The White House said on Tuesday it opposes military intervention in Syria because it would lead to greater chaos and escalate the humanitarian crisis in the country, but defended providing aid to the opposition.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told a press briefing that while military action is an option that remains on the table for Syria, such an intervention is not the right course of action at this point.
“We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action,” Carney said. “We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”
In response to the massacre of over 100 people in the Houla area of central Syria, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday said the “horrific” and “atrocious” act could prompt a military intervention sometime in the future, but warned such a policy may cause more havoc.
The Obama administration is apprehensive about intervening militarily in Syria in part because support for such action is lacking in the United Nations Security Council. Both China and Russia have blocked Western intervention and action against the Assad regime would be remarkably antagonistic towards Russia, still a close ally of Assad.
But the logistics of war in Syria are also obviously hazardous in that it would create a power vacuum in the country likely to cause increased death and suffering, especially given how potent the sectarian divisions are in the country teetering on the brink of civil war. Following that, the Obama administration appears to have little appetite for yet another decade-long military occupation.
Half-measures like so-called safe zones are also not a compelling alternative. “Humanitarian corridors,” explained Marc Lynch of George Washington University in testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, ”would be extremely difficult to protect, and could create a new refugee crisis if desperate civilians rush into designated safe zones or neighboring countries.”
Safe areas might also require airpower in some form, but Assad’s “anti-aircraft capabilities are located in or near urban areas, which means that significant civilian casualties could result from any attempt to eliminate them.” Lynch said. ”Creating and protecting a safe area in Syria would therefore require a significant and lengthy investment of troops and resources, and would not likely hasten Assad’s collapse.”
While the Obama administration rightly opposes military intervention, they have unfortunately already begun providing lethal and non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. This, despite the fact that the rebel fighters have committed serious atrocities themselves and that al-Qaeda elements are known to cooperate in the rebel fight against Assad.
This aid to the opposition is likely to spread the violence and increase the number of Syrian dead without increasing the likelihood of Assad’s departure. Also, as we saw in Libya, such policies tend to boost the power of fighting groups and marginalize those who favor peaceful political transition.
The foreign meddling in Syria in almost certainly prolonging the conflict. Support for the Assad regime from Russia and Iran and for the opposition from the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf is emboldening both sides and preventing either from giving up and ceding to a political transition.