By Willis Krumholz
Americans understandably reacted with horror to the reported chemical weapons attack in Syria last weekend. This act is only the latest in a long list of atrocities from the seven-year-old Syrian civil war.
Both sides in this civil war have spilled much innocent blood; there are no good guys in this fight. That’s why U.S. foreign policy should be guided by a realistic grand strategy, not knee-jerk responses to developments on the ground. Bashar al-Assad is a brutal thug, but deepening U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war would undermine U.S. security.
Assad, who is a member of the Alawite sect of Shia-Islam, is backed by Russia—which has ties to the Assad family going back to the halcyon Cold War days—and by Shia Iran. They are pitted against Sunni rebels supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Gulf states. These Sunni powers have directly or indirectly funded jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, American efforts to find and arm “moderate” rebels have failed spectacularly.
In other words, as America ups the ante in Syria, we further entangle ourselves in the 1,400-year-old confessional-struggle between Shia and Sunni Islam. This has nothing to do with protecting Americans.
If we take down the Assad regime, radical Sunni groups would quickly fill the power vacuum left in our wake, as happened after we toppled Saddam Hussein—also a brutal dictator—in Iraq. Those clamoring for punitive military strikes against Assad must explain what happens next; outcomes matter, not intentions.
America has roughly 2,000 troops in Eastern Syria on Iraq’s border to assist Kurdish forces—our only friends in this fight—as they battle ISIS. President Trump’s strike on Assad, without congressional authorization no less, risks bogging our military down in Syria indefinitely. This would jeopardize our national security, spread our military thin, and risk direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.
American soldiers deserve to come home now that their mission—fighting ISIS—is nearly complete.
Willis L Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry
This opinion was published by USA Today on April 12, 2018. Read more HERE.