An Absence of Leadership in Syria by Sean Thomson

When I think about the war in Syria, I always return to a quote by Edmund Burke that declared: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” There’s a storm brewing in Idlib, a province located on the northern border of Syria and Turkey. As one of the few remaining rebel strongholds, the area holds massive strategic significance in the ongoing civil war. With a population of roughly 2.5 million people, and all sides of the conflict upping their manpower, the possibility of massive bloodshed is extremely high. With the stakes so high, it is of the utmost importance for the United States to take on a greater role in keeping the peace. For starters, the war in Syria holds global consequences: the dislocation of refugees, and the overall stability of the Middle East. In addition to this, the UN has proven itself ineffective in managing past global catastrophes. Finally, the stakes in this upcoming battle are too high for the United States to sit back and hope for the best.   

The war in Syria may seem far away, but the consequences of this conflict can be felt throughout the world. The most obvious consequence of the conflict is the massive population of refugees that has been shaken from their homes. In an effort to flee the war-torn region these people face disease, starvation, and risk being caught in the crossfire. The world community has made efforts to care for these people, but the fact remains that they deserve peace and stability in their homeland. The destabilization of Syria speaks to a larger trend in the Middle East. The overarching power struggle in the region is between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Syrian civil war has served as a proxy war for them to flex their muscles. The conflict brewing in Idlib has also brought Turkey and Russia into the mix. These factors have turned Syria into a powder keg that endangers the stability of the entire region. If the United States does not take decisive action to broker a peace, we may see the UN have to take on a greater leadership role.

It is tempting to want to sit back as a nation and allow other organizations like the UN to shoulder the burden of leadership. However, in times of global crisis the United Nations has proved itself largely ineffective. One of the most tragic examples of this came during the Rwandan genocide, when inaction by the UN led to the deaths of 800,000 people. This tragic loss of human life is something we should never wish to be repeated. While I believe that the UN fills an important role in world relations, their lackluster track record in combat zones leaves me skeptical about what they would be able to accomplish in Idlib. More recently, when the Russians annexed Crimea in 2014 there was an overwhelming response by the UN condemning the action. Four years later, and Crimea still remains in Russian hands. The reality of the situation is that the United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and when we fall into isolationist tendencies millions suffer. If the US does not make an active effort to cool the situation in Idlib, we will likely see another tragic episode of violence in an already brutal civil war.

The ultimate reason why the United States needs to up its stake in the Syrian conflict is because, without our involvement, there is no telling how gruesome the situation will get. To date, around 400,000 people  have been killed, and millions more people have been displaced. We have seen lines in the sand crossed time and time again. While I believe that the increased airstrikes of the Trump administration are a welcomed change, I know that we as a nation have more to offer the situation than just firepower. As Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran continue to up the ante with their forces it becomes obvious that there is no shortage of destructive capabilities, only in decisive, peace-minded leadership.

As a nation, we have become war weary after nearly twenty years fighting for stability in the region, but we cannot allow this to make us complacent. Above all else, the United States is a beacon of freedom and justice for people across the globe. When we fail the people of Syria, we fail our own ideals. We must take an honest look at the situation in Syria and realize that we are needed. Primarily, because the war in Syria has global consequences. Next, because of the inability of the UN to take action thus far. Finally, because without our involvement there is no telling how many more lives will be destroyed. As a country, we must remember the words of Edmund Burke and refuse to be good men who choose to do nothing.

Sean Thompson, Los Angeles Pacific University

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