By Cory Herro
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, herein referred to as Daesh, made its boldest statement on Friday, November 14th when it organized and executed terrorist attacks in Paris, France. The attacks were coordinated in six locations, including a theater, the Stade de France, and several restaurants. 129 people were murdered and 352 injured according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins. America should increase its military efforts, specifically among Special Forces operations, in Syria.
There are people that celebrate this evil as a success, as an achievement. While Daesh takes pride in their attacks, Russians, Parisians, Egyptians, Yemenis, and Lebanese attempt to recover. Thousands of Syrians flee for their lives daily to escape a criminal Syrian regime and a coalition of terrorist groups under Daesh. Daesh attacks have gained increasing notoriety since 2011. This manifestation of hatred and the perversion of Islam must be destroyed. As our President stated, “this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share,” and America has to stand with these countries beyond bombings and impractical no-fly zones.
We are already directly involved in Northern Iraq and Syria. Although the American ‘train-and-equip’ program has failed, U.S. Special Forces still support and assist moderate Syrian forces, Iraqi forces, and Peshmurga (Kurdish) forces. The U.S. is coordinating an operations center in Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and plans to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan.
Defense Press Secretary Peter Cook has stated several times that the U.S. is not directly involved in the Syrian Civil War and White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said the U.S. has “no intention of long-term ground combat” in Iraq, yet an American life was lost on a mission to raid a prison in October and troops have never left Afghanistan and Iraq. Claiming that the U.S. is not involved when we are will only damage national security and lose the trust of our allies. Now, President Obama’s senior national security advisers have recommended increasing the military presence in Syria.
The greatest call to arms is not out of fear and it is not out of disrespect for religion; it is out of our obligation to respond to the protracted humanitarian crisis in Syria. The evidence is clear. More than 10,000 individuals have been killed in the custody of Assad’s regime over the period of 2011 to 2013. A former Syrian military photographer, known as “Caesar,” escaped Syria with close to 27,000 photographs depicted the mutilation and systematic killing of Syrians by the Assad regime. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said that “the gruesome images-indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread, and industrial killing.” Internationally-renowned war crime prosecutors and forensic experts have found “direct evidence” of systematic torture and killing. Their report found that only 5% of images of bodies showed no apparent evidence of either injury or emaciation while 65% of the images did. Additionally, Assad continues to barrel bomb Syrian citizens. Domestically, when it comes to social issues, we often use the phrase “wrong side of history” as rhetoric against those who stand in the way of progress. Not informing ourselves as a nation and not directly committing further to fighting evil, as there is no religious or humane justification to be made for Assad or Daesh, will establish us on the “wrong side of history.”
There is a risk of excessive American entanglement in Syria. Toppling Assad could pass power to a fractured rebel force. With Assad’s stores of chemical weapons, the U.S. may be wading into a post-conflict insurgency of revenge killings and reprisal-seeking armies of Assad, backed by his Alawite sect. Also, Syrian intervention could become proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia and China. Alternatively, removing a regime that has actively funded and harbored terrorist activities in Syria could further isolate Iran and weaken Hezbollah. Additional sanctions, clandestine intelligence support for the opposition and continuing business as usual is not enough from the United States. We need to continue intervention in Syria to combat the symbiotic relationship between Daesh and the Assad regime with an increased Special Forces effort and increased communication between the U.S. and the Syrian National Council.
The consistent spreading attacks on allied countries, the disgraceful distortion of Islam, the systematic killing of 11,000 Syrian citizens, the destructive force and serious threat of Daesh, the millions of refugees fleeing to Europe, and the lack of any significant results produced from the bombings have stacked up against the U.S. attempt to lead from behind. Daesh released another video today threatening European countries, several American states and Washington D.C. After the attack on Friday and the threat today, does anyone in the connected world believe in the potential of Syrian peace talks?
Contact James Stephens at james214 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Putin is ramping up airstrikes in Syria to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad combat U.S.-backed Sunni rebel groups and ISIS, hereafter referred to as Daesh. Some are calling for increased U.S. military operations in Syria. This is not the way to react. Rather, the U.S. should continue business as usual in Syria. This means no more ground troops than the 50 that Obama plans to send; this means continued peace talks in Vienna.
If the U.S. intervenes, it risks a proxy war with Russia, China, and Iran. Military escalation with these powers is of little benefit to the United States, as good relations between the West and Russia and China are crucial for international peace and security. The U.S. can ill afford to strain these relations by engaging in yet another East-West proxy war in the Middle East.
Simply overthrowing the Assad regime would not stabilize the region. Let’s say the U.S. and Saudi Arabia backs a Sunni government to replace Assad. It’s unlikely a Saudi-backed regime would reduce violence. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in 2009, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Furthermore, imagine how this move would infuriate Shiite Iran; backed by Russia, Iran would likely react with war. Lastly, such a regime change does little to stop Daesh from terrorizing the region, since Assad’s forces are already fighting Daesh.
The U.S. should reserve military intervention as a last resort. So far the U.S. has not yet availed itself of political solutions, so serious military intervention should not be on the table. Critics will charge that negotiations haven’t gotten us any closer to peace in Syria in the last 4 years of civil war. But it’s unlikely a full-scale intervention and overthrow of Assad (in the style of Iraq, 2003) would have gotten us peace in the region, either. Moving forward, the U.S. should focus on peace talks and humanitarian aid to refugees rather than military intervention.
There are reasons to be optimistic about Syrian peace talks. It seems all parties seem more willing to compromise now than in the past. Putin, facing pressure from his war-weary constituency, likely understands the political consequences of getting bogged down in Syria. The new Russian peace plan illustrates Putin’s willingness to negotiate and compromise. Whereas Russia used to designate as terrorists all rebel groups opposed to Assad, its new peace plan makes distinctions. It asks diplomats meeting in Vienna to draft two lists, one designating terrorist organizations and the other designating legitimate opposition groups that can engage in peace talks.
As Russia softens, so can the U.S. As an acceptable bargaining chip, the United States can relax its demand that Assad be removed from power. As British Prime Minister David Cameron said just yesterday, the West should compromise with Russia to end the Syrian civil war.
Perhaps the greatest beacon of hope for Syrian peace talks is the recent success of the Iran nuclear negotiations, which took place among nearly all the parties necessary for successful Syrian peace negotiations.
My final point regards the opportunity cost of supplying weapons to and training rebels. Just last month, the Obama administration shut down the Pentagon’s $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels. The program was a failure, and the Obama administration has since said that it will use the money to equip rebel groups already engaged in battle.
Meanwhile, UN agencies are reportedly “broke and failing” in the face of the refugee crisis. I wonder whether supplying weapons to Syrian rebels is the best way to achieve stability in the region when this money can be spent rather on humanitarian aid.
The United States has too many options — promising ones, at that — to risk sending more special forces to Syria. For now, we should see how those options play out, lest we add more violence to Syria and spoil crucial relations with Russia, China, and Iran.
Contact Cory Herro at cherro ‘at’ stanford.edu.