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Intervening in Syria is still a Bad Idea – Seriously

November 4, 2015

Special Forces Operators

On Monday, it was announced that President Obama had decided to send fifty special forces troops to Northern Syria to help coordinate the war against ISIS. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have demonstrated that American interventions within the Greater Middle East have been more trouble than they have been worth. ISIS is awful, as is Assad, the Al-Nusra Front, the Russians, Iran, the Shia Iraqi militias, and a whole slew of other groups. This means that although the United States might have pure intentions in Syria, it will not mean a successful outcome in the event of any larger interventions into the conflict in the future.

The Syrian Civil War is a tragedy of Biblical proportions. Over 250,000 people have died, with millions more displaced, both internally and externally. There has been the use of chemical weapons, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities for what can be termed genocide. Into this maelstrom there are American policy makers that wish to impose American will onto the problem. There are those who do not only wish to fight ISIS, but also the Assad regime. This has posed the United States with another dilemma, who do we fight? If we fight the Assad regime, we will be making space for ISIS within Syria. If we fight only ISIS, we will be fighting a group that is attempting to depose Assad –  a stated bipartisan goal of American foreign policy. Arming the “moderate” rebels has been a bust, either through the administration’s incompetence, lack of interest, or a genuine lack of recruits. The Kurds – while loyal allies – cannot be armed to the teeth without risking their independence (something that I personally think they deserve, but which is a strategic impossibility). The Iraqi Army has shown itself to be feckless and incompetent, and the Iraqi militias are too divisive. And then there are the Russians.


Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene into the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Assad regime has complicated the situation. It means that American planes have to watch where they are going over the country, lest they accidentally shoot at – or get shot at by – Russian aircraft. It also means that Russia has taken more of a side than we have. This will most definitely prolong the war. So what about our fifty special operations troops that have been sent to Syria? These troops will have the mission of coordinating with local groups – most likely Kurds – to fight against ISIS. What happens if one of these soldiers is captured? How many more troops will be sent in to rescue him? What happens if a detachment of American troops are misidentified as hostile by the Russians, and the Russians bomb American troops? What happens if American troops mistake Russian planes for Syrian ones (the Syrian Air Force, while mostly non-existent at this point, is made up almost entirely of Russian planes) and shoot them down? The potential for escalation between the United States and Russia is too great to justify any of the benefits of putting “boots on the ground.” And the possibility of mission creep against ISIS risks us getting involved in another civil war in the Middle East.


Syria Map

Finally, there are the legal arguments against this escalation. The President has only barely the authority to be conducting the airstrikes against ISIS, but does not have any legal authorization to send ground troops into Syria. This is a critical weakening of our constitutional ability to wage war. By this I mean, Congress has the sole authority to launch wars (or authorize military force since we haven’t declared war since 1941), and the President has the authority to conduct the war. The Obama administration, to their credit, seems uneasy with the current constitutional dilemmas, and has sent wording to congress for an authorization of war against ISIS. However, Congress, on both the left and the right, has failed to do its part in even debating an authorization resolution.

So what is to be done about ISIS and the Russian intervention? The Russians can have a destabilizing influence on American policy by harassing the Turks. Already, Russian planes have violated Turkish airspace, and since Turkey is allied to the United States through NATO, we must insure that their territorial integrity is maintained, while simultaneously talking to the Russians to avoid an incident. We should also continue to support the Iraqi government (Iraq Kurds included) and its attempts to stall ISIS. Finally, we should continue our air campaign, which although not stellar, has seriously dampened ISIS ability to launch further offensives against Iraq. ISIS is a threat, but it is not worth the potential for escalation with the Russians, nor getting involved in another ground war in the Middle East.

Here is a link to a poll about whether or not the United States should deploy ground troops to fight ISIS directly.


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