Anyone who thinks the United States should get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war ought to have his head examined.
But there are no easy answers for this quagmire. If there were, the strongmen in Tehran and Moscow wouldn’t stand by and let responsible nations implement them.
That is not say the U.S. should sheepishly acknowledge the dictatorial, genocidal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. We have to do something. But what?
For starters, we have to clarify our objectives, the foremost of which should be crushing extremists like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Further, in addition to keeping the war from destabilizing Iraq and Jordan, we must remain mindful of refugee populations and the possibility of conflict rippling over into Israel, Lebanon and Turkey. Finally, the U.S. needs to contain the growing negative influence of Iran.
All this can be done without diving head-long into the Syrian civil war.
That said, it’s clear the U.S. military will have to get at least somewhat involved.
If Syria’s domestic troubles and the terrorists who call it home would simply stay within the borders that mark the nation on a map, the U.S. could sit things out. But like a homeowner who spots a fire in his neighbor’s backyard, we have to take action.
That means continuing to support others with military operations aimed at wresting extremists’ territorial control. It also means working with allies to prevent Iran from completing a highway connecting it with Israel neighbor Lebanon. We must also promote stable, humane governance in liberated territories.
While there are no guarantees in war, the chances of Syrian involvement pushing the U.S. into a wider conflict are small. Damascus, Moscow and Tehran aren’t much interested in directly warring on one another.
That doesn’t mean Syria, Russia and Iran want the U.S. to succeed in Syria. Each would be happy to see us falter, and Washington should remain alert to any threats the parties might present.
But what’s most important is that the Trump administration ensures the Islamic State’s defeat and wisely plans, with an eye to the broader region, for what comes next. Achieving our goals in Syria will mean little if we can’t bring about a greater measure of peace and stability to the Middle East.
This piece originally appeared in The Tri-City Herald.