12 years since the U.S. intervened in Afghanistan and 10 years since launching military action against Iraq, U.S. President Barack Obama faces the decision of whether to enter another country in the Middle East. After sarin gas, a neurotoxin banned under international law, reportedly killed as many as 1,400 people in suburbs around the Syrian capital of Damascus August 21, the U.S., the U.K. and France have deliberated intervening in Syria.
The U.K. will not be entering Syria in any way after British Parliament voted against it, and officials in France and Turkey have stated they will intervene if the U.S. does. Obama said Friday that he supports military intervention but he wants Congressional approval first. For a president who built his first national campaign separating himself from George W. Bush and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, how will the decision to enter Syria affect his legacy?
President Bush entered the Middle East without Congressional approval, but never declared war. While that conflict did spread throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, a World War III never actually happened. Look back at Libya in 2011 as well. In the midst of a similar decision, Obama can issue an order to send either the military or drones into the area, but the action cannot formally be called a war until Congress approves.
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, but now he is seeking Congressional approval to stage a military intervention — an inherently violent action and the antithesis of most Nobel Peace Prize winners’ actions, albeit with possible humanitarian benefits in this case. As the President spent months advocating for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, there may be a way around sending them back to the Middle East. He is in a position where warfare tactics are changing and the U.S. is increasingly relying on drones.
There is something wrong about inaction when civilians are victims of chemical attacks, but regardless, these people are unfortunately caught in the middle of a sectarian conflict. Will drones, or other military intervention, save civilian lives when these people have already been so brutally attacked?
Syria in many ways falls into a classic American historical issue where we have bounced between acting as an internationalist or isolationist country. Should the U.S. be involved or keep its nose out of Syrian’s business? Can the country stand idly by while thousands of people are dying and more than a million are displaced? But for some reasons, countries interested in intervening are waiting for the U.S. to make a plan.
If Congress vetoes the President’s request, then the U.S. will not officially be going to war with Syria. If President Obama decides to intervene anyway, issuing another executive order can tarnish the reputation of his administration. In his last years in office, the President is focused on his legacy, and bypassing Congress makes him appear unilateral and disrespectful of the balance of powers in Washington. With all the criticism he has received on drone strikes and the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs reflecting an increasingly authoritarian government, President Obama has an incredibly tough decision to make, one that will define his term in office.
This decision, however, is based on classified information that states the Syrian government is responsible.
Before the U.N. completed a formal investigation of the gas attacks in Syria — an investigation that is still ongoing — the U.S. said their officials found evidence that the Syrian government was behind the attacks. Blood and hair samples from emergency first in Damascus who were at the scene of an alleged Aug. 21 chemical attack tested positive for sarin, according to a Washington Post article published Sunday. The production and use of sarin gas is forbidden under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which was signed and ratified by more than 180 countries — but not Syria.
According to a CNN article Monday, Russia, has not been provided with any data or analysis done by American investigators. Because the Russian government has not been presented hard evidence, they still find a shard of doubt that the Syrian government gassed civilians. Innocent until proven guilty, right?
With just 9 percent of U.S. citizens supporting intervention, according to Reuters, the U.S. government cannot enter another country. If the U.S. were to release the information stating the Syrian government’s guilt, perhaps countries like Russia with trade ties to Syria would support a U.S. presence in and around Damascus. Perhaps more Americans would support Obama’s desires as well.
This entire conflict is convoluted, complex and nuanced, and U.S. intelligence is concealed from the world. If the U.S. decides not to act, Turkey and France will not enter Syria. Then what happens? More civilians are shot, burned or gassed. If the U.S. acts, drones enter Syrian airspace and more people will lose their loved ones. The fate of Syria is in Congress’s hands, and both outcomes will be equally as violent.