Commentary Magazine


U.S. Ready to Step into Syria Conflict?

Better late than never. With President Obama having run and won reelection in part on a boast of having ended the war in Iraq and being in the process of ending the one in Afghanistan, his administration is now sending out signals that it might contemplate greater intervention in the war that has been raging in Syria. A front-page New York Times article reports that various steps are under consideration, from providing Patriot-3 batteries to Turkey to providing arms directly to the rebels and even sending intelligence officers into Syria to coordinate with the opposition. Such steps are long overdue, but now that they are on the table, the administration deserves Republican support for a bipartisan effort to try to bring the killing to an end and to hasten Bashar Assad’s downfall.

Assad’s regime has already lost control of much of the north, including the territory between Aleppo and the Turkish border. It has also lost at least temporary control of various air bases right up to the outskirts of Damascus itself. It will not take much more for the rebels to establish liberated territory which they can administer, and where they can set up bases to train rebel fighters for an eventual push onto Damascus. The major obstacle standing in the way right now is Assad’s air force. Even when Assad loses control of territory, he can strike back effectively by sending out his aircraft to bomb and strafe.

The most effective way to stop him would be for the U.S. and its allies to declare a no-fly zone over Syria. Failing that, PAC-3 batteries installed in Turkey and Jordan could police the skies over northern and southern Syria. The administration has said that if Patriot batteries are provided to Turkey they would be used only for self-defense, but far more effective would be to use them to defend zones of Turkish territory along the border where civilians and rebel fighters could find refuge from Assad’s blood-thirsty minions.

Training camps set up in these areas could provide badly needed cohesion to the rebels. If Washington were to provide arms directly, rather than working through the Saudis and Qataris as is presently the case, our representatives could be sure to funnel that support to the most moderate factions, as opposed to the hard-line jihadists favored by the Gulf states.

That the administration is even contemplating such steps is a positive development. Greater U.S. involvement in Syria carries certain risks, of which we should be cognizant, but the risk of inaction is even greater–as we have already seen, with the war claiming more than 40,000 lives, and expanding outward to lap at Turkey and Israel, while inside Syria jihadists are becoming increasingly prominent.