August 28, 2013 9:00 am
Updated: August 28, 2013 12:59 pm

Experts weigh in: Should we intervene in Syria’s civil war?

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Watch: Ret. Major-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie joins Dawna Friesen to discuss the options for response in Syria

TORONTO – The head of the United Nations is trying to put the brakes on a rush to foreign military intervention in Syria.

Ban Ki-moon says the conflict needs a diplomatic solution, and the UN Security Council should be involved.

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READ MORE: Responsibility to Protect: Does the world have to help Syria?

Britain plans to present a UN resolution to condemn Syria for the suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians on August 21—an allegation Syria’s president Bashar Assad denies.

The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, says that any military strike “must have UN Security Council approval,” but that “any language that could be read as allowing a military strike is likely to face veto by Damascus allies Russia and China.”

READ MORE: U.S. and its allies look beyond UN in justifying Syria strike

Amid increasing signs that the United States, Britain and other Western nations are preparing a military response to the chemical attack, what role, if any, should the United States and its allies play in Syria’s civil war?

Dr. Walter Dorn from the Royal Military College told Global News’ The Morning Show because Russia and China won’t likely allow the use of military force, the U.S. would probably have to do without the Security Council sanction, “which would make the attack perhaps illegal  but maybe still moral and legitimate.”

VIDEO: Dr. Walter Dorn from the Royal Military College speaks to The Morning Show on chemical weapons in Syria (August 28)

“If you use force against the Syrian regime, you have to make sure that in the end the Syrian regime falls,” Dorn told Global News.

Opinion contributor for Politico.com, Michael O’Hanlon says the United States should retaliate against the Syrian regime as “presidential credibility is on the line.”

“Given that last year Obama called the possible use of chemical weapons a ‘red line’ — meaning that if Assad crossed the line, his action would require a fundamentally different kind of American response,” he writes.

O’Hanlon also argues that more important than Obama’s personal credibility “is the need to re-establish deterrence, so that the Syrian regime does not conclude that it has a green light to use chemical weapons even more widely.”

READ MORE: Gas attack: What chemical weapons does Syria have, and what does it do with them?

Last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told Congress that the United States must “anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”

“Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”

Conor Friedersdorf from The Atlantic agrees and says U.S. efforts to stop atrocities could even make the situation worse.

“Intervening in Syria could have catastrophic consequences for America and for the region,” he writes. “Non-intervention would pose no threat to us, and wouldn’t preclude us from alleviating suffering elsewhere on a huge scale (and with no risk of accidentally killing innocent civilians in the process).”

Friedersdorf suggests that perhaps a more “cost effective way to help people” is for the U.S. government to spend millions helping Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees wait for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (Photo credit: AP Photo)

AP Photo

“It could help pay for tsunami-warning systems across the Indian Ocean, or spend more funding the development of a malaria vaccine, or stop dumping agricultural commodities on poor countries in a way that stunts their economic development. There is no shortage of humanitarian suffering for us to address, if that’s how we want to spend our money, and I am fine with spending more of it helping people.

In his opinion piece for The New York Times, Edward N. Luttwak echoed a similar argument.

“The Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene more forcefully in Syria’s civil war,” he writes. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States.

“At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.”

A recent poll shows Americans are largely opposed to military action in Syria and few are paying close attention to the ongoing conflict.

Shortly after the Obama administration announced it would be providing military aid to anti-government forces, 70 per cent of pollsters told Pew Research Center that they “opposed sending arms and military supplied to anti-government groups in Syria.”

The poll, however, was conducted prior to the recent allegations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.

WATCH: International law expert Michael Caplan explains the  legal challenges faced in taking military action in Syria.

According to Luttwak, a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the United States and for many of its allies in Europe and the Middle East.

“That’s because extremist groups, some identified with Al Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria,” he says. “If those rebel groups manage to win, they would almost certainly try to form a government hostile to the United States. Moreover, Israel could not expect tranquility on its northern border if the jihadis were to triumph in Syria.”

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that giving into the temptation to pursue a limited punitive response to regime chemical-weapons use, rather than a campaign to achieve the administration’s stated goal of Bashar al-Assad’s removal, would be a mistake.

“Given the strategic stakes at play in Syria, which touches on every key American interest in the region, the wiser course of action is to take the opportunity of the Assad regime’s flagrant violation of global norms to take action that hastens the end of Assad’s regime.”

He further argues that Syria offers no good options, only bad and worse—and the “worst of all is victory by the Assad/Iranian/Hezbollah axis.”

“A global power thousands of miles away cannot calibrate stalemate to ensure that neither party wins; we have to prioritize the most negative outcomes and use our assets to prevent them.”

Former Special Forces officer Andrew Slater says that airstrikes alone will be “bloody and ineffective” and to “stop Assad and protect civilian life, we need Special Ops on the ground.”

READ MORE: Timeline: Syria’s uprising

“While the Syrian tanks and artillery being used against rebel strongholds are located on military bases vulnerable to U.S. air strikes, it has also deeply interspersed its military and paramilitary forces within heavily populated areas as its main effort,” he writes. “Over the last two years, the regime has shown a willingness to indiscriminately target civilians and sacrifice its own recruits, so it is a near certainty that Assad will expose his forces to make a U.S. bombing campaign as photogenically bloody as possible.”

CNN National security analyst Peter Bergen argues that “whoever ultimately prevails in this fight is hardly going to be an ally of the U.S.”

“It’s an ungodly mess that makes even Iraq in 2006 look good,” he wrote. “It is, in short, a problem from hell.”

MORE: Baird calls for discussion with opposition leaders regarding Syrian chemical attacks

Should Canada get involved, Dorn also told Global News Wednesday that the most important thing we can provide “is the flag.”

“The U.S. want international legitimacy. Having Canada onboard will be important politically.”

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