Syria, Chemical Weapons, And The Intervention Question

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

In an interview with NPR’s On Point program, Shadi Hamid calls for American intervention in Syria on the basis of humanitarian grounds, as well as rising levels of anti-American sentiment and radicalization on the ground. Hamid says a lot of damage has already been done with regard to radicalization in Syria and that the country’s future is bleak. Despite this reality, Hamid concludes it remains important for the United States to intervene.

The Assad regime will fall regardless of American intervention, Hamid says. The questions, then, are how long the United States waits to intervene and how many people die in the process. On this basis, Hamid supports a military intervention which doesn’t involve putting boots on the ground, but rather uses surgical air strikes and safe zones to diminish the regime’s ability to kill its own people. Hamid says to alternately depend on channels such as the United Nations or wait for a verification process regarding the regime’s use of chemical weapons will take time and delay action, thereby exacerbating existing problems, whether inside Syria or involving anti-American sentiment in the region.

Hamid says the idea that the international community can nurture a perfect Syrian opposition before committing to military action is misguided. He says the fighting forces in Syria are not primarily secularist, and more accurately reflect varying shades of Islamism. Hamid points out extremists tend to gain prominence during situations of war because they generally have better access to weapons and support, and that in Syria these extremists have already come to the fore.

Considering radicalization and rising levels of anti-American sentiment inside Syria, Hamid notes there is an issue of American credibility at stake not just in Syria but in the broader region. Hamid says American intervention in Syria will show the United States sides with the Syrian people and will make a difference in the longer-term of American-Middle Eastern relations. Hamid suggests the world, including Syrians, still look to the United States for moral and political leadership.

Hamid says the American public is historically receptive to foreign policy action in light of humanitarian crises. If the Obama administration wanted to explain the Syrian case clearly, Hamid suggests there would likely be public willingness for American engagement. However, Hamid also says the Obama administration has demonstrated it does not want to get involved in Syria and has a lot of wiggle room to avoid following up on prior-delineated “red lines” on the use of chemical weapons.

Listen to the full On Point program »