Pressures are increasing on President Barack Obama to intervene militarily in the Civil War in Syria, a war that seeks to topple the dynasty that has ruled Syria for generations with brutal and undemocratic procedures. The risks that are holding back Obama on Syria are similar to those faced by the United States in its failed interventions in other Arab countries, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan where billions of dollars and thousands of lives were wasted in American attempts to conquer and reform nations with values and practices quite different from American values. American interventions in the affairs of such states have generally been failures except for the access to raw materials and the profits accruing to oil businesses. Sectarian violence spreading from Syria and similar countries threaten to swamp the region and spread international horrors like the murders of September 11. Some in Washington are pushing for arming the opposition to reigning dictators. The US has the power to step in to help those revolting overthrow the local dictatorships. It looks easy given US military superiority. However, in strategic planning, administration officials cite three big problems that have given President Obama pause.
- As a superpower, in fact the prime superpower, the US can’t afford to go into battle small, that is, without a complete commitment. If America exerts force it has to be enough to be decisive for a total and complete victory in the shortest span of time. If this is not possible, the US risks appearing to be an inadequate superpower, incapable of accomplishing its objectives and other conflicts like Iran or North Korea, affecting its ability to win wars and to carry out its threats.
- If the US goes in big as it should, it will end up arming some disreputable elements who will involve the US in the formation of the successor government. The US will have the uneasy problem of picking and choosing the next leadership.
- When you go in big as a super power, you own the problem indefinitely, if not forever. Other nations who have been part of the attacking coalition will tend to pull back their contributions of men and materials and leave final resolution to Washington.
The US will surely learn from its difficult experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan that intervention in the affairs of other countries can be, perhaps always will be a risky affair at home and abroad. The results are usually unpredictable in the intervened countries and in the domestic political effects on the intervenor. Even when it is the all powerful USA.