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Posted Jun 10, 2013, 3:12 pm
Our five-term senator, John McCain, has been a key advocate for an enhanced U.S. role in Syria. His case for greater involvement largely revolves around two arguments. First, that U.S. credibility is on the line and, second, that American national security interests are increasingly jeopardized the longer the U.S. remains aloof from the events in Syria.
However, the senator's case does not hold water. Not only is he mistaken in his arguments for intervention, but, more fundamentally, he is mistaken as to what justifies a military intervention. Concepts like "credibility" and "national security interests" should never be allowed to justify military action, for their amorphous meanings can be used to justify military action anywhere and at any time.
Instead, the criterion a proposal for the use of force should meet is to persuasively show that American military action will help bring enduring peace and stability to the intervened country. On this count, the senator has yet to present a persuasive argument.
Instead, he seeks to win support for intervention employing arguments that rest on the ill-defined concepts mentioned above. Nevertheless, even using these flawed justifications for intervention, the senator falls short in demonstrating the need for greater U.S. involvement.
Sen. McCain points to the dangers of inaction and how this could bring about perilous regional instability jeopardizing American security interests. Nonetheless, the senator fails to consider the fact that greater American involvement could instigate regional instability far greater than that of American inaction. Left unanswered by McCain is what U.S. policy consists of once Syrian dictator Bashar al'Assad is gone and the second act of violent struggle erupts for control of post-Assad Syria. This is a highly troubling omission, as it is in this stage where American military intervention will likely prolong the crisis and, as a result, increase regional instability far more than had the U.S. remained uninvolved.
Upon the downfall of Assad, the second act of violence in Syria is likely to be long and more violent than what has taken place thus far. By arming groups, like the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. will equip them with better means to fight both Assad and, later, their salafist counterparts should Assad fall. But by doing this the U.S. will also strip them of legitimacy in the eyes of many in Syria, especially the Sunni community. Groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra, will find success in portraying Syrian secularists as mere pawns for "the West's war with Islam", which will make salafist groups stronger while making coalition-building between secular groups and more moderate Sunni religious groups harder to come by.
It is through this likely byproduct of greater American involvement that violence in Syria is actually prolonged heightening the chances that instability could spread to the region as a whole.
A second argument made by McCain is that U.S. credibility will be damaged if it does nothing. However, military interventions can also severely damage a country's credibility if it is seen as failing to end the violence and ushering in robust stability. This is what is likely to take place should the U.S. take on greater involvement in Syria. Caught in yet another prolonged conflict in the Middle East where human rights violations take place on both sides, U.S. credibility will be far from strengthened by intervening.
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The call for the U.S. to start arming rebels in Syria will become louder in the weeks and months ahead. It will be critical for the public to confront these calls by Sen. McCain and others by pointing out the flawed thinking that will lead us on yet another mistaken policy abroad.