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Staying out of Syria
Sep 6, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck
There are many reasons, but a lack of strategic significance for the U.S. isn't one of them
As the United States lines up for expected military strikes against Syria in retaliation for that nation's use of internationally condemned chemical weapons on its own citizens, Congress is being asked to vote on the idea.
There is considerable opposition in America for intervening in Syria, for different reasons. A convenient one that has come to the forefront this week is the idea that we ought to stay out because "the U.S. has no strategic interest in Syria."
Reportedly, Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis was among numerous members of Congress to express that view this week in announcing opposition to any U.S. military action in Syria.
There are some very good reasons to butting out in Syria -- but that isn't one of them. The United States has very important strategic interests in Syria.
For one thing, Syria shares a long border with Iraq. Remember Iraq? That's where the United States went to war in 2003 and spent hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives in the decade following.
In the 1970s, Syria and Iraq had worked out a plan to merge into one giant, dominant Middle Eastern nation. It was Iraqi opposition to that plan that led to the rise in Iraq of Saddam Hussein.
In the war that drove Saddam from power, we counted on Syria to stay on the sidelines, and Syria agreed for the most part. Now, with Iraq still unstable and Syria in the midst of a civil war in which chemical weapons have been used, our nation's strategic interest in Syria could be considered stronger than ever for that reason alone.
Syria also, practically speaking, borders Israel, in which the United States has huge investments in political, social, economic and military resources. A stable Syria makes for a more stable Israel, and instability has the opposite effect.
Russia remains one of Syria's prime allies, as well as its largest supplier of military equipment. Russian leader Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama have been at odds over Syria this year -- including this week at the G20 economic summit in ... Russia. Check out their body language in the photograph we published Thursday. Surely no one could claim that the United States has no strategic interest in Russia.
Bordering Syria to the north is Turkey, an important U.S. ally and home to one of this country's biggest and most strategically vital military installations, the huge Incirlik Air Base.
Since the Syrian civil war began, there have been numerous border skirmishes between Syrian troops and Turkish forces. If the United States were to launch air strikes against Syria, it's probable that some of the planes would take off from, and return to, Incirlik.
It is both our nation's strength and burden that we have strategic interests pretty much everywhere on the planet. Rather than forwarding the claim that Syria has no strategic importance to the United States, it would be better to say, "The strategic interests of the United States in Syria are not enough to outweigh the many reasons to stay out of the civil conflict there."
And those reasons are many, beginning with whether a U.S. military strike would do any good at all in discouraging further civil atrocities by the Syrian government. To that, add the potential for larger regional conflict, an ill-fitting alliance with extremist Islamic rebels in Syria, increased likelihood of re-involvement in Iraq as the border destabilizes, driving Syria closer to another of its allies -- Iran -- and its nuclear ambitions, retaliation against Israel by Syria or its allies, and the great Russian bear glowering just over the horizon checkbook in hand and warplanes at the ready.
Above all, this country is weary of desert warfare in the Middle East, as is the U.S. economy. Poll after poll says the American public doesn't want more of it in Syria.
Those arguments, and several others, are perfectly good reasons to doubt the wisdom of U.S. intervention in Syria. But the United States of America most certainly does have strategic interests there. It is naive or short-sighted to pretend otherwise.
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