More than 115,000 people have been killed since the March 2011 uprising against the Alawite government of Bashar Al-Assad. Both the rebels and the government are responsible for the deaths of Syrian people.
The international community has failed to deal with the situation in Syria, not because Russia or China blocked the resolution at the UN Security Council (UNSC), but because intervention was not a feasible policy maneuver overall.
The “Red Line” Error
U.S. President Barack Obama committed to a Syrian strike after Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons, crossing what Mr. Obama had termed a “red line.” The weight of this phrase implied that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unimaginable for the Obama administration. The idea was that an American intervention would never become a reality.
Setting aside the controversy of whether Assad’s side or the Syrian rebels used the chemical weapons, President Obama was not ready for the surprise. When the media picked up the story of Assad using chemical weapons on the Syrian people, President Obama’s foreign policy toward Syria became unclear. If President Obama had originally intended to intervene when Assad would cross the “red line,” he would have already developed specific plans for a military strike. But he did not.
Moreover, President Obama’s ill preparedness was further highlighted when he made it clear that he was finally ready to intervene. He scrambled for support, struggling to get the approval of the UNSC as well as backing from both Congress and the American people.
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For the above-mentioned reasons, U.S. military involvement in Syria was never a real foreign policy option.
Although Mr. Obama was reported to have claimed that the intervention was a necessity because of the humanitarian crisis, in reality it appears that his goal was to reinforce the notion that the president of the United States of America would always stand by his words. More specifically, he wanted to establish a credible threat.
Russia preventing another war
Another inhibitor of U.S. intervention in Syria was Russian President Putin’s close relationship with Assad. As President Obama never intended to intervene, Russia provided the perfect opportunity to avoid a war.
Russia proposed a possible diplomatic solution for the Syrian chemical-weapons crisis by pledging to persuade the Assad regime to give up its arsenal.
It is important to understand that Russia’s proposed solution did not stem from a concern for human rights. Rather, it originated from a regard for its own strategic interest in Syria.
In addition to the fact that Syria is currently the only close ally Russia has in the region, there are two main reasons that led the Russian president to convince Assad to cooperate.
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First, Russia had an interest in protecting its naval facility at Tartus. Although the Tartus port has no large military clout and is primarily used as a repair and refueling station, it is Russia’s only “military” base in the region. It is clear that Mr. Putin would do anything to protect it.
Second, one of President Putin’s most pressing goals is to reestablish Russia’s importance in global affairs. He is likely to take any kind of measure to achieve this end, whether through blocking resolutions at the UNSC, or by providing a diplomatic solution to the Syrian chemical-weapons crisis.
Syria is not Libya
The contrast between Libya and Syria’s military capabilities sheds light on why a military intervention was not a viable policy option for the United States. Although the U.S. has achieved a decisive victory in Libya, a Syrian intervention would have probably had a different outcome.
Range of Syrian missiles [Photo Credit: ausairpower.net]
First, Russia has been providing Syria with impressive air defense systems. Second, the Syrian Air Defense Command (ADC) has around 54,000 active personnel, which is twice the size of Libya’s counterpart.
According to Air Power Australia, an independent military and policy think-tank, Syria’s ADC weaponry system has long-range missiles that are capable of covering up to 190 miles. The Syrians have upgraded these missiles and have also installed them more strategically than Qaddafi’s regime. Syria’s missiles have a complicated layout system that would make an enemy airstrike considerably difficult.
There are many factors that made a U.S. intervention in Syria unimaginable. The combination of President Obama’s ill preparedness and his lack of international support, the Russian factor, and Syria’s military capabilities have all contributed to turning a military strike against Assad a rather unlikely option.