Intervention in Syria, but what comes next?
By Julian Weiss, Opinions Editor
President Obama’s intervention in Syria and Iraq to defeat ISIS could be the beginning of a long overdue shift towards peace in Syria. The conflict is now comparable in length to the First World War, has claimed the lives of nearly two hundred thousand people, and has displaced more than nine million out of a population of little over twenty million. America’s long-term strategy in the conflict has been patiently waiting until both sides are willing to come to the table for an agreement. This strategy has led to a power vacuum which was filled by ISIS and other Al Qaeda-like groups, demanding the current intervention led by the United States and militarily supported by both Arab allies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain and reportedly 34 other states. What comes next will determine if the current intervention is a continuation of the previous failing strategy, or representative of a change in strategic thinking in Washington, which may actually lead to the end of the Syrian Civil War.
The three-year commitment by the White House in the conflict certainly represents a shift in thinking from its previous strategy not just in Syria but elsewhere of quick intervention with little follow-up. In Libya, NATO helped overthrow the Qaddafi Regime, but left the nation without the institutions to properly reconstruct a state, much less a democratic state. The military campaign was a massive success, just as the previous American campaign in the Middle East toppling Saddam Hussein. It was the lack of commitment to helping build institutions that led to the current strife in Libya and Iraq. A three year commitment shows that the United States is not only interested in bringing ISIS to an end, but also in ending the conflict altogether; whether this means arming moderate rebels to combat the Syrian Regime or continuing to seek a political solution without any significant change on the ground remains to be seen.
One of the most important aspects of this intervention is that it shows the understanding in Washington that conflict breeds extremist groups. When ISIS moved into Mosul in June, there was a push to rectify the situation
in Iraq, but there was little talk of ISIS’s massive presence in Syria and how its bases in Syria provided the means for its Iraqi invasion. Although the mission of the intervention is to defeat ISIS and thus protect deep American investments in Iraq, the fact that Syria is being targeted at all is evidence that conflict on that scale is an unacceptable threat to American interests.
With a broad coalition of partners and an international understanding that conflict in Syria will continue to cause problems regionally and internationally, there may be a significant enough push after the initial dismantlement of ISIS to bring an end to the Syrian Civil War. For this to happen, the Syrian Regime will have to be a bad enough state so as to keep Assad out of negotiations and move towards a democratic system of governance. Arming the moderate rebels is a key step in such a strategy, but having an international commitment to creating governmental institutions and supporting a fledgling democracy through aid are just as important as the strikes themselves.