Marc Lynch: What’s Really At Stake in the Syria Debate – War on the Rocks

For many U.S. politicians and pundits, forceful action in virtually any arena is its own reward. In Syria specifically, many interventionists have argued that the United States needs to be more deeply involved in the war because this will give it more diplomatic and military leverage.  Leadership and involvement, in this view, has value in its own right independently of outcomes on the battlefield. Russia would take U.S. diplomacy more seriously if it saw American political capital invested in the game. American allies, whether in the Gulf or among the Syrian opposition, would be more inclined to follow Washington’s lead if they saw its power more fully deployed.  American proxies would be stronger on the ground, or at least have more spoils of patronage to show for their alignment, and be better placed to push back jihadists within the ranks of the insurgency. By showing leadership and paying costs, the United States would gain diplomatic advantages and, perhaps, win the respect of Arab and Muslim publics.

Critics doubt many of these assumptions about the likely outcome of action. They look at the lessons of Iraq and see few benefits and enormous costs to deeper military involvement in such a war. The lessons of Iraq and Libya loom appropriately large. History suggests that few of the proposed benefits are likely to materialize, while the costs and unintended consequences of action typically far exceed predictions.  U.S. allies and adversaries would not simply step aside as Washington entered the fray. Allies would continue to push for more and more support, and to shape American policy choices, while adversaries would continue to move to check American advances and counter its moves.  Deeply divided Arab and Muslim publics deeply conditioned to question American policies would not likely welcome the U.S. military role, whatever they say today, and jihadists would certainly not stop fighting. Such reservations explain why the Obama administration has been so deeply wary of being dragged down the famous slippery slope from limited actions into direct military involvement.

But that, nonetheless, is where Syria policy seems to be headed.

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