The raving about the strikes across political aisles and the clamoring for more action in Syria by congressional and former official hawks, such as Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are ideally and morally commendable, especially as it relates to defending innocent Syrians. Still, their cries for action are also realistically disastrous drumbeats of war. At the time being, it is necessary and safe to argue that removing the Syrian regime is not in the interest of United States. The focus should be, as President Trump initially expressed, on harnessing American power as part of a regional and international alliance against the Islamic State and other Salafi jihadi organizations to free eastern Syria. A compromise with Russia in Syria and over the Crimea is essential for defeating the Islamic State and its myriad sister Salafi-jihadi groups. Once Eastern Syria is freed and American strategy rendered predictable, then United States will have far better chances in checking both the power of Iran and the Syrian regime, as well as providing a safe haven for Syrians.
Unfortunately, the American discourse over the relationship with Russia has been strongly affected by Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and the American bureaucracy’s historically deep suspicion of Moscow. The corollary has been clearly a shift toward adopting a hardline position towards Russia irrespective of a sober analysis of the fluid situation in Syria. The struggle for Syria has long crossed the boundaries of the country and has become a regional and international struggle to settle sectarian and geopolitical scores and subsequently shape a new regional order. Unless the United States introduces a significant number of ground troops and imposes its will in Syria, it will inescapably face multifaceted challenges more deadly than those United States faced during its occupation of Iraq. True, the leadership of the Assad regime needs to face an international reckoning; nevertheless, under these circumstances, neither Syrians nor Americans will find solace, safety or justice.
Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel and Lebanon; Syria, United States and the War on Terror in the Middle East; Religion, National Identity and Confessional Politics in Lebanon: The Challenge of Islamism; Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism; and most recently The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: The Double Tragedy of Refugees and Impacted Host Communities. He can be reached @robertgrabil.