The U.S. Should Intervene in Syria in a Big Way

The Syrian Quagmire
by Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight, Jr.

You can count me among the skeptics who believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's dabbling in the Syrian quagmire will not amount to much. Aerial bombing is of limited utility in a chaotic situation like that which prevails in Syria. I think it more likely that the Russian contingent will soon find itself under attack and be obliged to pull out with little to show for its trouble.

But the question of Syria will remain. Any quick glance at a map of the Mideast will underscore the importance of Syria -- or what used to be Syria. It is a huge territory right smack dab in the Mideast sharing borders with several Arab countries. Not long ago it was a force to be reckoned with, but after four years of internecine conflict some 300,000 people have been killed and nearly 12 million people, half of Syria's population, have been displaced. More than four million have fled the country.

That's a lot of people on the move with nowhere to go. Many are refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, but those countries are swamped. Hundreds of thousands are making their way into Europe where they are encountering a decidedly mixed reception. Germany is stepping up to accept many refugees, but other countries are shutting their borders.

One country that has the accommodations and wealth to accept many refugees is Saudi Arabia which has 100,000 air conditioned tents that can house upwards of three million people. They are used five days a year for Hajj pilgrims. But thus far, to no one's surprise, Saudi Arabia has accepted no refugees from Syria.

Some are pushing to have the United States accept more Syrian refugees. That is an unsettling prospect, not because we don't care or can't afford to help, but because if we opened our doors very wide, the terrorists would likely seize the opportunity to infiltrate our nation and wreak havoc among us.

Our only viable military option is to intervene in Syria in a big way, and by that I don't mean more bombing, more pathetic efforts at diplomacy and heaven forbid any more red lines. We would need to assemble the same kind of broad-based coalition President George Herbert Walker Bush and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell assembled to invade Kuwait and Iraq in Desert Storm. Only an overwhelming land force can impose order and peace on that tortured piece of real estate. We would lose people as would our allies, but the alternative is to simply stand idly by while this tragedy unfolds.

Convening such a coalition would be difficult. It would be even more difficult to decide ahead of time what sort of government we would impose on the area. It is an axiom of history -- one we ignored to our sorrow in our second invasion of Iraq -- that bad government is preferable to no government. We could never accept Assad's government, but we would have to replace it with something credible. That would be the ultimate test of our wisdom and resolve.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.