The Skeptics

Will Washington's Hawks Get the Syria War They've Always Wanted?

The conflict also reflects a power struggle between the largely Sunni insurgents and Assad’s coalition of religious minorities (primarily his own Alawite faction—a Shia offshoot, Christians and smaller sects) that fear the consequences of a Sunni-controlled regime. Not surprisingly, Iran and Hezbollah support Assad, while Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and other Sunni states have backed the rebels. The Obama administration displayed insufficient awareness of these many swirling political, religious and ideological currents in the Syrian civil war. Ardent advocates of a full-fledged U.S. military intervention seem utterly oblivious to them.

The Trump administration’s milder stance regarding Assad was a sensible, long-overdue policy shift. Unfortunately, at the same time, the administration is increasing the U.S. military presence in Syria to combat ISIS. That move simply leads the United States into the same quagmire using a different rationale. A realist foreign policy would indeed adopt a neutral position regarding Assad’s future, but it would also withdraw American troops rather than heightening their exposure to a murky conflict with very little potential benefit to the United States.

Unfortunately, Trump already is under excruciating pressure to abandon the new approach that Tillerson outlined. In the short term, it is imperative that the president ignore the calls of McCain, Rubio and other war hawks and avoid being goaded into taking military action against Assad for his alleged guilt in the latest chemical attack. Longer term, the administration needs to complete a comprehensive policy transformation and facilitate the exit of all U.S. military personnel from the Syrian civil war.

Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow in defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest. He is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.

Editor's Note: TNI published this piece just as U.S. forces began attacks on the Assad regime.

Image: Marines prepare to perform casualty evacuation drills during a training operation. Flickr/U.S. Marine Corps