The Case For (Limited) Military Intervention in Syria

For many Americans, March 15th, 2017 will be just another day. Meanwhile, more than 6,000 miles away, Syria will officially enter its sixth year of a bloody civil war that has killed over 300,000 people, displaced millions, and physically and psychologically maimed countless Syrians. As we know all too well, the conflict has helped jumpstart the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In response to this, I believe it is imperative that the United States – soon to be led by its new Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump – intervene more directly in the Syrian Civil War.

The Big Buzz Word: Intervention

Perhaps you started reading the title of this piece and began thinking of all the reasons why intervention is is a bad idea, and you wouldn’t be in the minority; most Americans are skeptical of the general idea of intervention and an assertive global role for the U.S., rightfully so, perhaps, considering the tumultuous first decade of the 21st century.

The legacy of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is still controversial due to the civilian body counts, the trillions of dollars of debt incurred, the number of US casualties, and the apparent failure of U.S. efforts to stabilize the region, evinced through the rise of ISIS.

It doesn’t take a large logical leap to understand why many Americans today would be wary of the U.S. further inserting itself into another regional conflict thousands of miles away from the American homeland.

By no means am I an interventionist. While I come from a family that vehemently supported the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and supports a full-scale US intervention into the Syrian Civil War, I, on the other hand, believe that the United States’ insertion into many Middle East entanglements, namely Iraq, have not had the desired effect.

The United States must become more pragmatic about how and when it exercises its military might.

That being said, I originally did not support intervention in Syria at all. But then I saw the photos; images which not only shows the child victims of the Syrian Civil War in graphic and gory details, but also gave names to the usually faceless victims.

Like most Americans, I had heard and read about the bombings, the starvation of civilians, the indiscriminate targeting of civilians by the Assad Regime, and the use of illegal chemical weapons. I had seen pictures of Syrian cities like Aleppo, reduced to piles of rubble. But to actually see pictures, especially of the conflict’s youngest victims, is an entirely different thing.

If the United States of America has the capacity and the capability to act, aren’t we morally obligated to act, at least in a limited capacity?

U.S. (Limited) Intervention & Its Potential Problems

During the Vice Presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, Pence, for the most part, had a great answer for the Syria/Aleppo question. While I don’t support the latter part of his answer – which involves the U.S. gearing up for direct military action against the Assad Regime – working in tandem with our regional Arab allies to establish civilian and refugee safe zones on Syrian soil is the sensible, humanitarian action to undertake.

A U.S.-Arab force could set up refugee safe zones on the edges of Syria, under protection of American air power and soldiers from friendly Arab countries. I think if the U.S. exercised its military resources in the region properly, with great restraint, and support from Arab partners, they could help to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians. While I am voicing my support for the limited intervention of the U.S. and her regional allies into Syria on humanitarian grounds, I recognize that US intervention might not occur and is currently not feasible for two reasons:

1. Donald Trump and Mike Pence

While Vice President-elect Pence supports a limited humanitarian intervention into Syria (and possible military action against the Assad regime), his running mate does not, courtesy of his push for more isolationist US foreign policy. But of course, Trump has been shown to be flexible, so we won’t know America’s role in Syria for a while.

2. The sticky geo-political situation

The geo-politics of the Syrian Civil War have evolved from just a simple “rebels vs. regime” conflict. The rebel groups fighting Assad include not just western “moderates,” but also radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. Unfortunately, the Syrian Civil War has also become a proxy war between the Arab Gulf States and Iran. At the same time, the Assad Regime is receiving Russian support, both politically and militarily. Politically, Russia has helped stall U.S. and western efforts to end the Syrian conflict in the United Nations; militarily, the presence of Russian troops and Russian air power in Syria  exponentially increases the risk of confrontation, deterring a hypothetical US intervention.


According to a poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, most Americans currently support limited solely military action. But, what if the U.S. engaged in limited military intervention with humanitarian objectives laid out in mind, per the suggestions of Vice President-elect Pence? Time will only tell. Right now, we can only wait and hope that the conflict ends very soon.

About Peter Chan

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Peter Chan currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is a junior at Florida State University studying Economics and Political Science (Go 'Noles!) Peter is deeply committed to the Liberty movement, illustrated by his involvement with College Libertarians, Students for Liberty, and the American Enterprise Institute. When he's not railing against big government, Peter can be found relaxing with a cup of tea and a book or plotting world domination on Civilization V. Follow him on Twitter: @ChineseCon