The Consequences of American Inaction in Syria
One of the fundamental arguments made by the Republican Party throughout the 2016 presidential elections was to denounce then-president Barack Obama’s failure to comply with his own “red-line” policy regarding the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria.
Therefore, President Donald Trump is now at a crossroads. He can either differentiate his foreign policy from that of his predecessor or he can make the same mistake.
The White House, within the next day or two, must take decisive action in Syria or it will face severe consequences. These consequences will be felt by the entire international community and will most likely lead to the failure of other American policies in the world.
The first and most immediate of these consequences will be the political repercussions that the Republican party will face in the United States.
Democrats will use the opportunity to say that President Trump is passively and willingly allowing Putin to dictate the outcome of Syria’s civil war, and the intended or unintended weakness displayed in Syria will come back to haunt Trump as he prepares to run for reelection in 2020.
Trump’s use of Twitter as policy-making is binding him to act on his “price to pay” comments regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons. If Trump does nothing, it will be used as a clear comparison to Obama’s failure to act on his own red-line policy.
Secondly, if the United States continues with a strategy of retreat in Syria, Iran will only be emboldened to further infiltrate the Golan and Southern Lebanon. Israel, left to fend for itself, will continue to deal with a Saudi Arabia that remains hesitant to use force against the rising Shia influence in the region and might therefore act unilaterally in the form of airstrikes. This will only increase tensions in the Levant and possibly spark a third round of fighting with Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy.
The United States must seek to push back the growth of the Tehran-Damascus Shia axis, which is determined to bring more chaos and instability to a region that is already dealing with intractable conflicts.
Lastly, the growth of global terrorism will become imminent if the United States withdraws completely from Syria. Sunni and Shia radicalism will quickly find its way back to the region, and will continue to export terror — as we saw in 2015. ISIS and Al Qaeda will continue to operate and indoctrinate local and foreign populations, leading to a renewed wave of lone-wolf terror attacks.
The progress that the US has made in engaging ISIS in the past six months will have lost its relevance in deterring the growth of regional and international terror. State-sponsored terrorism, as displayed by Assad and Iran, will be appeased and the consequences could be disastrous for other Trump foreign policy goals, such as the denuclearization of North Korea or an effective trade war against China.
The United States cannot allow itself to appease or forgive Assad’s use of chemical weapons while it seeks to repair the damage that President Obama caused in the international community. Yes, President Trump is now dealing with the mistakes of his predecessor, but he must take decisive and aggressive action against Russia and Iran.
Israel must be comforted and strengthened through a clear American presence in the region, which will allow the Jewish state to take less unilateral actions that could lead to dangerous escalations. Parallel to this, the United States must seek a strategy of coalition-building with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan in order to increase deterrence against Turkey and Iran.
This issue goes beyond party lines and positions on the political spectrum. Whether you are a humanist, economist, or Zionist, American military involvement must be encouraged. Failure to do so will lead to further instability and civilian casualties.
For those who believe that Israel is using the Syrian war to deflect from the Palestinian conflict, I would urge you to consider that since 2011 over 3,600 Palestinians in Syria have been brutally massacred by the ruling regime. It is time to solve the true obstacle to peace in the region and not get lost in what are, proportionally, petty differences.
The US must finally push the United Nations to move beyond its lop-sided condemnations of Israel and address the true atrocities happening in Syria.
Jonathan Michanie is a former IDF paratrooper and has an MA in Diplomacy and International Security from IDC Hertzliya. Follow him on Twitter @jmich019.