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Archives: After Libya, will Obama intervene in Syria next?

Originally published in March 2011
Simon Nguyen

President Obama is having a war problem. After initially hesitant about intervening in Libya, the U.S. finally decided to enter the conflict alongside France and the UK. While the Obama administration’s intention is noble, its military action puts the country in a political quagmire. The reason why western countries have been unwilling to intervene in Libya, in spite of the grave humanitarian crisis there, is because of possible diplomatic and political consequences. Brutal crackdowns on democratic movements are widespread in Africa and the Middle East. One intervention may inevitably lead to other military interventions down the road. 

While the conflict in Libya remains in a prolonged stalemate, new developments elsewhere in the region are making the situation more complicated for President Obama. Reports over the weekend indicate that Syria may become the next Libya. There is an ongoing crackdown on democratic activists by the Syrian government that has left dozens of civilian deaths. The current situation in Syria is eerily similar to the early days of the Libya conflict. The good news is that President Bashar al-Assad has yet to demonstrate a brutality on the same scale as Colonel Gadhafi’s. However, there is no guarantee that he would not resort to bloody tactics if his rule is seriously threatened.

If Syria does turn out to be the next Libya, this will put the Obama administration in a tough political position. The main premise for U.S. engagement in Libya is to prevent a humanitarian crisis. If a similar crisis occurs in Syria, it will be tough for the U.S. to not intervene one way or another without being seen as a biased broker. As President Obama has often prided himself on being “a citizen of the world”, his credibility with democratic movements around the globe is clearly at stake.

Any U.S. engagement in Syria will likely encounter strong opposition from both sides of the aisle. Liberal Democrats are unlikely to support any military intervention, and conservatives will be eerie of the cost. Additionally, many lawmakers are unhappy that they were not properly consulted by the administration on the decision to intervene in Libya. Ultimately, Obama’s decision will be influenced by public opinion. A recent Rasmussen survey puts public support for U.S. involvement in Libya at 45%. Unless there is a quick resolution to the Libya conflict, another military intervention won’t be popular with the American people.

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