As the conflict within Syria continues to rage, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters, have recaptured the strategic town of al-Qusayr. Thousands of innocents have died, and reports suggest that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people – the supposed “red line” for direct U.S. intervention set by President Obama. Yet, the United States continues to watch from the sidelines while the situation rapidly deteriorates.
In testimony given this morning before the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, AEI vice president for foreign and defense policy Danielle Pletka outlined the reasons to intervene: to protect vital national security interests; to ensure that a post-Assad Syria is not controlled by terrorist groups; to protect from a conflagration throughout the Middle East; and to protect the credibility of the United States.
On our national security interests:
“There are those who suggest we do not have a dog in this fight. I could not disagree more. The United States has had an interest in the Middle East for more than five decades. We have allies, troops, resources and interests at stake. Syria is Iran’s most important Arab ally – indeed, it’s ONLY Arab ally. It is Iran’s conduit to the Levant, to the world’s most dangerous terrorist group, Hezbollah, and the route through which it arms and manages much of Lebanon.”
On ensuring a terror-free post-Assad Syria:
“We could have and still can work to support liberals and moderates. We can direct our assistance to benefit those who share those values. We can deny assistance to any regime that fails on these standards. We can support the private sector and starve the public sector. We can end cash transfers. We can vote with our feet and our taxpayer dollars. In each case I have mentioned, we have not.”
On preventing a regional conflict:
“The collapse of a central nation in the Middle East, the rise of an al Qaeda state, and/or the continued spillover of this conflict into the neighboring states of Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel is an undesirable outcome. Anyone who believes that a conflagration throughout the Middle East will have no implications for the United States is ignoring history.”
On protecting the credibility of the United States:
“As for the question of President Obama’s demand that Assad step down, and his August 2012 insistence that any use of chemical weapons by Assad would be a “game changer” and a “red line” for the United States, Mr. Obama’s approach appears to be to do nothing. This has major implications for the credibility of the President of the United States, not just in Syria, but worldwide. We can only imagine to ourselves how the Iranian regime appreciates the President’s failure to act on his own threats.”
Ms. Pletka warns that a continuing abdication of American leadership is wrong, both morally and strategically. While there is still time to make a difference, time is running out. She cautions:
“The United States still has a chance to help tip the balance in Syria. But if we do not intervene soon, on our terms and without boots on the ground, we can bet on having to intervene later, on terms dictated by others.”
Ms. Pletka is available for interviews and on background. To set up an interview, please contact a media services representative or email firstname.lastname@example.org (202.862.5829).