Syria: to intervene, or not to intervene

There seemingly will be some sort of military intervention in Syria in the very near future by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in response to the suspected use of chemical weapons by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. The situation is desperate and distressing. There are inevitable and understandable calls for something to be done.

This is example of a situation where I realize that I can never be a politician, in other words to be someone who has to decide on a course of action or inaction affecting the lives of many in the most direct way possible, and in the full knowledge that people will die by making decision whichever way. I also envy those who have strongly-held views one way or the other that they can espouse with clarity and confidence, even if they are the armchair type. I think an intervention is justified in this instance. I would not oppose it. But would or could I bring myself to supporting it with enthusiasm? That is where I have not formulated a clear position. It sounds like a fudge and / or cowardice and I freely admit to both.

I am not a political or military strategist, but what I worry most is that any intervention will be episodic, in that it is merely a way to satisfy the urge and clamour to do something, and firing missiles and bombing targets would be considered as that something has been done, without considering the broader context of the conflict and without pointing towards an end to these civil and proxy wars that never seem to end. What will the intervention achieve? A military intervention is a means to achieve something, so what are the goals? What should happen to Syria? What kind of government should be there? Would or should the West commit ground forces (specialist units) to Syria? These and many other questions are unanswered and would likely remain unanswered even if the West were to intervene.

That we find ourselves in this situation is a consequence of inaction in the summer of 2013, when it seemed as if Western intervention was likely following the use of chemical weapons, but that did not materialize. Would a military intervention then have made any difference from the continuing wars in Syria? Would ISIS have managed to carve out a large territory in Syria had there been an intervention? These will be for the future historians to play what if scenarios.

In watching, listening, and reading about the situation in Syria, I feel sadness and powerlessness. The wars have gone for so long, yet I cannot see a path to peace that could satisfy the different interests that intersect in Syria. I hope I turn out to be wrong, but I doubt that intervention – were it to occur – would bring swift improvement in the situation at geopolitical and international level or at human and local level.