This has benefitted the United States in a number of ways. First, and most obvious, it has allowed its allies in the region to fend off potentially destabilizing uprisings. Equally important, because international attention towards the Arab Spring has focused on Syria, the U.S. has been able to come out unambiguously in support of the protesters, which would have been much more difficult had some of its regional allies been the governments under siege.
Finally, it now appears that the Syrian civil war may help advance America’s interests in reducing weapons of mass destruction around the world. Specifically, to avert a U.S. military strike and perhaps because he is fearful of protesters assuming control of his stockpiles, so far al-Assad has been cooperating with the international community in removing his enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons. This would be no small achievement, as many of the states that haven’t signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention are located in the Middle East or Arab world. The U.S. and its partners might be able to use the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons to convince states like Israel and Egypt to sign and ratify the CWC.
To restate, none of this is to argue that the costs of the Syrian civil war have been worth it, or that the United States should seek to prolong the conflict. Humanitarian concerns alone compel the United States to actively work to end the fighting. Moreover, the growth of sectarianism in the region is a potentially explosive force that the U.S. cannot control. Finally, the potential for the fighting and unrest to spread to strategically vital countries in the region also gives the U.S. a strong strategic interest in ending the Syrian civil war. Still, to date the U.S. has been winning in Syria, as it has been the primary benefactor of the events that have transpired there.
Zachary Keck is Associate Editor of The Diplomat where he authors The Pacific Realist blog. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Bo yaser. CC BY-SA 3.0.