As the brutal attacks by the Syrian army on its own people continue, the world outcry for the United States — the perennial police officer of the world — to “do something” intensifies.
Some say we should arm the Syrian rebels — whomever they may be.
Others say we should bomb the Syrian army, much like NATO did to the Serbs during the Kosovo war.
The Friends of Syria nations, who met last week in Tunis, prefer to call for a cease-fire to be followed by a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Still others say a corridor into Syria for humanitarian aid may be the best we can hope for just now.
None of these options is good. All could trigger unwanted consequences.
Humanitarian grounds are the most valid reason to act. In fact, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, last week, cited the “urgent need for international humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria.”
But who would police a humanitarian aid corridor? Boots on the ground would be needed, and the owners of those boots could end up as Syrian targets. If they’re attacked, the fighting could escalate.
Arming the rebels sounds good, but as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week, small arms can do little against Syrian tanks and artillery.
And a U.S. airstrike could have disastrous consequences for Israel. Hezbollah, acting on Iran’s orders, could retaliate by attacking the Jewish state. Iran itself, an ally of Syria, could hit U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf — a move that would certainly draw U.S. forces into the fighting.
By the way, it is perfectly legitimate for the United States to consider how its actions in Syria could affect Israel, its only real ally in the region.
Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, who supports U.S. intervention and has advocated airstrikes, has also suggested the United States could recognize the exiled Syrian National Council “with some moral clarity” as that country’s legitimate government.
But he’s not clear on who the SNC is and what they believe. This much we do know: Hamas leaders are backing the opposition, so whatever the SNC is, it probably won’t be any better for Israel than the Assad regime, and could be much worse. It could even usher in an Islamist regime in Syria.
Finally, let’s not forget the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost some 7,000 deaths among coalition forces, have carried substantial consequences for the U.S. and world economies. Now that a recovery is taking root, another conflict could plow it under. We know, humanitarian interests trump economic interests. Even so, they must be considered.
Intervening in Syria may yet be proven the correct course of action, but the current options on the table are bitter medicine to swallow. Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs at the Plowshares Fund, and a regular contributor to the Chronicle, told CBS News last week that stopping the violence in Syria may be possible only when Russia and China, which have blocked action at the United Nations, finally get on board.
Sad to say, he may be right.