With Bashar Assad waging a brutal war on his own people, there's a definite temptation for Americans to look for ways the United States could use its military power to turn the tide against the dictator. And past interventions in Libya and Kosovo have created the impression that we could play a decisive role in defeating Assad's forces at very low risk to our own.
That's clear from a new analysis by Brian T. Haggerty, a Ph.D. candidate in MIT's Security Studies Program. His 70-page paper on the topic concludes that "to establish safe havens in Syria defended from the air would be a major military undertaking, likely requiring greater resources, facing greater risks and with a lower probability of success than any of NATO's previous air campaigns in response to humanitarian crises in Bosnia, Kosovo or Libya."
Syrian air defenses would be a persistent danger, he argues, and our air power would do little to prevent the Syrian army from carrying out devastating attacks on insurgent forces. To defeat the government, NATO might well have to expand its mission to include strategic bombing and even ground troops of its own. What starts out as a brief, low-risk undertaking could turn into something more than Americans are prepared for.
There are lots of humanitarian crises involving vicious regimes around the world. Syria is one of the many that we'd be smart to stay out of.