By Joey Versen
As the United States’ hectic election season ends abruptly after being dragged on for so long, real and dangerous problems in other parts of the world continue to exist as violently as ever. Perhaps America and its citizens should switch gears, and look across the pond and over the Mediterranean Sea toward a country called Syria, where a bloody civil conflict grinds on and a leader threatens to remove basic human rights from millions of citizens.
In dealing with the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad wasted no time in beginning to violently suppress the fervent opposition to him and his government. After countless uses of military strength to crush public demonstrations, the various resistance groups met in Istanbul to form a unified movement against Assad, and their fight continues today.
Since the beginning of the struggle, it is estimated that somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000 Syrians have been killed. UNICEF reported that over 500 of those deaths were children, and the total number of casualties does not include around 500 foreign civilians that perished amid the fighting. It is difficult to estimate the total number of Syrian civilian casualties, but numerous sources assure that they occur on a regular basis.
Not only does the Syrian civil war pose an immense threat to its own citizens, but additionally the conflict has increasingly been seen as prone to spilling over borders in neighboring countries. In Turkey, Syrian mortar fire killed five Turkish citizens. In Lebanon, a Lebanese intelligence chief was killed by a car bomb, an attack that most consider to be sponsored by the Assad regime. Even Israel recently fired warning shots into Syrian airspace after a mortar shell hit an Israeli military post. Some have said that the best way for Assad to maintain control is to turn the conflict into a more widespread and regional one, and he seems to be doing just that.
Syria is undoubtedly a foreign policy mess. Yet now that President Obama has secured re-election, he has no reason to continue maintaining his weak stance concerning intervention. Considering that a recent White House press release on preventing atrocities dictates that the U.S. should strengthen its “ability to foresee, prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities,” the next steps should be clear to this administration.
Not only is it partially our country’s duty to stop the violations of human rights that occur there on a daily basis, but to allow this civil war to continue would pose further complications for the U.S. in the region. Taking a leadership role to end the treacherous rule of Bashar al-Assad would not only improve our relationships with certain allies in the Middle East, but would also limit the influence of countries like Iran, Russia and China, those who have been supporting the Assad regime and, in China’s and Russia’s cases, vetoing U.N. resolutions to take collective action against the Syrian government.
President Obama must revert to the strategy with which he approached Libya, one that was quite successful. With cooperation from several important allies, the U.S. was able to carry out numerous airstrikes on Libyan Army tanks and vehicles, as well as create a naval blockade and implement a no-fly zone over the country, all contributing to the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. Using similar tactics in Syria would prove to be effective without committing the United States to any sort of drawn-out ground war.
President Obama’s legacy will be determined greatly within the next four years. While the economy is obviously of principal concern, how he handles foreign policy regarding Syria could have a profound impact on how he is portrayed in history books. The president must at least return to his doctrine from earlier in his first term, thus playing a leadership role in the removal of a violent and relentless ruler who is responsible for the killing of countless innocents and the mass exodus of refugees pouring into neighboring countries.
With the burdening fear of jeopardizing re-election in the name of foreign policy now removed from his shoulders, President Obama has nothing preventing him from executing a clear and effective strategy in Syria, putting an end to the reign of an iron-fisted Assad regime and providing some form of order to a region plagued by violence and unrest.