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Fecteau: Dire Choices on Syria

Monday, February 27, 2017


The United States has been leading an air assault similar to that of past conflicts in Libya, and Yugoslavia, but this time, targeting the terror group the so-called Islamic State in Syria. It was recently disclosed the Pentagon has been discussing introducing conventional troops into Syria; this comes with some profound, inherent risks. 

This new proposal would expand the war in Syria much further and also increase the potential for American casualties. These forces would obviously complement the American special operators already in Syria. The initial, limited aim of the operation would likely be the defeat of the Islamic State. 

 The Pentagon has two dreadful choices to make if it seeks to introduce conventional forces. The first option would be to withdraw after the terror group is defeated. In doing so, U.S. forces would simply relinquish control to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, and his government. The Syrian government would likely further destabilize the region through its persecution of those opposed to its regime, only exacerbating the refugee crisis. 

The Assad-led Syrian government has been making significant inroads through indiscriminate killing, chemical weapons, and torture; legitimate grievances now exist against this regime, especially if the U.S. is seen siding with Assad. This is something our enemies could capitalize on for propaganda purposes. 

The second choice is even more concerning. More combat troops could expedite our victory over the so-called Islamic State, but as we’ve seen in Iraq, a conventional victory doesn’t necessarily translate into an end to the conflict. If the situation becomes even more tenuous, the United States faces the risk of being involved in a protracted war. 

The fluidity of the situation may call for a longer commitment than planned; the military calls this mission creep, shifting from a short-term to long-term commitment because of uncertainty -- similar to that of insurgency during the Iraq War. This would come at the hefty expense of American lives, and money. 

 No easy solutions exist to defeat the so-called Islamic State, but even limited action has a price; the mounting death toll in Syria is evidence of that. Americans are at present ambivalent about another war. A recent NBC News and Survey Monkey poll found that 66% of Americans are worried about a war over the next four years—as they should be; another war may be on the horizon once again.   

Matt Fecteau ([email protected])  is a former White House national security intern and Iraq war veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


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