Now we find ourselves in 2013 and once more an administration is threatening an armed intervention in the middle east and pointing to NBC weapons as the casus belli. The usual players have come out, and, for the most part, the support breaks down on party lines. What I find amusing is the lengths that each group will go to justify their support or lack there of. Listening to the Mike Church program this morning he had a guest (not sure who it was) that was saying that he cannot support going into Syria for two reasons. One is that we would be fighting for Al Qaeda, and the second is that its a purely civil war that has no impact upon US interests. He was wrong on both accounts. On the first (that we would be fighting for Al Qaeda he makes the error that assisting the Free Syrian Army in the South (who started this fight) would benefit the more recent rebels in the north of Syria who have backing from Al Qaeda. While this is true in a short term sense...a longer view would show us that allowing the conflict to continue and expand has a high probablity of allowing the rebels in Aleppo to gain a foothold that can lead to more destabilization in the future. On the second, US interests, he is also incorrect. For one, Syria borders our most reliable ally in the region as well as bordering Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon (all of which we have an interest in). Syria also has ports on the Mediteranean Sea and is a close client of an increasingly hostile Russia.
Which brings me to the second interesting aspect of the Syria conflict...under what circumstances is the US justified in intervening? Currently there are three reasons that the US should intervene in Syria of varying levels of importance.
The first, and perhaps most important reason, is that the world community has, since 1918, placed a severe stigma on the use of chemical weapons. While the record of punishment for these uses has been spotty at times...one reason that we do not see this happen much more often is that governments that make use of such weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention is the governing body for the worldwide control of chemical weapons. It is noted that Syria is not a signatory of this convention, but is a member of the Geneva Protocol on checmical weapons which applies to both international and internal use. Of course, as with all such international agreements they are worth the paper they are written on if the signatories are not willing to enforce the provisions. If the international community does not want to enforce the treaties that they have created, then why create them? If we, meaning the world community, is serious about prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, then intervention in Syria is indicated by some group. The US, The UN, NATO, the Arab League...it really doesn't matter who does it, but it must be done.
The second reason is that our interests are at risk here. Syria and Israel have gone to war multiple times since 1948. Lebanon, as a Syrian client state via Hezbollah, most recently fought Israel in 2006. Jordan is another strong ally of ours in the region, and Turkey is a member of NATO and the rebels in Aleppo are quite close to that area. Not to mention that Syrian also borders Iraq and continues to be a client both of Russian and Iran. We can pretend that none of that matters to us, but since stability in the region is both a short and long term goal fo the US, pretending that our ignoring this problem will not hurt us is shortsighted at best.
The third reason that we should intervene is because out President set conditions for that intervention. When President Obama told the press a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line that Syria could not cross he committed the US to intervention if that line was crossed. It has been, and now we face the stark choice of drawing another red line and thus losing significant credibility. Think of a parent who tells their child "No, you can't do that or you will get in trouble" and then when they do that...they don't punish them but instead say "next time you will get in trouble". When that happens, eventually the child ignores the parent and the parent has lost their ability to discipline the child. We may not like the fact that we placed that red line down...but backing off from that would be detrimental to our reputation as a country.