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The U.S. Has No Dog In The Fight In Syria

The BriefGet Up To Speed

There are certain international crises that on their face demand the immediate and urgent attention of presidents. We all know them when we see them -- and so does the man in the White House. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait comes to mind -- an easy call. But there are other situations where the call may be tougher to make. Bosnia got a president's attention; Rwanda did not. And what about Syria -- now in the midst of a civil war and humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Certainly there are U.S. interests at stake, but are they vital interests? And what of President Obama's response so far: it has been deliberately limited, but should he go further, and with what sorts of options? Military intervention? Something else? Something less? One thing is certain: Syria is not one of those easy calls. It's what we're debating in Aspen, when we take on the topic: The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria.


Neither arming the rebels nor air strikes is likely to produce a rapid victory for the Syrian opposition or to transform the underlying political and strategic realities.

Friday, February 1, 2013
March Lynch

As we did not learn from the French in Vietnam nor the British (and the Russians) in Afghanistan, so a political tip-toe into the bitter social divisions of Syria, even in the worthy humanitarian cause, is perilous.

Thursday, June 20, 2013
Gary Hart

While it can be argued that presidents have the authority to act unilaterally to repel attacks and defend the country, there is far less justification for the wars of whim and casual military engagements that have come to define the United States in the latter part of the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty-first.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
John Nichols

Obama’s options in Syria are awful. But the United States is headed for intervention anyway.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Aaron David Miller

The United States has already intervened in Syria over the past year, and it should continue to do so with a focus on diplomacy aimed at getting other countries to pull their weight and exert their influence to stop the violence in Syria.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Brian Katulis

One thing is certain: the United States is unable and unwilling to pursue ambitious goals in Syria. But as the United States eases or slips into involvement, plans for the aftermath should still influence actions taken today.

Friday, June 28, 2013
Renanah Miles

The grim reality is that the Syrian civil war is part of a far broader power struggle that now ties the Levant and Gulf together, can greatly aid Iran, can further divide Islam between Sunnis and minorities like Shi’ites and Alewites, and affects every U.S. friend and ally in the region.

Friday, June 14, 2013
Anthony Cordesman

With a brutal dictator like Mr. Assad, only the knowledge that he cannot prevail will force him to negotiate an exit.

Monday, June 17, 2013
Wesley Clark

To stop Syria’s meltdown and contain its mushrooming threats, the United States should launch a partial military intervention aimed at pushing all sides to the negotiating table.

Thursday, August 1, 2013
Andrew Tabler

If the exceptionally dire circumstances of Syria -- of mass slaughter and the resulting destabilization of an entire region (including Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq) -- are not enough to trigger intervention, then what would?

Monday, June 17, 2013
Shadi Hamid

The dangers of intervention, even a carefully calibrated intervention, are real. But keeping our distance doesn’t avoid them. It just postpones them and raises the price.

Sunday, June 2, 2013
Bill Keller

Syria is a consequence of Obama’s retreat from the Middle East.

Friday, June 21, 2013
Thomas Donnelly

Assad is Iran’s closest ally in the region and has played host to Hezbollah and Hamas, his regime possesses chemical weapons, and he has allowed Syria to be a transit point for extremists entering Iraq.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Jamie Fly

CFR’s backgrounder on the Syrian conflict.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Jonathan Masters

BBC’s coverage of the Syrian conflict.<a name="casualties" id="casualties"></a>

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reports are hard to verify, as few journalists are allowed into Syria and casualty numbers come primarily from government and opposition sources. But there have been some major attacks that stand out as particularly violent episodes in an already bloody conflict.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The diplomatic confusion around the Syrian crisis is huge, analysts and columnists are at a loss to make any sense out of it, and maybe diplomats are, too.

Monday, June 3, 2013
Marc Pierini

The three most salient preference structures prioritize limiting regional instability, containing Iran, and safeguarding chemical and biological weapons. The best outcome is a rebel victory that would result in part from indirect and clandestine U.S. support.

Friday, March 1, 2013
Radha Iyengar and Brian Fishman
Syrian Opposition

Key rebel groups, their leaders and ideology.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hundreds of Europeans and thousands of other Sunni Muslim foreign fighters have made Syria the new land of jihad.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Sebastian Rotella

The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered new turbulence at the top when Ghassan Hitto, the prime minister of its still-notional interim government, resigned.

Monday, July 8, 2013
Anne Barnard

Commander shot in the head by al-Qaeda-linked fighters in attack that signals growing strife between rebel groups.

Friday, July 12, 2013
Al Jazeera

Russia has presented evidence to the UN it says shows Syrian rebels attacked regime forces with sarin gas that was produced in "cottage industry" conditions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Al Jazeera
Arming Rebels

The House and Senate intelligence committees have approved CIA weapons shipments to opposition fighters in Syria, despite ongoing concerns.

Monday, July 22, 2013
Karen DeYoung

The administration’s plans to use the C.I.A. to covertly train and arm rebels could take months to have any impact on a chaotic battlefield. Many officials believe the assistance is unlikely to bolster the rebellion enough to push President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the negotiating table.

Sunday, July 14, 2013
Mark Mazzett

Will pouring more guns into this fight result in more deaths? Or will it level the killing field and bring down the regime sooner?

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Rania Abouzeid
Safe Zone

The United States—working with European allies, Turkey, and other regional partners—should advance a new strategy that uses combined airpower to impose a safe zone in northern Syria, where the country’s armed opposition groups have de facto control of large territory, and the Assad regime’s air defense systems are weaker and fewer in number.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
The Foreign Policy Initiative and The Henry Jackson Society

It’s complicated and carries risks that make the international community hesitant to implement it.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Ariel Zirulnick
No-Fly Zone

A limited-objective, psychologically focused no-fly zone might not bring the Assad regime down, but it is feasible. It would save some Syrian lives and hinder the expansion of Iranian power.

Thursday, July 4, 2013
Steven Metz

President Barack Obama expressed skepticism that setting up a no-fly zone in Syria or other major US military action could save lives or tip the balance against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Jorge Benitez

Lawmakers on Sunday pressed for President Obama to put a “no-fly zone” in place over Syria, even as U.S. military officers have expressed doubts over its effectiveness.

Monday, June 17, 2013
Mark Thompson

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, will not permit no-fly zones to be imposed over Syria.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Talks between the United States and Russia to set up a Syrian peace conference produced no deal on Tuesday, with the powers on either side of the two-year civil war failing to agree when it should be held or who would be invited.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Oliver Holmes and Tom Miles

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the United States and Russia were still working toward holding an international peace conference on Syria and agreed that it should take place ‘sooner rather than later.’

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Michael R. Gordon

Russia's Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev told reporters last week that Russia was obliged to fulfill its existing contracts even in the teeth of international pressure.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Michael Grabell
U.S. Strategy

The Pentagon has provided Congress with its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria.

Monday, July 22, 2013
Mark Landler and Thom Shanker

Inside the White House debate over Syria

Monday, May 13, 2013
Dexter Filkins

President Obama's decision to intervene more directly in Syria's civil war by providing limited lethal aid to certain members of the Syrian opposition is a significant foreign policy commitment. It is also a very confused one.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Micah Zenko

Differences between State and the Pentagon on the way forward in Syria.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Jeffrey Goldberg
Additional Articles

To blame the United States and the West for this sad situation while the regime, aided by foreign fighters and protected by the Russian Federation, subjects Syria and the surrounding neighborhood to a campaign of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and gross violations of international human rights law, is an outrage.

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Frederic C. Hof

At least 6,000 people flee every day, 5,000 die a month and the conflict is merging with violence in Iraq, officials warn.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Al Jazeera

Syria is not comparable to Iraq or Afghanistan -- or Somalia, or Bosnia, or Kosovo, or Libya, or any other U.S. military intervention (or non-intervention) in the past quarter-century.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Micah Zenko