Another Viewpoint: On U.S. Intervention in the Syrian Conflict

In a September 9 opinion-editorial published in The Washington Post, former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross argues that “blocking action on Syria makes an attack on Iran more likely.” Ross begins by explaining opponents’ point-of-view:

The opponents of congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria are focused on one set of concerns: the belief that the costs of action are simply too high and uncertain. Syria for them is a civil war, with few apparent good guys and far too many bad guys. The use of chemical weapons is, in their eyes, terrible, but ultimately it is not our problem — unless, of course, we make it our problem by reacting militarily. If we do, they see a slippery slope in which the initial use of force will inevitably suck us into a conflict that we cannot win. Coming on the heels of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost us so much in blood and treasure, the U.S. public, as polls show, is both weary and wary of any further involvement in Middle East conflicts.

Ambassador Ross also summarizes the Obama administration’s perspective in favor of intervention:

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have pointed out that there will be a great cost to international norms that prohibit the use of terror weapons such as chemical weapons. And surely they are right that if Bashar al-Assad can gas his own people and elicit only harsh words but no punitive action, he will use the weapons again. The price in Syria and the potential for spillover in the region are certain to be high. Additionally, other rogue actors may also draw the conclusion that chemical weapons are not only usable but that there are no circumstances, no outrages, no genocidal actions that would trigger a meaningful reaction from the so-called civilized world.

Interestingly, Ambassador Ross adds an additional set of considerations to our national dialogue, too:

There is another argument to consider: should opponents block authorization and should the president then feel he cannot employ military strikes against Syria, this will almost certainly guarantee that there will be no diplomatic outcome to our conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons.

Ross explains two supporting points…

First, [President Obama] has said he will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Should he be blocked from using force against Syria, it will be clear that all options are not on the table and that regardless of what we say, we are prepared to live with an Iran that has nuclear arms.

And secondly, Israel will feel that it has no reason to wait, no reason to give diplomacy a chance and no reason to believe that the United States will take care of the problem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees Iran with nuclear weapons as an existential threat and, in his eyes, he must not allow there to be a second Holocaust against the Jewish people. As long as he believes that President Obama is determined to deal with the Iranian threat, he can justify deferring to us. That will soon end if opponents get their way on Syria.

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND: SHOULD THE UNITED STATES INTERVENE MILITARILY IN SYRIA?

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NOTE ON SOURCES: For more than twelve years, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process and dealing directly with the parties in negotiations. A highly skilled diplomat, Ambassador Ross was U.S. point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations (The Washington Institute).

Ambassador Ross is a highly-skilled diplomat who has served Republican presidents Reagan and Bush (41) and Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama.  A 1970 graduate of UCLA, Ambassador Ross’ early scholarship focused on the Cold War: he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Soviet decision-making, and from 1984 to 1986 served as executive director of the Berkeley-Stanford program on Soviet International Behavior.

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About Dr. Ostroff
Head of Upper School at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX

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