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Saving Syria Is America's Thankless Task

Posted: 05/06/2013 11:31 am

As the death toll continues to climb in Syria's civil war (the UN pegged the total at over 70,000 back in February), and as the ruling regime in Damascus allegedly unleashes chemical weapons on its own people, there is a growing consensus that something must be done to end the fighting and unseat the man responsible for so much bloodshed -- Bashar Assad. As for who should act, there is only one option. The United States must intercede because no one else will, but the question is whether it should do so.

There are more than enough reasons for Americans to feel justified in sitting this Arab conflict out, as they have done so far (with the exception of providing opposition forces with some humanitarian aid and items of minor military import). After a disastrous war in Iraq and grueling camping in Afghanistan that left thousands of U.S. soldiers dead, countless more maimed and psychologically damaged, cost over a trillion dollars and resulted in little or no perceptible decline in the rise of radical Islam and along with it anti-American sentiments that translate into terrorism, the Americans are understandably wary of getting involved in another Arab fight.

The Syrian civil war presents a further complication in that revolutionary forces have been infiltrated by Islamists with ties to al-Qaida; there is reason to believe if the opposition does indeed defeat Assad's troops it will impose the tenets of radical Islam, especially hatred of America, on Syrians. U.S. military (and monetary) aid won't change that, as it hasn't in other Arab countries, like Egypt.

In short, there is no discernible tactical benefit to the U.S. getting involved in Syria. In fact, there is every reason to stay away -- to let two enemies continue their war against each other to the bitter end, then re-evaluate how to engage (or not) whomever emerges.

(On the other hand, Israel, which fired rocket volleys into Syria on two occasions over the weekend, has what to fight for: with the eventual fall of Assad, Hezbollah, with help from Iran, will try -- evidently, it's already trying -- to get its hands on the substantial cache of weapons stored across Syria. Advanced rockets of the type targeted by the Israeli airstrikes could wreak havoc on the Jewish state -- and by moving two of its Iron Dome batteries to the Syrian border, the Israeli government has effectively admitted it may not be able to completely stop Hezbollah from stocking up. Add to that sending a healthy reminder to Iran that Syria is nothing but a side-show in the grand scheme of things.)

The only good reason for the Americans to get involved is humanitarian: the massacres of entire families and villages and indiscriminate shelling and strafing of civilian areas by the Assad regime insult America's sense of human decency and credo of defending the weak and defenseless.

The UN, slow to react to catastrophe at the best of times, is further neutered on the Syria file due to Russia and China, who continue to defend Assad (though less vigorously of late). As for the Arab League, no one expects much help there -- it seems as though Arab countries are perfectly satisfied to sit and watch as their cousins kill each other. How the Arab League rationalizes this is beyond me.

So it falls to the U.S. to save the day, as it has so many times before, a thankless task for the benefit of an unapologetic enemy. The Americans will arm the Syrian rebels who in turn will topple Assad -- and whether some form of democracy will emerge from this disaster is anyone's guess. But it's a safe bet the next leaders of Syria will maintain the current edition's hatred of the United States, will harbor terrorist organizations, including perhaps al-Qaida, and by doing so endanger Americans at home and abroad. They will also prevent ordinary Syrians from experiencing a more prosperous and more equal way of life, and perhaps that is the greatest tragedy.

But such is the burden of the benevolent superpower in a world where no one else can, or possesses the will to, fight injustice on a global scale. Great power comes with great responsibility, they say, and sometimes that means defending even your enemies because no one else will. Lesser nations, as we are seeing now and have seen before, don't seem to understand why it must be this way.

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  • Turkey

    Turkey has struck the Syrian military repeatedly in response to shelling and mortar rounds from Syria since Oct. 3, when shells from Syria struck the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing two women and three children. The incident prompted NATO to convene an emergency meeting and Turkey sent tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the area. Turkey's military has also scrambled fighter jets after Syrian helicopters flew close to the border. <em>Caption: Turkish soldiers patrols as Syrian nationals pass the border between Syria and Turkey on November 10, 2012, near the town of Ceylanpinar. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Turkey

    There are about 120,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkish camps, with up to 70,000 more living in Turkey outside the camps. Thousands more wait at the border, held up as Turkey struggles to cope with the influx. Turkey also hosts much of the opposition and rebel leadership. <em>Caption: A Syrian-Kurdish woman refugee sits in the courtyard of a house in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, bordering Syria, on November 10, 2012. (PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Turkey

    Turkey has called for a buffer zone in Syria where the opposition and civilians would be protected, a step that would likely require international enforcement of a no-fly zone. Russia and China have blocked robust moves against the Syrian regime at the U.N. Security Council, and the United States has been reluctant to use its military in another Mideast conflict. <em>Caption: Turkish soldiers patrols as Syrian nationals pass the border between Syria and Turkey on November 10, 2012, near the town of Ceylanpinar. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Israel

    Israel on Monday became the second country to strike the Syrian military, after Turkey. An Israeli tank hit a Syrian armored vehicle after shells from fighting in Syria exploded in Israel-controlled Golan Heights. A day earlier, Israel fired a warning shot near a group of Syrian fighters. <em>Caption: Israeli tanks, one in position, the other getting into a firing position in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights overlooking the Syrian village of Bariqa, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>

  • Israel

    Syrian shells have exploded inside the Golan several times in recent weeks damaging apple orchards, sparking fires and spreading panic but causing no injuries. In early November, three Syrian tanks entered the Golan demilitarized zone, and in a separate incident an Israeli patrol vehicle was peppered with bullets fired from Syria; no one was hurt in the incident and the Israeli military deemed it accidental. <em>Caption: Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>

  • Israel

    There is concern in Israel that Assad may try to spark a conflict with Israel, opening up the potential for attacks by Lebanon's militant Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel has also warned that Syria's chemical weapons could be turned on the Jewish state. Still, while no friend of Assad, Israel is also worried that if he is toppled, Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare. <em>Caption: Israeli troops and UN peacekeepers inspect on November 8, 2012 the area where three mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Alonei Habashan in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967. (JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Lebanon

    Mortars and shells from the Syrian side regularly crash in Lebanon, causing several casualties, though Lebanese forces have never fired back. More dangerously, Syria's conflict has heightened deep rivalries and sectarian tensions in its smaller neighbor. Lebanon is divided between pro-Assad and anti-Assad factions, a legacy of the nearly three decades when Damascus all but ruled Lebanon, until 2005. Assad's ally, the Hezbollah militia is Lebanon's strongest political and military movement. <em>Caption: Lebanese army commandos deploy in the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighbourhoods where clashes are taking place between Sunnis and Alawites in the northern city of Tripoli on October 23, 2012. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Lebanon

    On Oct. 19, a car bomb assassinated Lebanon's top intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan. Many in Lebanon blamed Syria and Hezbollah for the assassination. The northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has seen repeated clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites – the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs. Battles in the city in May and August killed at least 23 people total and wounded dozens. <em>Caption: A memorial poster of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was assassinated Friday, hangs near the spot Friday's car bomb attack that killed Al-Hassan, in the Achrafieh district of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)</em>

  • Lebanon

    The kidnapping of Lebanese Shiites in Syria by rebels has also had repercussions in Lebanon. In May, Shiites blocked roads and burned tires in protest over the abductions, and later in the summer a powerful Shiite clan took 20 Syrians and a Turk in Lebanon captive in retaliation, all of whom have since been released. Lebanon also shelters about 100,000 Syrian refugees. <em>Caption: A Syrian man Firas Qamro, 31, who was injured during clashes that erupted between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)</em>

  • Jordan

    Jordan has taken the brunt of the refugee exodus from Syria, with some 265,000 Syrians fleeing across the border. Around 42,000 of them are housed at Zaatari, a dust-filled refugee camp, where riots have broken out several times by Syrians angry over lack of services. A growing number of stray Syrian missiles have fallen on Jordanian villages in the north in recent weeks, wounding several civilians. <em>Caption: In this Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 photo, a Jordanian army vehicle carries Syrian refugees who have fled violence in their country having crossed into Jordanian territory with their families near the town of Ramtha. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)</em>

  • Jordan

    Late last month, a Jordanian border patrol officer was killed in clashes with eight militants trying to cross into Syria. Hours earlier, Jordan announced the arrest of 11 suspected al-Qaida-linked militants allegedly planning to attack shopping malls and Western diplomatic missions in Jordan. <em>Caption: Jordanian border soldiers guard newly-arrived Syrian refugee families after they crossed the border from Tal Shehab city in Syria, through the Al Yarmouk River valley, into Thnebeh town, in Ramtha , Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo / Mohammad Hannon)</em>

  • Iraq

    Sunni and Shiite fighters from Iraq have made their way to Syria to join the civil war – the former on the side of the opposition, the latter siding with Assad's regime, according to Iraqi officials and Shiite militants. Sunni al-Qaida fighters are believed to be moving between Iraq and Syria, and some al-Qaida fighters in Iraq's western Anbar province have regrouped under the name of the Free Iraqi Army, a nod to the rebels' Free Syrian Army, Iraqi officials say. <em>Caption: In this Saturday, March 17, 2012 file photo, Syrian security officers gather in front the damaged building of the aviation intelligence department, which was attacked by one of two explosions in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)</em>

  • Iraq

    About 49,000 Syrian refugees have temporarily resettled in Iraq, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The United States has pressured Baghdad to stop Iranian planes suspected of ferrying arms to Syria from using Iraqi airspace. Iraq has so far acknowledged only forcing two planes to land for inspection and said it didn't find any weapons either time. <em>Caption: Syrian refugees rest as they have crossed the border by the Iraqi town of Qaim, 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)</em>

 

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