Will The US Intervene In Syria?

The US appears to be shifting to the view that Syria’s government has used chemical weapons against its people. Given that US President Barack Obama has previously stated that the Syrian Assad regime’s use of such weapons would be a red line triggering American military intervention, then this development could be a potential game-changer.

It is evident to us that the Obama administration does not wish to get drawn into another major war in the Middle East, especially since North Korea and Iran are more pressing geopolitical issues. Also, there still appears to be a lack of consensus within the US intelligence community on whether chemical weapons were used. However, Obama may still come under pressure from US politicians to adopt a tougher stance towards the Assad regime, given that ‘American credibility may be on the line’, so to speak.

At this stage, it is unclear whether Syria is actually testing the US’s resolve or has made a conscious decision to pursue the use of chemical weapons as a matter of policy. Another theory is that a local commander may have acted on his own initiative (although this too would be worrying, since it would represent loss of centralised control). Either way, the situation merits closer attention.

Some opponents of US intervention argue that the only beneficiaries would be radical Islamist forces among the Syrian rebels, who would not in any way be grateful for American air support. Others argue that US (or Western) intervention is necessary precisely to bolster the secular-nationalist rebels vis-à-vis the radicals.

If the US were to intervene, then its ‘safest’ course of action would be to provide lethal weaponry to the rebels. The second-safest option would be to establish a no-fly zone over Syria or carry out airstrikes on the Assad regime’s pillars of support. This would certainly be safer than sending in tens of thousands of ground troops. However, even an air campaign would probably take a long time to deliver results. The NATO alliance bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999 before a political agreement to end the Kosovo conflict was reached. A lighter NATO air war in Libya in 2011 took much longer to overthrow Colonel Qadhafi. Furthermore, we reiterate that even if Assad is overthrown or killed, there would be no reason to expect peace in Syria. The country’s different groups could keep fighting for some time. Speculation that Syria could become a ‘new Afghanistan’, ‘new Iraq’, or ‘new Lebanon’, should not be dismissed.