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The Moral Case for Military Intervention in Syria

Rojava soldiers from a women's protection unit pictured in August 2015. Image source: BijiKurdistan via Flickr / Wikimedia Commons.

Rojava soldiers from a women's protection unit pictured in August 2015. Image source: BijiKurdistan via Flickr / Wikimedia Commons.

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On Friday, April 7, as millions of people around the world reacted to the atrocious chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime, the Trump administration launched 59 tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base, in what initially seemed to be a vigorous response to the use of WMDs against civilians.

However, according to The Guardian, these air strikes did not dramatically affect Assad’s capability of killing his own civilians. These strikes, in fact, sidestep a fundamental problem: freedom in Syria, and a stop to the bloodshed cannot be achieved without U.S. intervention.

The situation in Syria is one of the most complicated on Earth. Multiple factions are involved in a tragic civil war, each faction backed by both regional and international powers. A ¨moderate rebel” alliance (The Free Syrian Army) consisting of radical, Islamic fundamentalists, is at odds with Bashar Al Assad: a man who gasses his own citizens.

In the northeast, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, regularly commits acts of terror. In the west, ISIL controls almost as much land as the Syrian government itself, while it destroys historic landmarks, beheads any opposition, and introduces a form of Sharia law that makes Saudi Arabia look like a liberal, western democracy.  All together, almost 500,000 people have died.

But, in the far north, sanity does exist, in the form of Rojava. This group of ethnic Kurds has established universities, freedom of speech, press and democracy. The autonomous region has been hailed as a beacon of human rights, not just in Syria, but in the entire Middle East. The Kurds of Rojava have been committed to the fight against ISIL, along with their Kurdish allies in Iraq.

The Assad regime has a long and bloody history of killing its own citizens, the latest case being the gassing to death of at least 69 people on April 4, using the extremely deadly and illegal nerve agent Sarin.

When 80 people are gassed…  When 500,000 people have died, and the most likely outcome is another totalitarian government, the most powerful country on Earth has a moral obligation to intervene. It is time for the U.S. to send troops into Syria and to intervene on the side of Rojava.”

On the other hand, The Free Syrian Army has used child soldiers, according to Human Rights Watch, and is dominated by jihadist groups like the Islamic Front and Jaysh al-Islam. In fact, the Free Syrian Army’s main complaint was that the Assad Regime was too secular.

ISIL is responsible for barbarous cruelties such as drowning people in cages and  beheading journalists. Members of the organization position themselves as sworn enemies of western civilization.

Without major American intervention, one of these groups is bound to take power, and the 17 million people who live in Syria will suffer. That is why American military intervention is now necessary.

When 80 people are gassed, the most powerful country on Earth, which helped to defeat the USSR, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, has a moral obligation to intervene. When entire cities are turned to rubble by Russian airstrikes, which use thermobaric bombs to rip apart the lungs of anyone in the vicinity, the most powerful nation on Earth has a moral responsibility to intervene. When the most powerful terrorist group in history controls massive swaths of a country, the most powerful nation has a moral responsibility to intervene. When 500,000 people have died, and the most likely outcome is another totalitarian government, the most powerful country on Earth has a moral obligation to intervene. It is time for the U.S. to send troops into Syria and to intervene on the side of Rojava.

Isolationists will immediately point out the failure of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Syria is not Iraq. In Iraq, there was no pre-existing civil war; Iraq was relatively stable, although Saddam Hussein was one of the most brutal dictators in history. In Iraq, there was no side to intervene on: it was simply the US taking over a foreign country. In contrast, if we are to intervene on the side of Rojava, we immediately have a number of advantages.

First, Rojava is already backed by the United States, albeit indirectly. Rojava is also backed by other NATO countries, like the UK, Germany and France. Secondly, Rojava already has significant territory: almost 25% of the country is controlled by Rojava, all of it in the North. Thirdly, Rojava is a free, democratic state.

Rojava has a ban on forced marriages and child marriages. In fact, Rojava has moved to become more like Switzerland, as they plan to introduce direct democracy. Rojava will become, much like Israel, a beacon of freedom in the Middle East.

The biggest problem with this plan is Turkey, arguably one of the most strategically important countries on Earth. Turkey has the 2nd largest army in NATO, only behind the United States, and was a key buffer in the Cold War between the USSR and the Middle East. However, Turkey is not as democratic as it used to be. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken Turkey in the opposite direction, and has made the country more Islamic and less secular. Freedom of press and freedom of speech have come under fire. Journalists who oppose the Erdogan regime are jailed.

Turkey has a long history of  mistreating the Kurdish people and resisting their calls for independence.  This, among other reasons, led to the failed coup in Turkey. Turkey is no democracy. Some say Erdogan has a vision of reuniting the Ottoman Empire. Despite all of this, Turkey is still a necessary ally for the United States.

Turkey is vital in the fight against ISIL, and is a powerful NATO presence in the Middle East. Make no mistake, Turkey will not be happy. However, deals can be made. Fetullah Gulen, the leader of the Turkish coup, could be extradited back to Turkey. Syria itself could potentially be divided between Turkey and the Kurds.

Regardless, the US must intervene on the side of Rojava. With thousands of lives at stake, including those of children, and the chance to create a thriving democracy in the Middle East, the Trump administration must intervene. The alternative is another authoritarian, anti-American state, and a long continuation of an already bloody civil war. If we do not act now, Syria will go down as another instance where America failed to act, right next to the 800,000 dead bodies in Rwanda.

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The Moral Case for Military Intervention in Syria