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Opinion: Op-Eds

The case for the West to intervene in Syria

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After the now-confirmed chemical attack in Syria by the Assad regime on its own people on Aug. 21 that killed upwards of 355 people, the West had to at least debate on how to react. Indeed, after ignoring the terrible civil war that killed about 100,000 people for the past two-and-a-half years, the absolutely horrific images of children dying warranted a reaction of some kind.

The issue, whether to intervene militarily or not, is a valid one in the context of Western public opinions being wildly divided. In any event, just for humanitarian reasons and to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime, the military intervention should take place.

But these are far from the only reasons that should come into play when weighing a strike. In fact, larger geopolitical interests should very much come into the equation.

For instance, there is the fact that all major international players are one way or another involved in the Syrian conflict, except the West. So a long list of countries, from Lebanon to Turkey to Jordan to Iraq to Qatar to Saudi Arabia to Iran to Russia to China, are playing their pawns to advance their own ultimate goal.

But even more worrisome in a way is the fact that viciously dangerous non-state actors such as al Qaeda, Al Nusrah and Hezbollah are active factors on the Syrian battlefield. Western nations cannot afford the luxury of not being present on the chess board.

Indeed, at this point, the West is missing an opportunity to play an important role in the most destabilizing conflict in the region. There is a real domino effect in the making.

Not only is the huge humanitarian crisis having disastrous consequences for the neighbouring countries, but also the actual fighting is having spill-over effects. The conflict has spread to Iraq, Turkey — the Kurdish issue has sprung again — and especially to Lebanon, where in the past few weeks the deadliest terror attacks since the civil war in 1975 took place.

In light of this, the argument that by intervening the West is going to fuel the fire is moot because the whole region is already burning up and the West's action could actually help quell it.

By de facto not doing anything, the West is leaving the field wide open to its enemies to win and hurt it in the medium to long run. Indeed, a proxy war is being waged in Syria that has all the hallmarks of a war of religion, if you will, between Sunnis and Shias.

Also, the argument of not picking sides between two evils, i.e. al Qaeda and Assad, is no longer valid. In fact, this war is not a zero-sum game. Both the West's enemies are winning: al Nusrah is making great strides within the opposition and setting up mini-Islamist states and Assad's army has been steadily gaining ground. The West cannot let the Assad/Iran axis win and cannot afford to have al Qaeda rule territories within Syria.

The argument that the chemical weapons stockpile could end up in the hands of al Qaeda is not standing its ground because Assad could also decide on a whim to provide some of its weapons to Hezbollah. Both are terrible scenarios indeed.

Furthermore, limited military intervention could also deter Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Iranian regime will consider the international community's response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime as evidence of its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

Last but not least, al Qaeda is already capitalizing on the Syrian conflict, de facto using it as a tool to radicalise generations of Western Muslims, as it did in Bosnia.

Not surprisingly, European security services have warned about the risks of potential domestic terror attacks from elements fighting in Syria and returning to their home country well-trained and radicalised.

If that is not enough to intervene, then what will be?

Olivier Guitta is the Director of Research at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think tank in London.

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