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.