To intervene or not to intervene. (That is the question.)

I’ve generally withheld my opinion on US involvement in Syria for mostly this reason: How can government officials support American intervention if it’s done “narrowly,” but claim they don’t want to actually be involved in regime change? How does that even make sense?

This is exactly why intervention in the Middle East and the Maghreb/North Africa has been such a debacle. We aren’t even sure how much we *want* to be involved, and we certainly don’t want to be dragged into another decade(s) long conflict. Not that I blame members of Congress for caution; certainly in the face of mixed international support, it makes perfect sense. In many ways, the US is the boy who cried wolf when it comes to Arab countries. (Check out Rachel Maddow’s thoughts on the Iraq War Architects weighing in on Syria.) We burned ourselves with Iraq, selling ourselves and the rest of the world a false bill of goods, and it hasn’t done anyone much good. Now when intervention seems to actually be more appropriate, we’re gun-shy and so is everybody else (except the trigger happy people, of course).

I get that this is a very multifaceted issue, and generally I’m of the mind that action is better than inaction; I think in the case with Assad, something needs to be done to turn the tide, or at least “level the playing field,” as a friend put it. Certainly we’ve ignored too many international atrocities and I don’t fancy adding to the list. But these half-hearted attempts at “helping” people in other countries just become confusing. You either are involved in overthrowing a government, or you’re not. And you have to be ready to deal with those repercussions. Look at Egypt where a power vacuum has resulted in military control of the country and the violence has never stopped. People in Iraq right now miss Saddam Hussein. They say things like, “You know, he really wasn’t that bad. It was mostly his sons.” And while I can’t say I agree with them, the benefit of being a dictator is that he kept civil war at bay by being an equal opportunity oppressor.

I just think the idea that there is a middle ground on this is a faulty premise on which we base most of our actions–from nation building and spreading democracy in the Nineveh Plains to the Arab Spring and all the hope it was bringing to Western countries. “They’ll love us for breaking their bonds! These young people will throw off their shackles and toss out the old regimes, and we’ll have international cooperation!” It turned out exactly that way, didn’t it?

“So what is to be achieved by a US strike on Syrian targets, which Obama has already assured the world is not meant to change the Syrian regime? It will not stop the civil war. But even one missile would turn the US into a direct participant, provoking yet more violence. Saving Obama’s honor hardly seems worth that risk.” – Ian Buruma (

Whatever action we take, we’ll be criticized. That doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing. (Don’t get me started on how the “Never again,” mantra never seems to work when it comes to humanitarian crises, and how the Pope may as well be just another talking head thanks to all the help the Vatican has provided for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and around the world.) But can the people in our government at least acknowledge, to themselves if not to me, that a “narrow scope” of intervention is direct involvement. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, Congress.


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About Mariam Pera

Writer. Editor. Political news junkie. Chicago sports fanatic. Pop culture enthusiast. Victim of fangirl tendencies.

3 responses to “To intervene or not to intervene. (That is the question.)”

  1. JF Owen says :

    I guess that I have a couple of comments. First, I agree with what you said in the last paragraph. No matter what we do, we will be criticized. If we take unilateral action, or action with only France participating, then we will be labeled aggressive war mongering imperialists. If we don’t take action we’ll, sooner or later, be labeled uncaring, callous and oblivious to the plight of innocent and oppressed people. There’s nothing new about that situation; the United States has been dealing with that since the Korean War.

    Second, I’ve listened to a number of the congressional opponents who oppose intervention as they, time and time again, cite Iraq and the mistaken information concerning WMDs. Point taken and one that shouldn’t be forgotten. However, just because a mistake was made once isn’t a reason to never take an action again. If you forget to look both ways before crossing a street and get hit by a car, does that mean you never cross a street again? Hopefully not. Ideally the lesson you learn isn’t that crossing streets is bad. Rather, the lesson learned should be to remember to look both ways before you step off the curb.

    This is a difficult decision. In a perfect world, the United Nations would step up to the plate and issue resolutions to:

    1) Freeze the assets of the Assad regime and limit their travel.
    2) Authorize member states to create a no fly zone to protect civilians.
    3) Block further arms sales to the Syrian government.
    4) Attempt to limit the infiltration of the legitimate rebel ranks by Al Qeada extremists.

    That worked in Libya, it’ll work here too.

    I’m not holding my breath for UN intervention, especially as long as Russia continues to support Assad. Given that, strategic air strikes on confirmed military targets seems to be the best humanitarian option we have. However, if we go that way we need to proceed with our eyes open, have a defined goal and have an exit strategy. In other words, we need to look both ways before we step off the curb.

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