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Editorial: United States has no good options in Syria

Editorial staff • Aug 27, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Under increased pressure to militarily intervene in Syria, the administration should heed not only the will of the American people but informed voices.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among those arguing for U.S. involvement in yet another Mideast conflict. Says Engel: “Until we are prepared to severely diminish the (Assad) regime’s ability to inflict harm upon its own citizens and even the playing field... (the) opposition stands little chance against the regime’s scuds, tanks, and planes.”

That may be true. But even if U.S. involvement was able to bring down the Assad regime — and cruise missile strikes alone won’t do it — what then? What faction within the opposition will take over? What if the fighting simply continues, only, amid the various groups now united only by their opposition to Assad? Is there any faction that the U.S. can live with?

Americans are more opposed to Syrian intervention than they are even to Obamacare. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found only 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention in the use of chemical attack while 46 percent would oppose it.

Russia, yesterday, warned that U.S. intervention outside the approval of the U.N. Security Council would be a “very grave violation of international law.” Of course, that’s merely a stalling tactic. Even if a vote were to come before the security council anytime soon, Russia would be certain to veto it — which is why the United Nations is irrelevant to its original purposes in reacting to the world’s trouble spots.

Over the weekend, President Obama placed calls to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, apparently to build support for a coalition strike. But those nations are no more prepared than the United States to enter the Syrian civil war — perhaps much less so. It’s doubtful the U.S. will build a coalition for intervention — even Israel wants no part of Syria.

What should the administration do? Perhaps listen to its top military leader. The U.S. should not intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war because rebels battling Assad aren’t prepared to promote American interests if the tide shifts in their favor, says Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

In a letter to Congress last week, Dempsey warned against greater U.S. military involvement because while “we can destroy the Syrian Air Force,” such a step would “escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict. Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” Dempsey wrote.

“It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”

Nor will they be tomorrow.

The only conceivable U.S. intervention would be precision cruise missile strikes, and while they may damage the regime’s capabilities, they won’t end them. What is more likely to happen, says former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, is that it “would simply mobilize the most extreme elements of these factions against the U.S. and pose the danger that the conflict would spill over into the neighborhood and set Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon on fire.”

We have no good options in Syria. There is no clear endgame.

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