Ignorance is Bliss
Syria almost blew up in our faces a minute ago, and the fact that most people can’t point to the Middle Eastern nation on a map is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s to the east of Iraq—you know, under Turkey? North of Jordan? Nevermind).
To understand the United States’ situation with Syria, here’s an index card- sized explanation: Two years ago, peaceful protests began to challenge the government currently in power. President Bashar al-Assad responded with a violent crackdown. Syria is now engulfed in a full-fledged civil war, most recently pushed into our media spotlight because of the chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in Damascus, a suburb outside Syria’s capital. Resulting in over 1,200 fatalities, this use of chemical weapons crossed the “red line” President Obama drew in the sand of biological warfare. In response, the United Nations passed a resolution requiring Syria to abandon its weapons stockpile.
Before the resolution passed, however, there existed a strong possibility of American boots landing on Syrian ground. A recent CNN poll showed 59 percent of Americans oppose Congress authorizing military action in Syria, in addition to 72 percent believing said action would not achieve any goals, leaving President Obama caught in a bind. Still reeling from the Iraq War, Americans are defiant in their call to stay out of international conflicts. Professor Miriam Elman, who specializes in international security and Middle Eastern relations, argues the cure for Americans’ fear of involvement is support from other countries. “The American public has become largely isolationist when it comes to military solutions and interventions, at least in the Middle East and North Africa. The public does not see America's vital interests at stake in these conflicts,” Elman says. She clarifies that to avoid allowing a failed state to become an anti-American haven, multinational interventions are necessary.
The U.S. was almost on the brink of a brand new military conflict, and it’s becoming important to know what our generation— the Millennials, and the future leaders of tomorrow—thinks about intervening in other nations. But unless directly asked by an international relations professor, it seems we don’t think about it much at all. Sure, everyone will quietly and with a raised question mark- implying voice say that the United States shouldn’t get involved in any more conflicts; but when asked the dreaded question: “Why?” we respond in silence. Growing up in the wake of conflict in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and all the American newsroom and family dinnertime commentary that went along with it, our generation is conditioned to reject all ideas of military intervention. The irony lies in the fact that so few of us know the full situation. We only know that the answer is to look up from our Instagram feeds and give a loud and confident, “No!”
If not military action, then peaceful intervention stands as the only answer. Elman points out that not all aid is synonymous with boots on the ground, and that, in its hesitation, the United States has lost its chance in Syria. “The U.S. should have provided material assistance to the rebel movement early in the conflict,” Elman says. “Now, two years later, any intervention will not lead to an outcome that would be as beneficial as transitioning Syria to a democracy it once could have been. A democratic Syria is no longer an option on the table.” The U.S.’s best hope now, Elman says, is stability: an end to the ongoing violence.
With peaceful intervention out, and military intervention considered a stressor on a fragile situation, the American public can finally feel pacified by its isolation. It seems that in terms of international issues, America resembles a swaddled baby: useless and asleep.