By Valerie Wilson ’18
Recently, Congress authorized the distribution of weapons to Syrian rebels as a method of aid in the conflict with their government. The decision has generated controversy from both the right and the left, about whether it is the right step to take in the region. I personally think it leaves a lot of questions unanswered about who is on the receiving end of our help, and that there are better ways to resolve the civil war.
My main issue with the recent decision to arm Syrian rebels, and with President Obama in general, is that it is all too little, too late. He is unable to commit to anything foreign policy-related lest it turn out badly, and as a result, his second term has been mediocre at best. His inability to make decisions quickly and take risks is on full display in this halfhearted attempt at doing something about a serious conflict. American ground troops have the military might to defeat ISIS for good, but he refuses to send them lest it appear that he is leading us into yet another war in Iraq. Due to the strengthand expertise of American forces, ISIS was not a problem while we were still in Iraq, but as soon as we left, all hell broke loose and was promptly ignored nationally. The country put up blinders; it was weary of a war that it now knew was built on false intelligence. There was a diplomatic withdrawal agreement to keep with the Iraqi government, it would be incredibly unpopular to send troops back, and there were new problems to worry about like the civil war in Libya. While the country believed the new Iraqi state was viable, it was still undergoing a natural period of instability after the fall of a dictatorship. The situation worsened, the Iraqi army proved incapable of keeping order, and the country descended into chaos while we looked the other way. As a result, it seemed this year as if suddenly, a violent terrorist organization materialized out of the desert and started brutalizing innocent civilians and journalists.
Obama’s delayed action in Iraq and Syria has led to dangerous consequences today. Because these countries were ignored for so long, the situation has now worsened to the point where it can no longer be addressed simply with remote warfare as has been done in previous years. Drones and arming foreigners are easy solutions to problems in the Middle East politically; they remove America from the situation in the public mind and avoid the specter of an unpopular ground war that Obama actively campaigned against. These actions were clearly calculated after much deliberation to be the least offensive to the public mind. However, they clearly do more harm than good; drones have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the decision to arm these mysterious rebels carries its own set of complications. These fighters are untrained, and ISIS has already defeated many of them in its march across Syria. The weapons we will send will easily fall into the hands of these terrorists; all they need to do is take them from the hands of those killed in battle. Just like that, we have armed a terrorist group that wants to destroy those fighting for non-Islamist democracy and the United States itself. They could do real damage to us and those who share our ideals, which is a frightening prospect to anyone in the West.
The worst part of this decision is that we could easily avoid it with historical insight that we already have. We’ve felt the repercussions of decisions similar to Syria before. In 1980, the United States sent weapons to Afghani fighters to head off a Soviet invasion. While it seemed like a brilliant strategy for a war-weary America, the weapons and training made their way to an Islamist fundamentalist group that we would all come to know twenty years later, the Taliban. They used their newly acquired military knowledge and took over a country in ruins, turning it into a breeding ground for terrorism. Sound familiar?
Syria, however, isn’t some pawn in a zero-sum game. ISIS has brutally executed American citizens, an act of aggression against our country. Why are we not responding to these acts of war directly? It does not make sense that we refuse to get involved when Americans’ lives are at stake in hostage situations. It smacks of ineffectiveness to me. Someone has to save these people, and Obama’s refusal to allow America to do so is cowardly and reprehensible.
Sending young American men and women into battle is always a morally fraught decision. But sending troops to Syria addresses a whole different issue than the deposition of a dictator or a move in a geopolitical chess match; it’s an issue of emergency. The Syrian people are dying every day for something we believe in, and yet we refuse to help.
Democracy is an inherently attractive ideal, exemplified in the Syrian rebels currently struggling for free elections against a regime whose murder of its own people with air strikes and biochemical weapons has been well documented. These people are choosing the democratic model of government at grave personal cost. So why shouldn’t we send our own troops to help them achieve this? The rebels are quickly fatiguing. The civil conflict is Syria has been protracted and bloody. American ground troops would rip off the Band-Aid, so to speak, and quickly drive away extremist threats that now look poised to seize power and establish a theocratic dictatorship that would threaten religious and personal freedom across the entire Middle East. Indeed, they have already begun murdering rebels with the very weapons we sent to the Iraqi army, and may soon commandeer those we send to moderate Syrian freedom fighters as well.
History provides us with an easy-to-understand case study of what might happen if our weapons in Syria were to fall into the wrong hands. The current state of the Syrian problem is delicate, and must be handled carefully. However, the Obama administration and Congress need to get over their fear of another Iraq. This is not a fabricated threat or bad intelligence; this is very, very real. It’s time to cut ISIS off and eradicate them for good ourselves, before it’s too late.