The USA’s Stance on Syria

Published on Strategy International on 12 July 2012 as part of the research programme US Foreign and Security Policy.Click here to view full report.

The atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its citizens since the beginning of the Syrian revolts are unquestionable and the possibility of an intervention by the international community has been widely discussed. However, despite the fact that the Uprising and the way it has been dealt by the Syrian regime turns out to become one of the worst civil wars in the Middle East’s recent history,  no successful action has been taken so far. In this article I will examine the stance that the United States have held concerning the Syrian Uprising mostly focusing on recent developments. However, I will not focus on the US – Syrian Relations in general it but I will try to look at the rationale behind the USA’s stance during the Syrian Uprisings. Last but not least, neither will I seek to answer whether it is right or wrong for the international community to intervene in Syria nor will I present the pro and anti-intervention arguments.

To begin with, the main argument that I make is that the United States will not intervene in Syria in the near future. The main reason that the USA will not attempt any kind of an intervention any time soon is very simple; they don’t want to repeat past mistakes especially when the presidential elections are only a few months away. I have divided Obama’s rationale in two categories; “the past mistakes rationale” and “the election period rationale”.

The Past mistakes rationale:

Barack Obama does not want to be George W. Bush. When Barack Obama became president, he inherited two wars from his predecessor. However, even before his election it was obvious that Obama prefers soft power or even smart power policies, rather than hard power as George W. Bush. At the course of his term he achieved one of his main foreign policy goals, the end of the war in Iraq. Furthermore, the end of the war in Afghanistan is in his future agenda. Both wars have cost a lot to the United States and not only in economic terms which means that Barack Obama is not willing to repeat any past mistakes. The most notable example for the low profile strategy that the Obama administration tries to follow is the intervention in Libya. At the beginning the Obama administration was unwilling to take any clear position and reluctant to take full responsibility of an intervention rather, they chose to be part of a NATO coalition.

In contrast to Libya though, Syria is different and the US president cannot ignore it or keep quiet about it. Yet, despite that the option of a humanitarian intervention has been widely discussed, a legitimate intervention will not be possible without the UN Security Council authorization. Nevertheless, the Security Council has failed to come to an agreement that would guarantee the change of the Syrian regime. The main opponents of an intervention are Russia and China which both have vital interests in the country. On the one hand Russia is Syria’s main arms supplier and on the other, the regime is one of China’s biggest importers. That means that in case of an intervention Russia and China will probably lose one of their best and most loyal clients. Although it is obvious that both countries will not agree in any proposal concerning a regime change in Syria, the US president, despite the probable negative outcome, has sought to convince Russia to participate in a viable plan that will lead the change of the Syrian regime. Obama’s stance so far has shown that he is willing to proceed to a regime change in Syria, however, he will not seek to do it unilaterally, rather he would either prefer a “Libyan style” intervention, where the USA kept a low profile, or an orderly regime change.

The election period rationale:

Too much to lose. In polls conducted by the New York Times and CBS in March 2012, the support over the Afghanistan war was sharply decreased both among Democrats and Republicans. That was not big surprise since, as aforementioned, not only did Afghanistan cost a lot of tax payer’s money but it also had emotional costs for the American population. The last thing that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party would want is to lose votes over a potential intervention, therefore it is highly unlikely that they will intervene or seek a military intervention before the elections in November 2012.

The main question that remains though is what will happen after the US elections. If Barack Obama is re-elected the most possible scenario is that he will continue the same strategy he has at the moment because of his foreign policy strategy in general. However, if Mitt Romney is elected as the next US president it is very possible that he will seek a more active role and it is also likely that he will try to urge for a military intervention. Although foreign policy is not one of Romney’s advantages, he has condemned Barack Obama’s attitude over Syria while he has expressed the opinion that the USA needs to start playing a more active role. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that a US – led intervention is not a very possible scenario either with Mitt Romney in the presidency or Barack Obama.

Without any doubt, the USA will try to avoid any direct military involvement in Syria at least until the presidential elections in November 2012. However, in case the intervention scenario prevails, especially in a NATO-led “Libya type” intervention, then it would be impossible for the USA not to participate, not only because of the military advantage it has but due to the interests it has in the area. It has been said by many that an intervention in Syria will not only weaken Iran but also Hamas and Hezbollah which is in the interest of the USA and its close allies. Finally, it seems that the only way in order to stop the Syrian regime’s atrocities against its own citizens is a military intervention, mainly because any diplomatic effort taken so far has failed. However, despite the benefits that the USA would have from an intervention in its geopolitics, the biggest loser would be the government in charge. The reason for that is that after the negative outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American population would rather have a government more focused on domestic politics than on foreign policy; something that was obvious from the polls on Afghanistan.

1 thought on “The USA’s Stance on Syria

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *