In Defense of Intervention

By Ben Kinney

“I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad … [that] the use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable … if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons … you will be held accountable,” President Obama stated last December. However, while Secretary Kerry has now confirmed that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad unleashed Sarin gas in a Damascus suburb, the Obama Administration has continued to timidly avoid a military intervention. President Obama holds the constitutional power to initiate a military intervention without congressional approval, as demonstrated by 2011’s Libyan intervention. However, with five battleships in the Mediterranean poised to strike key Syrian targets last week, Obama deferred the decision of intervention to Congress and further postponed direct involvement. America’s diplomatic and military history of interventionism has garnered extreme criticism in the post-Reagan decades; even the traditionally interventionist Republican Party is now divided between so-called war-hawks and a growing isolationist contingent. Liberals and conservatives alike seem increasingly willing to ignore the masses of dying Syrian civilians as a ‘distant problem’ rather than pursue another Middle Eastern intervention.

American isolationists view foreign wars as tremendous wastes of money and life that inevitably hurt our position in the international community. Advocates of intervention in Syria claim that with our military and political power, we have a moral obligation to end violence and remove human rights-abusing leaders. As a libertarian proponent of domestic and economic non-interventionism, I am more inclined to join the first camp. But although politicians lead us to think otherwise, no political issue is this black-and-white. As I argued in an opinion piece last Spring, while not an obligation by any means, we, as the world’s most powerful nation, do have a moral imperative to prevent mass human suffering. However, the United States cannot afford to be ‘humanity’s protector,’ intervening wherever human rights abuses occur. Intervention in foreign conflicts is only warranted when perceptible benefits to American political and economic interests accompany clear moral grounds for our involvement. While al-Assad’s removal from power through an American military intervention would certainly protect the Syrian population from further attack, an American-led military intervention is also in our best interest as Americans.

Without Western intervention, al-Assad has proven himself capable of maintaining power at the cost of his citizenry, the largely liberal Free Syrian Army has increasingly turned towards al-Qaeda and other Islamist networks for weaponry, and Syrian socio-politics has collapsed into anarchy. These are all unacceptable trends. Moreover, the al-Assad regime has never been friendly to the West and remains one of Iran’s closest allies, al-Assad’s military has killed well over 100,000 civilians, and continued Alawi minority rule ensures a continuation of Syria’s new sectarian conflict. Clearly, regime change in Syria is in everyone’s best interest. If the Syrian opposition manages to oust al-Assad without Western intervention, they will almost certainly establish an Islamist, anti-Western, anti-Israel regime friendly to al-Qaeda due to the growing power of terrorist groups over the Free Syrian Army. Finally, if the Syrian state continues to devolve into anarchy, refugees will continue pouring into Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq by the millions, threatening to throw the entire region into socio-political mayhem. To say that our choice of action or inaction regarding Syria will determine the future stability of the Middle East as a whole is no understatement. If we can arm the Free Syrian Army, oust al-Assad, and aid a new Syrian government in removing Islamist terrorist factions from the state, then even if we do not gain an ally, we will weaken Iran, protect Israel, and ensure relative regional peace.

While NATO’s intervention in Libya is largely viewed as a successful intervention off which the Obama administration should model any future Syrian military action, the Libyan economy’s struggle to rebuild under a largely ineffective transitional government has greatly impacted Western oil prices. Economically, our intervention in Syria will be far less taxing considering that we currently embargo trade with Syria. Furthermore, while military action is traditionally good for our economy, the ousting of al-Assad from power will alleviate the current strains on Syrian infrastructure, strengthening rather than weakening the Syrian economy. Although military intervention is certainly an expensive option, our action now will come at far less a cost than the price of maintaining regional stability should sectarian violence, mass displacement, socio-economic chaos, terrorist networking and chemical weapons stockpiling be allowed to continue. In our globalized and interconnected world, the potential destabilization of the Middle East greatly threatens American economics and security. Obviously, the humanitarian crisis and civilian slaughter in Syria is horrific and should be stopped, but it is our grave self-interest in the outcome of this Syrian conflict that must turn justification for our intervention into a necessity for American military action.