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Grégory Kudish

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Don't Let Syria Become a Second Iraq

Posted: 08/30/2013 3:53 pm

Even though Syria has been torn apart by a bloody civil war for more than two years, it is only this week that U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and the leaders of France and Canada, to name a few countries, brought forward the idea of a military intervention. The use of chemical weapons causes irreparable damage to the civilian population and must be condemned. However, when it comes down to foreign policy and international relations, states must first take into account their strategic interests and leave humanitarian feelings aside. Compassion is the sphere the individual; national and geostrategic planning is the sphere of the state.

Some lessons from realism

In international relations, realism focuses on the state as the primary actor in the international system. In an anarchic international system, a system where no supranational constraint can force a state to act against its will, states are primarily concerned with their own interests and survival. There are several variations of the realist school. Offensive realism, developed by John Mearsheimer, underlines that states seek more than anything else to maximize their power. Proponents of defensive realism argue that states want to ensure their safety above all, using their power to ensure a balance of power in the international system. Despite their differences, members of the realist school agree that national interests have priority over humanitarian feelings in the formulation of a state's foreign policy.

Military intervention in Syria: a realist solution?

So far, the civil war in Syria has taken over 100,000 lives, caused more than a million people to be displaced, and left hundreds of thousands injured. For over two years, the international community has acted as an observer of the situation, deploring the thousands of casualties, while at the same time ruling out the possibility of military intervention. But this week, after noting the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own people, President Obama, together with other countries, raised his voice and now says that he's decided to take military action against Syria. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is a condemnable act, a crime against humanity. Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves whether a military intervention is not likely to worsen the situation. After all, if the United States really had an interest in intervening in Syria, they could have acted thus long before the use of chemical weapons. If the excuse for military intervention is the preservation of human life, it is not necessary, in my opinion, to wait for chemical weapons to be used. Is 100,000 dead not a good enough humanitarian reason?

The reality is that the United States, like other countries, seem to overlook what they are going into with a military intervention in Syria. First, the civil war there does not entail the regime of Bashar al-Assad fighting against a rebellious democratic population. Among the belligerents, we find the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army (CNFOR), the Tripoli Brigade, the Syrian Islamic Front, Fatah al-Islam, the Kurdish separatists, the Al-Nosra Front, or the Tehrik e -Taliban, to name a few groups. The United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom offer diplomatic support to CNFOR and the Tripoli Brigade, opposed to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. For their part, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Hamas support Islamic armed groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nosra Front. In a realist perspective, the pretext for military intervention in Syria lies in the willingness of the United States to form a counterweight to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. However, is it reasonable to expect a military intervention at this point?

Syria: a second, more disastrous Iraq

The last thing the U.S. wants now, is to see Syria turning into a second Iraq. Let's not forget that the military intervention in Iraq was also justified on the grounds that Saddam Hussein could use chemical weapons against his population. We should also keep in mind that the United States had planned to intervene in Iraq simply to overthrow Saddam Hussein and promised to retire a few months later, not in ten years. Today, I see the same rhetoric being drawn around Syria: conducting "strategic" air strikes, nothing more. As if we were expecting the Syrian regime to remain indifferent to these bombings. Moreover, should Bashar al-Assad be ousted, who will take power in Syria? Is it in the U.S. interest to see radical Islamic groups take over the rule of a state located just next to Israel? Is it in the interest of the United States to see the civil war in Syria escalate into a regional conflict? And most importantly, is it in their interest to support unknown groups who are losing ground, thus risking destabilizing the situation even more? In short, one must be very naive to believe that strategic air strikes will not beget further geopolitical consequences.

What can we do?

What can we do? That is the question. Well, we must resign ourselves to the fact that, in a situation such as that currently taking place in Syria, the wisest military solution is restraint. To quote a movie whose title escapes me, "the great victory belongs to those who wait." And in the meantime, it is better to act so as not to turn the Middle East against U.S. national and strategic interests. It should also be highlighted that Barack Obama does not have a great reputation when it comes to diplomatic relations with the Middle East. I hope for him that he will not engage in any of those expensive military operations that could further deteriorate the diplomatic relations of the United States with the Middle East. Meanwhile, it is preferable to act upon the plight of refugees and encourage the countries that neighbour Syria to help them. But for God's sake, let's think twice before intervening militarily in Syria. The reputation of the United States has been sufficiently tainted after the invasion of Iraq. We do not want a second Iraq.

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  • Syrian refugee, Ahmed al Delly, 59, from Daraa in Syria, reacts as he speaks about his wife, four sons, and two daughters, who are still in Daraa but he has had no contact with them, after the prayer of Eid al-Fitr, that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • This image provided by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show mourners next to bodies of victims of an attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • Columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, in Cairo, Syria, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the Media Office Of Douma City, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man mourns over a dead body after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists, in Douma town, Damascus, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Media Office Of Douma City)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man reacts as he carries a dead body of a Syrian girl, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows dead bodies of Syrian citizens in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • A Syrian family sits in a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees stand in a queue to receive free food at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Arabic that reads, "Syria is fine," as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man receiving treatment, in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A general view of the Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid after cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man comforts a child injured by a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, buildings are seen damaged from the shelling of Syrian forces at Karm al-Jabal area in Aleppo province, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian rebels open fire as they battle against the Syrian forces in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian army soldier stands behind his machine gun during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian forces tank fires during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, video obtained from the Sham News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a rebel fighter fires a gun in a valley in an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria. (AP Photo/Sham News Network via AP video)

  • Mansour Mahameed, 26, from Daraa city in Syria, a former Free Syrian Army fighter who lost his leg last March after the Syrian troops bombing, prepares to sit for the Eid al-Fitr prayer that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, dead bodies of Syrian rebels are seen on the ground, killed during ambush by Syrian forces near the Damascus suburb of Adra, Syria, Wednesday Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with a soldier during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad walking with soldiers with during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian youths run away from the scene of a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

 

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