As anti-government protests continue in Syria, should the United States lead the way and intervene or abstain from taking action unless called upon to do so by the international community?
There is something to be said for both options, according to Wikistrat‘s Syrian Regime Stability simulation, where analysts from around the world explore the potential outcomes, interests and policy options with regard to the recent unrest.
The turmoil in Syria threatens regional stability, including hard won gains in Iraq. Regime change would certainly be in America’s interest. President Bashar al-Assad has allied his government with Iran and supported terrorism in Lebanon and against Israel. A Syria that is more susceptible to Western, including Israel’s, interests would be welcome.
Leading a military intervention could backfire however. While America’s supportive role in Libya has been criticized at home, a more aggressive involvement would probably have invited the scorn of other great powers, notably China and Russia, and possibly bolstered anti-Americanism across the Middle East.
Unilateral or near exclusive American action in Syria might not even be acceptable to European allies who remember the invasion of Iraq all too well. Britain and France may be urging their American ally to intensify operations in Libya but Germany and Turkey opposed the intervention in the first place and would almost certainly oppose a similar effort in Syria.
Turkey, especially, is in a tough spot. While it has cautiously urged Assad to implement reforms, it hesitates to pick sides in the conflict while the outcome remains so unclear.
The impossibility of predicting what a post-Assad Syria would look like is another complicating factor. Daniel DePetris pointed this out earlier this month, warning that the “sudden removal of Assad and his Alawite dominated regime could ignite a sectarian conflict between Sunnis tired of sitting on the sidelines and Syria’s minorities who have gotten used to governing the state and enjoying the privileges of power.”
It may take another near massacre as was feared in Benghazi to compel the United States to action. The “responsibility to protect” threshold has to remain fairly high, according to the experts at Wikistrat, unless the West intends to get chain ganged into multiple human rights interventions that would increasingly appear to be a neo-imperialist endeavor in the eyes of the Arab world. The possibility of brutal and imminent suppression aside, intervention carries huge risks that America wants to avoid.