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Topic of the day: Intervention in Syria

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 8:35 p.m. MDT

In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, columns of smoke rise from heavy bombing by Syrian government forces in Arbeen, Syria, Monday March 18, 2013. Two years after the anti-Assad uprising began, the conflict has become a civil war, with hundreds of rebel group fighting Assad's forces across Syria and millions of people pushed from their homes by the violence. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed. (Associated Press) In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, columns of smoke rise from heavy bombing by Syrian government forces in Arbeen, Syria, Monday March 18, 2013. Two years after the anti-Assad uprising began, the conflict has become a civil war, with hundreds of rebel group fighting Assad's forces across Syria and millions of people pushed from their homes by the violence. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed. (Associated Press)

As the civil war in Syria continues in its second year, with a looming humanitarian crisis in Jordan, air strikes from Israel on targets inside Syria and the possibility that chemical weapons are being used in the conflict, President Obama is facing increasing pressure to take action.

There has been a large debate about what role the U.S. should take in the conflict since the beginning. Now with the situation seeming to escalate, the discussion continues about what the U.S. should do in what has been dubbed a “Humanitarian disaster” by UN officials.

At The New Republic, Leon Wieselter criticizes President Obama’s lack of action even after his “red line” was crossed when it appeared that either the regime or the rebels may have used chemical weapons (sarin gas in this case). “The slaughter is unceasing. But the debate about American intervention is increasingly conducted in 'realist' terms: the threat to American interests posed by jihadism in Syria, the intrigues of Iran and Hezbollah, the rattling of Israel, the ruination of Jordan and Lebanon and Iraq. Those are all good reasons for the president of the United States to act like the president of the United States. But wouldn’t the prevention of ethnic cleansing and genocidal war be reason enough?”

Washington Post writer Davis Hanson blames Obama for “blundering” through the crisis, making repeated threats without ever following up. “Remember when President Obama used to warn Syria’s Bashar Assad to stop his mass killing and step down? … In the end, we are left only with hope for change.”

In the L.A. Times, Majid Rafizadeh — a Syrian native who has lost family members in the conflict — argues against any sort of U.S. intervention in the conflict. "Despite the seriousness and severity of the situation, I don't believe that the United States should intervene militarily in Syria. Any direct or indirect intervention by the U.S. would exacerbate Syria's internal conflict and increase the number of people being displaced and killed.”

Similarly, Counter Punch writer Sheldon Richman says that any military intervention into the conflict would only make matters worse and has no forseeable benefit to the U.S. “It is quite clear that the U.S. military is powerless to make things better in Syria. That’s right. For all the trillions spent on the national-security state and global empire, the United States stands as a pitiful giant on the Middle East stage. Sure, it could increase the bloodshed on the ground and perhaps even cause the release of chemical agents. Indeed, it could even turn the dominant al Qaida-related rebels, some of them the same jihadists the U.S. government fought in Iraq, into a better-armed force.”

But if the U.S. were to intervene, what action would it take?

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, has put forth a bill arguing that the U.S. government should arm opposition groups to bring an end to the conflict. Included in his proposed bill is an proposition “to provide foreign assistance, defense articles, defense services, and training to members of the Syrian Supreme Military Council, units of the Free Syrian Army, and other Syrian entities opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad that have been properly vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, says that arming the rebels is no longer a realistic option. “In Syria, however, failure to arm the opposition when the uprisings began two years ago has allowed extremist forces to gain the upper hand. Liberal and secular movements have largely gone into exile, leaving a vacuum that extremists are exploiting.” Instead of direct action, Khalilzad argues that a “Syrian disarmament through a UN framework” with the help of Russia and the U.S. acting together would be the most effective option.

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College graduate and the DeseretNews.com opinion intern. Reach me at fstevenson@deseretdigital or @freemandesnews

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