Should the U.S. intervene more aggressively in Syria? History tells us it could lead to mistakes. And blocking immigrants would betray U.S. values.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) flank UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at Syria peace talks in Vienna, 30 October 2015. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP)

News-Decoder is working with 11 academic institutions around the world to foster understanding of international relations. This article on Syria was written by Samyukt Kumar, a student at Greens Farms Academy, a U.S. high school. It is the latest contribution by students at our partner institutions, and we look forward to more in 2016.

By Samyukt Kumar

Nearly five years after it started in March 2011, the Syrian conflict has become far more than a civil war.

It involves global powers including the United States, Russia and France; regional antagonists Iran and Saudi Arabia; and a host of non-state actors with growing, international reach.

What we are witnessing is a regional conflagration with myriad implications for the Middle East, the United States and the world.

From an American perspective, the question of military intervention is especially pertinent in the 2016 election cycle.

Republican candidates have chastised President Barack Obama and urged a more aggressive U.S. intervention in Syria beyond the current air strikes and military advisers in Syria.

GOP candidate Marco Rubio has called for American boots on the ground while the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, has put some distance between Obama and herself while urging caution in deploying combat troops in Iraq and Syria.

History tells us that U.S. intervention could be costly and ineffective.

These past weeks, students at Greens Farms Academy (GFA), an independent school in the U.S. state of Connecticut where I am studying, have debated the consequences of sending troops into Syria.

Precedent exists for U.S. intervention in the region, and history has taught us that it could be costly and ineffective.

The United States disrupted the Taliban in 2001, but they continue to operate in Afghanistan. U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, yet al Qaeda remains powerful.

Following recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, an international spotlight has been trained on Islamic State.

How would sending troops to fight Islamic State American security? Islamic State has yet to launch a direct attack on U.S. soil. Is there not enough trust in American intelligence and counter-terrorism initiatives to keep the country safe without deploying thousands of troops and billions of dollars?

Would banning Muslims, including Syrian refugees, from entering the United States, as leading Republican candidate Donald Trump has argued, be a productive policy response to the Syrian crisis?

The greatest threat to U.S. security remains radicalized immigrants.

At GFA, students are divided on this issue. Some advocate suspending visas for foreign Muslims while others support sticking to existing immigration procedures.

My view is that right-wing rhetoric against Muslims entails several risks.

It fuels the kind of polarization that Islamic State seeks to foment in the West.

By insinuating that we cannot trust and welcome Muslim refugees, the United States risks fanning Islamophobia and xenophobia while alienating its large Muslim population. This danger was borne out in the massacre in San Bernardino: the United States was attacked not by ISIS but, according to FBI Director James Comey, by “homegrown violent extremists”.

History suggests that the greatest threat to U.S. security remains radicalized immigrants who feel marginalized by American society, not an external threat from Islamic State.

Turning to Syria itself, the prolonged civil war reflects an utter failure in diplomacy. In early 2012, the United Nations attempted to implement a ceasefire that was quickly scuttled by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who continued to fight.

After this failure, the United States and Russia intervened by supporting, respectively, Free Syrian Army rebels and Assad.

I envision two possible scenarios.

Quizzical GFA students wondered, if diplomacy failed in 2012 when the conflict was in its early stages, how could it resolve a struggle that now involves regional and global players?

In my view, peace initiatives such as those set out at recent international talks in Vienna are destined to fail if Assad and Islamic State, two primary belligerents, are excluded.

As an observer of unfolding events, I envision two possible scenarios.

Fighting could simmer down, leading to an unresolved but relatively low-intensity clash such as we see in Afghanistan and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The second scenario is bleak: an escalation of fighting until it reaches an international boiling point that ultimately forces serious and successful negotiations, but at devastating cost.

Will it take direct fighting between regional powers including Saudi Arabia and Iran, or Islamic State or another non-state actor gaining possession of a nuclear weapon, to spur international mediation?

In the United States, we should be careful to avoid repeating past mistakes and sacrificing American values in the name of national security.

The views are the author’s.

Samyukt Kumar is a high school student from Stamford, Connecticut. Inspired by his experiences learning about foreign cultures and languages, he undertook an independent research project concerning the Syrian Civil War. When he is not reading about international politics and history, Kumar enjoys playing golf and watching the New York Knicks.

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