would be catastrophic, and both America and Europe could become victim to terrorist attacks involving such nerve agents.
You’d think that such weapons are heavily guarded, but should Syria’s dictator, Assad, get assassinated, or perhaps a coup occurs, the resulting chaos could result in chemical weapons being stolen. The sooner peace is restored in this region, the sooner the United States and its allies can ascertain as to what Syria’s chemical capabilities are and dispose of them in proper manner.
But, in Syria’s anarchic and chaotic environment, adding stockpiles of sarin or nerve gas to rouge groups of terrorists is not a situation I would like to see unfold. And while Syria may seem far away, America isn’t immune to threats of radicalized fighters returning from the Middle East.
I do not foresee such an event happening and hope it never does, but you must be realistic and realize that it is in America’s best interests and the interests of national security that the instability in Syria be resolved as soon as possible.