Should the United States become militarily involved in Syria? Should Washington impose a no-fly zone, grounding the government’s warplanes and attack helicopters, thus giving the opposition forces a better chance? Should President Barak Obama send in US troops to quell the fighting and the increasing violence of which there seems to be no end in sight? And would the deployment of American troops in Syria not simply add to an already complex situation, turning the conflict into another military quagmire for American forces similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Indeed, in the event of a US intervention, just how long would it take before American troops are viewed as occupiers? It has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq and earlier in Lebanon, if history, as we know has often a tendency to repeat itself, why would it not also happen in Syria?
Yes, say some, the United States must not and cannot continue to stand idly by while thousands continue to die every week. Those favoring an American intervention point to American values, saying that as the world’s sole remaining super power, the United States has a moral obligation to intervene and stop the carnage and to address the humanitarian crisis that is increasing in proportions by the day.
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In the past two years more than 80,000 people were killed and over four million turned into refugees; frightening numbers for a country with a population of 22 million. Comparatively, that would be the same if about 78 million Americans were to become refugees.
Those in favor of a US intervention also say that it is in the national interest of the United States to intervene and that allowing the conflict to run its course will almost certainly spread to engulf neighboring countries. They argue that with each passing day the Islamists are becoming stronger and that there is a real risk that Syria would be turned into an Islamic state unless the US acts now.
Those in favor of intervention are also waving a red flag over the alleged use of chemical weapons by government forces. There are additional fears that if the Islamist forces come out victorious they would be in possession of Syria’s chemical arsenal, or at least part of it. And this frightens many.
Those are all very convincing arguments, however, those opposed to a US military intervention offer just as convincing arguments.
No, argue others, claiming that a US military intervention would lead to disaster and would turn into another “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” where US forces would become the target of the Islamists and the situation would transform from a Syrian civil war into a war between the US and Syrian Islamists and their allies.
Some argue that there is no need for US boots on the ground and that the job could be accomplished by the US establishing a no-fly zone with use of American air power. Proponents of a US military intervention point that that establishing a no-fly zone would even out the battlefield.
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Opponents of the notion on the other hand argue that US involvement may start off as “just” involving the air force, but that there is always the risk that it may end differently.
The problem, or at least one of the problems, because the problems are indeed numerous, is that the United States is having a hard time differentiating between who the good guys are and who are the bad guys in this conflict. According to Professor Joshua Landis from the University of Oklahoma and author of the informative website Syria Comment, there are currently about 1,000 different militia groups of different sizes and varying political philosophies engaged in the civil war in Syria.
Why this reluctance by the United States to intervene in Syria when it was far more forthcoming in Libya, Iraq and in an earlier conflict in Kuwait?
Oil, say some!
Kuwait, Iraq and Libya are among the world’s top oil producers, whereas Syria’s oil production is relatively small and Syria exports its oil exclusively to Europe.
That may be true in part, however the reality on the ground in Syria is far more complex. If the absence of ample supplies of oil in Syria makes the conflict uninteresting and Americans can continue to largely ignore the danger signs coming out of Syria, perhaps when the first major use of chemical weapons on civilians happens the US administration will reconsider its stance. But by then many more innocent people will have paid the ultimate price.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac books. He tweets @claudesalhani.