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.
The last thing the United States needs to do is get directly involved in another Middle East war—we need only think back to the strategic disaster that the 2003-2011 Iraq war was for the United States. Or we can recall the Reagan administration's decision to send U.S. forces to Lebanon in 1982—an engagement which ended shortly after the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks, resulting in the highest death toll in a single day for the U.S. military since the end of the Vietnam War. The United States needs to use its unrivaled military might judiciously.
For years, important global security questions have focused almost exclusively on one question—should the United States employ its own military force to deal with that problem? This is a consequence of several factors—America's unrivaled military power in the world, America's overinvestment in military power and underinvestment of diplomatic and economic tools of power, and low expectations of other countries taking responsibility for their own security affairs and events in their immediate region. The question of "intervention" needs to include the full spectrum of tools at America's disposal—not just how many boots on the ground there are or fighter jets in the air.
On Syria, the Obama administration has intervened over the past year in Syria seeking to strike the right balance by offering support to Syrians seeking peaceful change and isolating the government—with a strong focus on what others countries like Turkey are willing and capable of doing on Syria. In his 2009 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama signaled this new approach to foreign policy—one that put even greater emphasis on the responsibilities of other countries.
The Obama administration's approach on Syria over the last year is built upon the notion that others need to play an important role in helping craft the plan. A "Made in America" military intervention would end up inflaming the region's sectarian divisions and would remake the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq. For now, the United States should continue quietly working with key countries in the region like Turkey, a NATO ally with the strongest potential to provide assistance and safe harbor to Syrians looking to leave the conflict zone. Another important country is Iraq, which has strong economic links to Syria—the United States should try to use its leverage with the Iraqi government to get its support in isolating the Assad regime in Syria.
Syria's civil war risks drawing regional actors into a wider battle and the key regional actors need to play the leading role in addressing this conflict. The United States should remain engaged and be prepared to intervene, but looking to Washington to produce a military solution to this conflict is unwise.
About Brian Katulis Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress
Aaron David Miller Former Adviser to Republican and Democrat Secretaries of State
Jamie M. Fly Former Director for Counterproliferation Strategy at the National Security Council
Ammar Abdulhamid Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
James Robbins Senior Fellow at the the American Foreign Policy Council