- Jake Moran
The United States Should Keep Its Numbers Constant in Syria
by Jake Moran
Since 2011, Syria has been in the midst of a chaotic civil war fought between the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition, which consists of multiple rebel groups such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The conflict has multiple foreign countries on both sides with stakes in the war, leading to a complex proxy system. It has seen a high usage of chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and airstrikes to conduct the warfare, killing over 400,000 Syrian civilians. The United States, which strongly condemns President al-Assad, openly supports the Syrian opposition and provides rebel groups with military and economic nourishment. However, the United States has never fully engaged in the conflict, and currently only stations about 1,000 troops in Syria. Instead of committing more to the conflict, the United States should keep its engagement in Syria as it is currently to minimize further conflict within the region.
To fully analyze the Syrian civil war, it is important to understand the complexities within the Syrian government as well as the Syrian opposition. The Syrian government revolves around Bashar al-Assad, who is president by name but dictator by action. Assad, a Shia Muslim, succeeded his father as the president in 2000, and has been disliked by a large portion of the Syrian population for his dictatorial reign. In 2011, during the Arab Spring protests, Syrian civilians peacefully protested against the Syrian government after adolescents were arrested for pro-democracy graffiti. The Syrian government retaliated with security guards killing protestors. This led to widespread violent protests across the nation, and Syria would split into three groups: Assad’s government in the west, the rebel groups in the east, and ISIS in the north. The governmental incursions continued for years. Up to this point, an estimated 306,000 Syrian civilians have died as a result of the conflict, and an estimated 5.6 million refugees have been forced to flee elsewhere. As of now, the violence has simmered down, but the civil unrest between the Syrian government, rebel groups, and civilians still remains immense.
The United States’ motives regarding Syria have remained ambiguous throughout the conflict. Since the Obama administration, the United States has been in support of Syrian rebel groups in the name of fighting terrorism, and acknowledges both ISIS and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the terrorist organizations. However, the United States’ true intentions in Syria have veered as of late. In a 2019 interview, former President Donald Trump said that the United States is in Syria “only for the oil.” Trump openly stating their dominant focus for Syria’s oil motivates both Assad and the Iranian government’s argument that the United States’ occupation in Syria violates international law. Syria does not want the United States’ in its borders due to the damage that United States occupation has done to its economy. Syria claims that the United States’ presence has led to the loss of $107.1 billion within the oil industry since 2011. The fact of the matter is that there is truth to the United States involving itself in Syria due to the oil. However, having access to the oil reserves in northeast Syria is still critical. If the United States were to entirely withdraw from Syria, it would likely lead to oil access to two of the United States’ main rivals, Russia and Iran.
Russia and Iran have been the two main allies of the Syrian government throughout the conflict. Russia has backed the Syrian government dating back to the Cold War, and its support has been extremely impactful, as Vladimir Putin used his veto power 17 times since 2011 in order to stop Security Council resolutions in Syria. Russia has also helped the Assad regime militarily, repeatedly targeting Syrian opposition groups with airstrikes. For Iran, the IRGC has provided military technology, troops, economic support, and intelligence to the Syrian government. Iran views Syria as a critical piece to its security, as its geography and location provides it with much needed influence within the region. Also, Iran is a Shia state and therefore favors the Shia president Assad. In general, Syria is a relatively small nation with a faltering economy due to the United States’ oil theft, so the support from the aforementioned countries has been critical in keeping the Assad regime in power.
Since 2014, when the United States conducted its first airstrikes in Syria, there has been continuous debate on whether it should take more or less action in Syria. Given that the US has the capacity to overthrow Syria, many people believe that the nation should increase its involvement in Syria, as doing so could potentially end the war. On the flip side, others argue that the United States should withdraw from Syria entirely. Its continued occupation is viewed by some as imperialistic, and it is a poor look to remain in Syria due to oil. Additionally, the US has many foreign policy issues on its agenda, and withdrawal from Syria would allow more focus on other matters, such as Russia, China, and North Korea.
In the short term, there is no clean solution to the conflict in Syria, and Bashar al-Assad has shown no signs to back down his use of force against his opposition. The decade-long conflict has only further amplified the distaste between Sunni and Shia Muslims, which will likely remain ongoing. If the United States becomes more engaged in Syria, it will lead to the Middle East being in even more of a state of catastrophe than it already is. An increase in military involvement would likely lead to more fragmented militias fighting each other, and subsequently, more deaths of Syrian civilians. If the United States were to take action to end the Syrian civil war, the transition of power would by no means be peaceful. There would be a struggle for power in Syria, and the situation would likely unfold with an abundance of violence and bloodshed.
The United States is currently gaining the highest amount of benefits from its current level of engagement; therefore, it should keep its presence as is. Keeping Iran, Russia and ISIS at bay has been one of the United States’ central goals throughout the past decade, and its ongoing level of commitment will likely prevent sudden development of these parties within the nation. Additionally, the United States has been able to successfully maintain access to the oil reserves within northeast Syria, and as a result, benefits economically while also keeping oil out of the hands of its adversaries. While the conflict in Syria is undoubtedly a tragedy, the fighting has waned over recent years, and the situation may continue to slowly improve. And just maybe, we might reach the day where no more blood or tears shed within Syria.