08/08/2012 09:10 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2012

Revolution Redux

Why the US and Its Allies Need to Stay Away From Syria

Syria, A Nation Riddled With Strife

As major battles tear Syria's most populous city apart and evidence emerges of humanitarian crimes dealt by both sides of the conflict, the world turns its eyes to the United States with the question, "Will you intervene?"

For months, the US State Department and Arab League have firmly requested Syrian president Bashar al-Assad implement the UN's six-point peace plan and reconcile differences with his constituents. However, due to Assad's clear refusal to partake in peaceful reconciliation, almost all political missions have been withdrawn from Syria and diplomatic discourse has devolved into conflict.

However, this conflict has proved at times to be one-sided; while rebel forces rely on improvised explosives and decades-old assault weapons, the Syrian government controls a massive arsenal consisting of hundreds of chemical weapons, numerous Scud missiles and modern Russian arms. [] It is suspected by many that al-Assad has and will use these devastating devices against his people.
Furthermore, it has been evidenced that certain sects of the Syrian army have been involved in monstrous crimes. According to UN reports, children as young as 10 have been "tortured to admit that older male members of their family are Free Syrian Army soldiers or supporters," and countless infants have been slaughtered in mass executions.

Brutality From Both Sides of the Fight

Though the al-Assad regime has clearly committed atrocities beyond reproach, it would be unfair to downplay the rebels' violence to support foreign military intervention. Unrestrained brutality has poisoned the original populist cause of the revolution. In one such instance, Syrian rebels in Qadisiyah derailed a commercial train, killing three civilians and injuring numerous others.

Evidently, the violence is beginning to spiral into a bloody frenzy in which neither side can be labeled as "right" or "wrong." The democratized world, as it so often does, attempts to play the role of god in such a situation by labeling sides; however it is becoming apparent that this revolution is not a war between angels and demons, but rather -- amongst people.

Do We Want Another "Endless Military Operation"?

The same Western powers that denounce Russia and China for their continuing support of Assad's government are unsure of their positions on military intervention. As Nikolas van Dam, former Dutch ambassador to Iraq, stated, "[Western powers] are only too aware of the negative implications of yet another huge and seemingly endless military operation."

The United States especially should (painfully) recall the billions of lost dollars, millions of refugees and hundreds of armed militias that were the products of its engagement in Iraq.

As always, though, the U.S. and its fellow democratic standard-bearers feel "morally obliged to act." Unfortunately, the charitable attitudes of these leaders are often characterized by an overzealous desire to fight first and plan second; their insistence on "doing something" often causes these leaders to overlook the almost inevitably devastating outcomes of intervention.
For example, as a dictator inflicts death and suffering on his own people, the violence that transpires is on his hands. However, once an outside state intervenes, it is forced to share in the responsibility that comes with casualties. As casualties persist, the virtues that intervention may have been based upon become hazy and difficult to abide by. The "good guy" image is often impossible to retain in the midst of revolutionary turmoil, as the United States ascertained during its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What Happens After the War?

And what happens after the violence ends? Do the "good guys" just pack up their bags and leave the nation to its own mechanisms? Of course that's not an option. As Maria Lipman, editor at the Carnegie Center, stated, "The moral urge to act is countervailed by the moral responsibility for the consequences." The intervening countries now have a "moral responsibility" for the infrastructure, peoples and social structures that they had roles in destroying.

Furthermore, when foreign nations do play a controlling role in guiding post-conflict peoples towards reconstruction, they often cause more harm than good. They simply don't have the necessary cultural and social understanding of the region to effect beneficial change.

In Iraq, for example, the United States implanted an executive government divided equally among religious and cultural sects. This system, which seemed to be an intelligent move towards universal tolerance in the nation, ultimately became the cause of countless political and military conflicts, as majorities were underrepresented and minorities were overrepresented. Similar mistakes that are so obviously harmful in hindsight are characteristic of post-intervention Western actions.

Thus, foreign nations considering intervention in Syria have a pressing dilemma to answer: After violence ends, do we exit the nation and leave it to deal with its own problems, or stay and risk bogging ourselves down in a state that we can't properly assist? Overcoming Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebuilding a nation will be a near impossible task for the Syrian people, but outside intervention will only perpetuate these hardships.