As the Syrian Civil War Escalates, America Must Face the Consequences of Passivity

March 3, 2020 | Noah Rothman
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Beginning last month, Turkish and Syrian forces have been involved in escalating clashes in the Idlib province, which raises the specter of a direct attack by Bashar al-Assad’s patron, Vladimir Putin, on a member of NATO. Over the weekend, Turkish airplanes engaged in nearly around-the-clock attacks on Syrian positions. Both sides have sustained considerable casualties. Noah Rothman notes the worsening situation has not been aided by nearly a decade of American inaction:

This is now the most dangerous period of the conflict since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in 2015 in the earliest days of Moscow’s military intervention on behalf of its besieged client in Damascus. As it did in 2015, Turkey immediately invoked Article IV of the NATO alliance treaty—a provision that compels member states to enter into emergency consultations, a prerequisite for triggering NATO’s mutual defense provisions in Article V. The Atlantic alliance was able to talk Turkey off the ledge in 2015, but the West can produce few inducements that might convince Ankara to endure these deadly assaults on its soldiers and sovereign dignity indefinitely.

None of this should come as a surprise. This is what American disengagement looks like. The United States beat a hasty retreat from northern Syria last year. . . . In its wake, America left behind a fiction of a “ceasefire” arrangement, the fragility of which was apparent to most observers.

For all the consternation U.S. deployments in Syria caused advocates of American retrenchment, the small and cost-effective American presence in the Levant deterred states like Russia and Turkey—whose interests in Syria are in direct conflict—from litigating their grievances on the battlefield. In America’s absence, deterrence has broken down, and the prospect of something far more dangerous now looms large. American disengagement from such a crisis is an untenable position.

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