It is too late for a ground war in Syria

It is too late for a ground war in Syria

CW / Kylie Cowden

Our country may be going to war. Officials from the Department of Defense are drafting plans to put American ground troops on Syrian soil; if President Trump decides to execute those plans, Americans could be deployed to Syria as early as next month.

With the current barrage of scandals surrounding the Trump administration, I remain skeptical of the motives behind this potential invasion. Every politician knows that wars make excellent distractions. Regardless of the president’s motivations, there is a strong possibility that this war could end up even worse than the Iraq War did. This administration is certainly no more competent than the Bush administration was, and the president’s antagonism towards Muslims will not invite the necessary cooperation from locals that we’ve had in past Middle-Eastern conflicts. Even those who do not hate the United States will surely see the Iraqi translators affected by the president’s travel ban and hesitate to put their lives on the line for a country that seems to hate them.

I fear for the lives of the American military members and Syrian civilians that will be lost if we enter this conflict. I fear that our invasion would ignore the crimes of the Assad government in favor of combating ISIS exclusively. I fear that if it doesn't, we will repeat many of the same mistakes we made in Iraq – namely, dismantling the military and leaving an enormous share of the working population with weapons training and without income. Even more, I fear we will walk away from this potential war a decade from now the same way we did from Iraq in 2011: defeated and with all the wrong lessons.

There has been a great deal of historical revisionism surrounding the invasion of Iraq. Few Americans my age or younger remember the early days of the war, when the American military ended the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein to cheers in the streets of Baghdad – that brief period of time when we were, as Vice President Cheney predicted, “greeted as liberators.” But we were, and when President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and spoke in front of a now-mocked “Mission Accomplished” banner, his approval rating in the United States sat at 70 percent.

It is important to remember the horrible mistakes we made in Iraq, and even more important to remember the false pretenses under which the U.S. government justified the war. Yet, it is equally important to resist the false narratives that have arisen since the war, from doves on the left and isolationists on the right, that Saddam Hussein was “not that bad.” The current state of affairs in Iraq, as horrible as it is, does not negate the cruelty of the Ba’athist regime. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and evil man, who committed mass murder without remorse and oppressed the largest religious sect of his country for decades. When his neck snapped in the noose on Dec. 30, 2006, – which never would have happened without American intervention – the world became a better place.

Bashar al-Assad is even worse than Saddam Hussein. In less than a decade, the Syrian dictator killed hundreds of thousands of his country’s citizens and displaced millions more. He alone is responsible for the largest humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century: a refugee crisis that threatens to destabilize Europe and create the war between the Islamic world and the West that ISIS craves. Since taking the reigns from Syria’s previous dictator, his brutally repressive father Hafez al-Assad, Bashar has maintained power through torture, civilian espionage and summary executions of political dissidents.

Sensing threats to his power after the Arab Spring, al-Assad immediately began assassinating moderate opposition leaders, with the goal of ensuring the only ones left who opposed his regime were radical secular or religious extremists. He succeeded, and by the time the United States decided to arm Syrian rebel groups to counter his government’s barbarism, it was difficult to find groups that would not later pose a potential security threat. With the aid of Russian President Vladimir Putin, al-Assad consolidated his power and expelled most of his living opposition at the end of 2016. Rubble and crushed bones line the streets of once-great cities because this vicious man wanted to protect his position. It is very possible that he will never answer for these crimes.

There are those who want the United States’ place in the world both ways – who disdain our action of invading Iraq and our lack of action to prevent the Rwandan Genocide with equal fervor. This is not and never will be possible. Powerful nations have enormous responsibilities to prevent humanitarian atrocities, and in Syria, we have already failed. It is very likely too late to make any meaningful difference in the lives of Syrian civilians through military force. I have no confidence in the Trump administration’s ability to enter a conflict without destroying what credibility the United States has left on the world stage. Action should have been taken when we didn’t have these domestic disputes to distract us. When Syrian civilians started being gassed by their government. When Syrian children started being bombed in their schools.

Instead, in the name of opposition to “nation building,” the United States did next to nothing. We’ve forgotten how we nation-built all of Western Europe with the Marshall Plan. We’ve forgotten how we nation-built Japan – a country so hostile at the time we had to use the worst weapons ever deployed to defeat it – that is now one of the world’s great economies. We overthrew a dictator in Iraq and failed to rebuild his nation, and in our fear of repeating the latter in Syria we neglected to do the former. When our children read the histories of this era, they will ask, as we did with Rwanda, how the world let this happen. And Americans will sigh. Knowing the blood is on our hands. 

Kyle Campbell is a senior majoring in political science. He is Opinions Editor of The Crimson White.

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