Over the last two weeks, Obama administration officials have signaled—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—that a worst-case scenario is emerging in Syria.In December 2012, I had warned against the U.S. involving itself in Syra. Although I was thinking of direct military intervention, I noted that "aiding the rebels does not advance U.S. interests. Assisting the rebels in Syria will only guarantee the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al [Qaida]." This is exactly what has happened with even limited intervention.
Peace talks are at a virtual standstill. An emboldened President Bashar al-Assad has missed two deadlines to turn over his deadliest chemical weapons. And radical extremists who have fought in Syria are carrying out attacks in Egypt and allegedly aspire to strike the United States as well.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told members of Congress last week that Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda-aligned group in Syria, "does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland." American and Egyptian officials expressed alarm this week at signs that Egyptians who fought in Syria have returned home to mount an insurgency.
Critics of Obama-administration policy in Syria argue that none of this should come as a surprise. For years, they have predicted that Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers would fight tenaciously; militants would flock to Syria; and the region would be destabilized by refugee flows, rising sectarianism, and radicalized fighters returning home.
"A lot of things that the pro-interventionist crowd had argued two years ago have come to pass," said Shadi Hamid, a Brookings Institution expert who called for military intervention in 2012. "The argument was that radicalism will rise."
It is impossible to know whether a Libya-like intervention would have ended the conflict in Syria or exacerbated it. But citing recent statements from administration officials, Hamid argued that the current American approach is not working.
The conflict in Syria first has to be recognized for what it is: a proxy war between Iran and certain of the Gulf States. Intervening threatens to turn it into a proxy war (or worse) between the United States and Russia. And over something of little or no strategic significance to the United States. I particularly object to intervention because it would result in another round of fruitless "nation building" that would cost money and lives, but produce little of value as far as the United States is concerned.
The reality is that the United States is incapable of the brutality required to bring peace to the region. To intervene successfully, the United States would have to violently suppress any group opposed to a secular government. The United States would then need to write a constitution for the country imposing a completely different political and legal culture on the country. Religious freedom would have to be enforced at the point of a bayonet; the very idea of Sharia law would have to be crushed. The United States would need to keep troops in the country for at least a generation or more to prevent any particular ethnic or religious group from using force to gain control of the government or upending the constitution imposed upon them.