Syria not a Threat to U.S. Security

August 29, 2013

On Monday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned briefing about the reported chemical attacks perpetrated by the regime of Syrian President Assad and a pending U.S. response.  President Obama and his closest advisors are now determining the appropriate course of action as reports of a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean are circulating.  

However, even in the aftermath of these reported attacks, the American people are still overwhelmingly against any form of American intervention in the Syrian conflict.

The public’s disapproval of involvement in Syria does not stem from weariness over the past decade’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.   Rather, the public recognizes what leaders in Washington now do not - that after two and a half years of fighting there is still no compelling national security impetus for American military involvement in a civil war in the Middle East.  

To describe the ongoing conflict in Syria as “complicated” is an understatement.  The country is fractured along lines of centuries-old religious, ethnic, and regional rivalries that are being compounded by the presence of radical Islamist groups in the opposition and Iranian and Hezbollah fighters among President Assad’s forces.  As General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and highest ranking officer in the U.S. military stated in a letter just last week: “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather choosing one among many sides”.  

General Dempsey also warned that the opposition groups would not support American interests if they were to seize power, and cautioned about the violent power struggle that would take place after Assad is removed.  Choosing a side today would virtually guarantee American involvement in a post-Assad Syria as well.

So why after two years and an estimated 100,000 Syrians killed is there now a rush to military action?  President Obama stated in August 2012 that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the United States, without further explaining to Syria, the American people, or the world what this meant.  The reported chemical attacks now call the President’s credibility, and therefore the credibility of the United States, into question.

The situation in Syria is not an imminent threat to U.S. security, and, therefore, I do not support military intervention.   It would be a mistake for the president to circumvent Congress as he did with the Libya conflict in 2011.  Before taking action, the president should first come present his plan to Congress outlining the approach, cost, objectives, and timeline, and get authorization from Congress for his proposal.

The chemical attacks in Damascus, however terrible, do not change the nature of the conflict or ease the challenges that the United States would face if we got involved.  There are strong arguments that a limited strike into Syria could make matters worse, only encouraging Assad to use his full arsenal of weapons and drawing the United States deeper into the conflict.  

Instead, the United States should work vigorously to identify and neutralize any real threats to our national security stemming from this conflict.  We must ensure that chemical weapons in Syria do not get into the hands of groups that will use them against American or western targets.  The United States can also continue working with the international community to prevent the refugee crisis from further destabilizing the region.

The use of military force is the most serious exercise of our national sovereignty, and it should not be taken without support of Congress and the American people.   Using it in Syria for the sake of credibility is not a strong enough reason to intervene.  Until recently the President has been cautious in his approach to this situation.  I hope he will refrain from any decisions to push the United States further into this conflict, and that he makes the security interests of the United States his utmost priority.