20/20 Hindsight in the Middle East


“By idly standing by as the chaos in Syria worsens, the United States is allowing the proliferation of dangerous extremist groups.” Two years ago, I argued these words in a Public Forum debate, positing that the United States’ lack of involvement in the Syrian civil war undermined our national security by allowing the development and expansion of jihadist groups. The monthly resolution, “Resolved: Current United States foreign policy in the Middle East undermines our national security”, allowed debaters to take any stance on any facet of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. In the face of such a wide variety of possibilities, I deliberately chose what I saw as one of the more egregious mistakes in our foreign policy; we refused to act as Syria became a breeding ground for terrorists because we shortsightedly prioritized political popularity over national security.

Of course, at that time, the extremists in Syria and Iraq had not developed nearly the level of cohesion and danger as they have now. Nevertheless, the threat was recognizable even by a high school senior. Others chomped at the ideological bit and prognosticated the potential problem with allowing the chaos of Syria to develop further. The New York Times reported on July 24, 2012 that Syria was becoming a magnet for extremist Sunni jihadists, and Rep. Mike Rodgers, the Chairman of the House Permanent Intelligence Committee, pronounced that of the approximately 300 rebel groups in Syria, of which a quarter “may be inspired” by Al Qaeda.

Intervention of any kind into a Middle Eastern nation is rarely a popular strategy, particularly in the wake of America’s disastrous, decade-long escapades in Afghanistan and Iraq, which arguably drained the most ethos of any foreign policy decision since Vietnam. However, regardless of the popularity of a potential action in Syria, the lack of vision by our leaders has led us to the present crisis: ISIS has erased all progress we achieved in Iraq, is terrorizing thousands of innocents, has murdered American citizens and arguably plans to attack the U.S. homeland.

I cannot say I felt it wise to recommend a heavy-handed, unilateral intervention, nor a deployment of troops or any action of that magnitude. Nonetheless, impotently decrying the atrocities we witnessed as the situation devolved clearly did little to resolve the situation. Of course, the dramatic opposition to intervention by the public hindered any effort to do so, even if the administration had proposed any kind of military action. As difficult as it may be, the administration needs to recognize that the American public is not as far-sighted as it considers itself, and naturally does not have access to the same degree of information and expertise as our leaders. Therefore, even if it is a politically unpopular decision at the time, the U.S. must trust its leaders’ instinct and not rely on hindsight to determine when to step in and help defuse a situation, lest the whole world suffers for it.

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