We Know the Problems in Syria – What’s the Solution?

PHOTO: Public Domain

In the latest installment of AGORA, Dan Georgakas and Constantinos Scaros exchange ideas about Syria and where we should go from here.


Dino, if you ask almost any American their priority for the Middle East they will answer: the destruction of ISIS. This objective, unfortunately, has become entwined with American policies that include reshaping national borders and intervening in civil wars.

The latest interventionist thinking regards Syria. More than 50 officials in the American diplomatic corps have published a letter asking for a “more muscular military posture” in Syria. They advocate the use of “stand off and air weapons” to bolster forces in Syria now in rebellion against the regime of Bashar el-Assad.

This view echoes the perspectives that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. After spending billions of dollars and suffering significant military casualties, the new borders being formed are not what we anticipated. Iraq has become a failed state and ISIS has emerged as a dangerous enemy. Hussein was certainly a tyrant but he never had the intent or ability to threaten the United States.

The ouster of the tyrannical Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was a similar phenomenon. The consequence has been another failed state in which extreme Jihadists have considerable power in many regions.

Assad is another tyrant whose regime poses no threat to American security. Moreover, his secular regime has never targeted religious and ethnic minorities for unfavorable treatment. He makes noises against Israel, but has not provoked significant physical conflicts.

When rebels arose against Assad, American political hawks wanted to support the rebels even though the bulk of them were Jihadists. They devalued Assad’s genuine opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which wants to occupy as much of Syria as possible. Assad turned for aid to Russia, a traditional Syrian ally.

Opposition to increased American military involvement in Syria transcends partisan differences. Arch-conservative and Nixon-speechwriter Pat Buchanan vehemently opposes the U.S. playing policeman in the Middle East. He argues it is in our national interest to lessen rather than increase military interventions. Bernie Sanders believes intervention in Syria would duplicate what happened in Iraq. Democratic liberals such as Elizabeth Warren and Republican libertarians such as Senator Rand Paul hold similar views.

The hawkish Hillary Clinton is very hostile to accepting Russian influence in this region, even though the region is directly on Russia’s borders. Earlier she advocated a no-fly zone in Syria that had enormous risks regarding possible clashes with Russian aircraft. The ouster of Gaddafi occurred during her tenure as Secretary of State. That period also saw the rise of ISIS, a tide she was unable to stem.

Last November, Donald Trump seconded Clinton’s call for a “safety zone” in Syria. Three months later he switched to backing Obama’s policy of minimal intervention. One month after that he advocated sending 30,000 ground troops to Syria and Iraq. More recently he has said leave Assad alone so he can fight ISIS. Tomorrow, he could tweet yet another position.

President Obama made a disastrous declaration of a red line Assad was not to cross. When Assad supposedly crossed that line, Obama backed down. Although wary of Russia, Obama gradually has managed to moderate his Assad-must-go stance and rejects the suggestion that more military intervention in Syria would be beneficial to the United States.

Dealing with the Syrian civil war, Russian activities in the region, and the presence of ISIS are formidable challenges facing our next president. Making the mistake of reckless intervention for a third time should not be an option. The presumptive candidates of the major parties need to be pressed to state a coherent and efficient policy that focuses on ISIS, not Assad.


Dan, trying to resolve the Middle East muddle is like trying to go swimming without getting wet. It just isn’t going to happen. Anything I suggest here surely will have a formidable counterargument, and any president who might propose is likely to be treated unkindly by history because of the short-term consequences. But if history were to treat that president more graciously in the long run, then that, indeed, would be the least unwise policy. That said, here’s my two cents:

In rare accordance with Hillary Clinton, I, too, favor a safe haven. Unlike Hillary, though, the safe zone would serve in place of, not in addition to, refugees entering Europe and America by the thousands.

Pat Buchanan, whom you mention, is a classic paleoconservative who didn’t even think we should have gone into World War II, because, in his words, “Hitler was a land animal who never could have done any harm to us across the Atlantic.” So if Buchanan would have stepped aside as the Third Reich ran roughshod all over Europe, he surely wouldn’t commit U.S. blood and treasure to fighting a comparatively tamer monster like Assad.

In contrast, neocons – Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld come to mind, though John McCain and Lindsey Graham surely deserve mention – never met a war they didn’t like. And Rand Paul simply can’t stand government, period, whether it is protecting our interests abroad or our border at home.

I am certainly not in favor of war – no civilized human being should consider it anything but a last resort. But as far as the Middle East goes, there was hardly a more stable time in the Middle East from America’s perspective than in the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq were killing each other.

Granted, Donald Trump keeps sticking and moving, sticking and moving… when it comes to foreign policy, but he’s right when he takes the “let ‘em kill each other” approach. He was right not to overreact to Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s Syrian intervention, and Putin was wise to exit long before Syria became another Afghani thorn in Russia’s side.

Safe havens would allow refugees to live in their own land amid their own culture, without fearing ostracizing, deportation, or other disparate treatment in a strange land. That would stabilize things in Europe, not least of all in crisis-ravaged Greece, and would take a little edge off the anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S., which no matter what the pundits say, is far and away the top reason Donald Trump so easily dispensed of five senators and nine governors en route to the GOP nomination.