The Daily Northwestern

Dillon: U.S. should pursue Syrian intervention without thwarting Islamist government

Tyler Dillon, Columnist

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Foreign intervention is a tricky issue, yet it must often be done.

The Syrian civil war has raged for more than two years. It has left 70,000 civilians dead and millions of refugees displaced. Yet Russia and the United States are only just now holding a conference to discuss how we should end the war.

The international community needs to increase intervention, but few will do so without support of the United States. While I personally believe we should commit for humanitarian reasons, unfortunately, national interest plays the primary role in foreign policy decisions. However, we need to make sure that we analyze real national security concerns. Irrelevant factors are shaping public discourse. If those are allowed to become the reasons for intervention, our methods and goals may actually harm our national interests.

Leading politicians and writers have suggested that how the United States decides to act in Syria will affect how North Korea and Iran react to us. While Daily columnist Jonathan Kamel does not explicitly say it in his recent article, I assume that he believes strong American intervention will somehow improve our leverage or standing in the U.S.’s relationships to North Korea and Iran. I am unable to determine why people ignore such key differences such as the lack of a civil war in North Korea and Iran, the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and potential chemical weapon use on civilians.

This is not to say that the United States should not consider how others will react when making decisions, but I just don’t think there are strong enough parallels between Syria, North Korea, and Iran to warrant an intervention justified by how the latter two will react. To do so may be to establish a very dangerous precedent in U.S. foreign policy.

The goal of intervention should not be to prevent the rise of an Islamist government. As Daily guest columnists Mariam Gomaa and Serene Darwish correctly argue in their article, the Syrian people should be able to determine their own leaders. As long as they follow international law and respect human rights, the international community has no reason to interfere. To prevent a democratically-elected government from taking power because the U.S. does not like it would be detrimental to our credibility as supporters of liberalism and potentially set the stage for future instability (see Iranian history) and stirring animosity towards us (see Iran now). Although it is in our national interest to prevent the presence of al-Qaida or any terrorist organization in Syria, Islamism does not imply support for terrorism and we do not have the right to impose our own views just because we feel like it.

When using a national interest framework, why then should the United States intervene? One reason is to ensure that Syria becomes a democracy. Democracies tend to not go to war against each other and they have less political violence. It is not a save-all technique and can be difficult to maintain, but in such a volatile region, democracy is probably beneficial for the country’s citizens and neighbors.

The United States should also consider negative consequences of allowing this war to continue. Right now, Israel and Syria are still technically in a war. Furthermore, certain actors, such as Iran and Hezbollah, seem to be taking advantage of the chaos by shipping arms through Syria. Although Bashar Assad’s government cannot currently do much more than make public statements denouncing Israel’s military responses, establishing order as quickly as possible may reduce the chance that Israel and Syria escalate into full-scale conflict again. If Israel engages in war, the United States will get involved, whether it is through funneling foreign aid or direct military intervention. Thus regional stability should be introduced into our national security cost-benefit analysis.

Of course, at the end of the day, the United States government has to ask itself if effective intervention in Syria is possible and whether it will further national interests. I do believe that with international support, a sense of humbleness when interacting with the Syrian National Council, and limited aims, the United States can play a very important role in a successful rebuilding of the Syrian government and society. That is why I support intervention. However, if we use Syria as a negative example against Iran and North Korea to the disadvantage of its citizens, if we prevent the rise of a democratically-elected government because our citizens do not support Islamism, then we are going to end up with the same worldwide animosity toward us that we had after Iraq. Ultimately, it is the United States’ choice.

Tyler Dillon is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at tyler.has.dillon@gmail.com. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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