After two years of bloody conflict, sectarian violence, and finally the unconfirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria last week (round two, allegedly), US options for direct military intervention in the war-torn region are finally coming to light.
With extensive worldwide media coverage finally bringing the Syrian civil war into the limelight of American public opinion, US decision-makers have publically provided regime planners with a set of parameters and general timeframe of any possible direct US military action.
Mass dissemination of such close-hold information aside, there are three key issues in the context of direct US military action in Syria that need identification and further analysis: a lack of support from other key global powers and partners, a convoluted and precedent-driven US foreign policy agenda, and a “gut check” of US military values and purpose. The intent of this article is to briefly review all three of these issues.
One’s the Loneliest Number
Just recently the British Parliament rejected a preliminary vote that would help determine the possibility and extent of any UK military action in Syria, alongside any US forces. This announcement came on the heels of the still-unconfirmed chemical weapons use by regime forces in a suburb of Damascus earlier this week.
This announcement, while not legally or officially binding, affects the possible US courses of action in attempting to determine the extent of any direct military intervention in Syria. Citing primarily humanitarian concerns to justify UK involvement in Syria, British Prime Minister Cameron stated that any British action, “would not be determined by [President Obama’s] actions or those of the [US],” but rather those of the British government.
The UK’s initial rejection of this proposal should greatly affect how President Obama will pursue options for US military action. With multiple overt and covert players affecting the Syrian battlespace, solitary US military engagement in Syria is not only ineffective, but a rash endeavor that would lead to little military benefit, strategic gains, or political favor in the region.
Elsewhere in Western Europe, other coalition force nations such as France are also considering their level of commitment to any possible US direct military action. The French Parliament is holding an emergency session early next month to determine their level of support, if any.
Ultimately, the US and any nations considering military intervention in Syria have only their governments to decide whether or not they will expend military assets in the war-torn region. International entities, such as the UN and the Security Council, are equally as unlikely to engage in any military action or sanctioning thereof, due to the political imbalance between its various participants (i.e. Russia and China vs. the US, etc). Any decision to pursue military intervention will originate and be funded by the actors themselves.
Foreign Policy: Getting on Target
Amidst the preliminary rejection of the UK supporting US military intervention in Syria, the NY Times reported that President Obama was still considering the possibility of US military action. This announcement is significant in that this military action would (so far) be pursued without the support or sanction of any UN security resolutions, which NYT reports is “reminiscent of the Bush era prior to Iraq ten years ago.”
While avoiding the obvious political parallels and alleged situational differences between Iraq and Syria, it must be noted that, if made, such a decision by President Obama would greatly upset any notions of calculated or well-defined foreign policy strategy on behalf of the administration since he took office.
It is difficult to identify any short or long-term benefits of direct US military action in Syria in the context of recent media reporting on the issue. Short of removing a select few regime facilities through carefully mensurated precision airstrikes, the US is guaranteed to better serve its interests in the long-term by instead focusing on fostering closer relationships with its allies in the region, Turkey, Israel, and Jordan, to name a few.
While by no means a 100% solution, such relationships would allow the US to utilize its extensive counterterrorism and military assets in pursuit of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, and finishing any possible threats to US interests locally. The messy international and domestic politics are avoided barring the usual operational requirements, international actors and power players such as China and Russia are kept at bay, and the US is still able to exert direct control over its national security interests in the region.
It is in the US’ best interest that President Obama comprehends the precedent established by other world players and allies such as Britain and chooses not to pursue direct military intervention in Syria, regardless of any alleged violations of international or humanitarian standards
US Military: Some Thought Required
Given that the UK has voted against any military action and effectively limited Prime Minister Cameron’s ability to unilaterally commit British forces alongside those of the US, it is important to note that Mr. Cameron stated he, “would not take action [in Syria] without the consent of the Parliament and government.” This is a heartening statement that demonstrates Mr. Cameron’s ability to respect the decisions of those he was elected to represent
However, given the posture of US military forces in the region, and the Obama administration’s suggestion that President Obama may still consider military action regardless of the outcome of any UN security council resolutions or Congressional decisions, the precedent of his international counterpart’s decisions and a general consensus of US public opinion place the military in a difficult position.
First (without boring the military readers), the purpose of the military is to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States and its citizens. This is an overused and misunderstood statement (definitely the situation here) that is sure to elicit mixed interpretation, but necessary in the following statements.
Second, it is understood that in today’s rapidly changing world that encompasses a vast myriad of primarily unconventional military action, there are no clear lines or rules that justify US military action across the globe. While there are guidelines and interests that the military is tasked to protect (often under the notion of national security or general US interests), the situation in Syria does not warrant any action past attempts to control the eventual outpour and proliferation of radical and experienced Islamist fighters from the region.
In the context of all of above, the military is placed in a difficult position. On one hand, President Obama’s justification of direct US military action in Syria involves the alleged use of chemical weapons and the international violation that accompanied the alleged attack. However, given a lack of Congressional approval, a lack of UN Security Council endorsement, a lack of typical coalition force support, and the overall negative demeanor of Syria’s messy “intercommunal civil war”, the military must analyze whether or not it is being appropriately and gainfully employed.
What US interest is being protected while pursuing direct military action against regime forces? What international standards are being enforced when (or if, rather) the Assad regime collapses as a result of this action and leaves a power vacuum that eliminates control over chemical weapons stockpiles as well? What alternative courses of action are available that could present a more identifiable purpose and objective for US military forces?
It is in the interest of the United States that its military forces not be committed in support of any direct, overt action against the Syrian regime. Unverified use of chemical weapons use is not sufficient justification to engage in unilateral military action in an already messy civil war. Even with verification of chemical weapons use, direct military action (in support of upholding ‘international norms’ and laws) is not an effective or wise tool to implement in Syria.
Given the second and third-order repercussions of direct and overt US military action (especially in the context of Russia, China, and Iran’s extensive backing of the regime), US interests are better served conducting a focused, well-practiced strategy of counterterrorism efforts in full partnership with friendly nations in the region.
Thanks for listening. ~14Charlie
Bio-I am a junior active duty intelligence officer supporting an airborne-capable ground unit. Not SOF, just a regular intel guy.