There is no debate that the ongoing war in Syria has given way to an escalating humanitarian crisis with no end in sight.
As a former U.S. Marine infantryman, who has served two combat tours in Afghanistan, I have seen the costs that war takes on combatants and non-combatants alike. The first time that you see a child covered in burns from head to toe, or an innocent woman riddled with bullet wounds begging for your help, you begin to yearn for the powers that be to find an expedient end to the conflict you are consumed in. While I readily accepted that bearing the consequences of war was a part of my job, it is not something that any innocent man, woman, or child should ever have to undergo.
If there is to be a near end to the war in Syria, the first step will be for the U.S. government to completely change its approach to the conflict. The Obama administration, as well as many of the U.S.’s allies, have focused their efforts in Syria on removing Assad from power. If history has taught us anything, it is that Western forced regime changes in the Middle East create political vacuums that aggravate regional instability, sectarian violence, and radicalism. This was the case in the removal of Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and in the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya in 2011.
Instead of wasting time, resources, and human lives by trying to force a regime change in Syria, the U.S. government could better help the Syrian people, and the situation as a whole, if they worked side-by-side with the Assad regime and their Russian ally. But why would the U.S. work with two global actors that are responsible for international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights violations in Syria?
To begin with, the U.S., Syrian, and Russian governments all desperately want to defeat the Islamic State, a extremist group that is responsible for gross amounts of human rights and IHL violations, and poses a greater threat to international security than the Assad regime ever has, if it ever has at all. By forming a multilateral alliance with the Syrian and Russian governments, the U.S. would help ease the humanitarian emergency in the region while simultaneously squashing the existing tensions with Russia, something that President- elect Trump openly recognizes. However, Trump’s strategy is also faulty because he mentioned the possibility of stepping aside and letting Russia deal with ISIS on their own, a very one sided and undiplomatic approach to the conflict.
This alliance, if formed, would assuredly call for the U.S. contributing ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria, straying far from its current minimalist approach. Lets face it though, this would be a very hard decision for the U.S. to swallow because our communities are sick and tired of seeing our young men come home in body bags. However, seeing as ISIS has already spread its tentacles of terror into North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East, it would be in the best interest of the U.S., in terms of national and international security, to take the fight directly to ISIS. I can also tell you, from my personal experience, Marines would love nothing more than an opportunity to deliver justice to these ISIS thugs in the form of a 5.56mm.
Another benefit of the U.S. working in tandem with Assad and Russia would be the possibility that their respect for international cooperation and human rights could rub off on Assad, which in theory could persuade him to allow open access to humanitarian organizations to work safely within Syrian boarders. Having open access for aid organizations was one of the main goals/principles outlined by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) during their talks in Vienna, but has yet to come to fruition. If the U.S. worked with Syria and influenced them to allow open boarders for aid organizations, the humanitarian costs of the conflict would be greatly reduced.
What would this alliance mean for the U.S.’s support of Syrian rebel groups though? To put it plainly, if this approach were to ever be pursued the U.S. would have to cease all support of rebel groups in Syria and this wouldn’t be a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. For the last time the U.S. supported rebel groups in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi, the state of Libya slipped even further into chaos and disorder, which could very well be the case if the U.S. supported rebels succeeded in ousting Assad in Syria. If the U.S. has learned anything from their past indiscretions, it would be best for the well being of the people in Syria, as well as the preservation of the Syrian state, if they did not lend their support to rebel groups whose end goals are more than uncertain.
If what I am proposing was successful, and the three powers could positively collaborate to defeat ISIS, another goal of the ISSG’s to use “the U.N. to convene representatives of the Government of Syria and the Syrian opposition for a political process leading to credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections” would also be possible. This would ultimately put an end to the civil war in Syria and in turn the devastating toll it has taken on the Syrian people. Perhaps the U.S. would even achieve its goal of seeing Assad removed, but by legitimate democratic methods.
From the mind and the heart of a warrior who has witnessed the devastating effects of modern conflicts, I sincerely hope that the U.S. and the international community, will one day soon, commit to an approach like this so that the innocent people of Syria will no longer have to endure the pains of war.
About the Author
Spencer Dyck is a departmental alumnus who recently graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.
You can reach him at Spencer.Dyck@ucdenver.edu.