Reigniting the Cold War in Syria

In This April 21, 2014, file photo, provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man holding a girl as he stands on the rubble of houses that were destroyed by Syrian government forces air strikes in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC, File)

Over the last five years the Syrian people have been ground by a three-sided conflict between a fading dictator, Daesh and rebel groups. Though warplanes have bombarded Daesh into an existential panic, the Syrian conflict has morphed into a proxy-war between the West and Russia, with Vladimir Putin propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Current estimates suggest the Syrian Civil War and genocide have devoured 250,000, with another 4.5 million fleeing throughout the region and Europe. Forces backed by the U.S., Russia and radical groups have created a failed state, sliced into an unrecognizable menagerie of rival factions.

There are two great obstacles to a successful intervention in Syria. Prior to the direct-involvement of Russian forces, the United States—or a coalition—could have intervened without entering direct conflict with Putin. Yet, if this venture were successful, Syria would still have been left with either a power vacuum, or a poorly-functioning government set up by the U.S. as decapitating the state government in favor of democratic law relies on the presupposition that there exists the basis of democracy; seeds sown waiting for the right conditions.

Upon entrance into Syria, a coalition force would have pummeled the al-Assad regime, caused enormous collateral damage, crippled the economy and enabled leadership to retaliate against Syrians. Intervention would then lead to greater unemployment, especially considering the disbanding of the Syrian military.

For democracy to take root, and to ensure the people of a failed state do not become vulnerable to radicalization or other anti-democratic forces, there must exist something resembling stability as well as legitimate opportunity. Intervening with destructive force, as the United States did in Iraq, gives democracy a slim chance of existence.

After Russia began direct involvement in Sept. 2015, hope of direct engagement by the United States faded.

There exists a continued belief that the only nation fitting of the “super power” title in the post-Cold War era is the United States. Though this is accurate following the traditional definition, Russia has proven itself near a super power; or, at least a power with unlimited ability to vex the United States and its allies.

This power does not necessarily arise from the threat of mutually-assured destruction—the likelihood of a United States-Russia nuclear war is infinitesimal. Putin does possess the ability to engage in a broad proxy-war against the U.S. and potential allies, only limited by Russia’s drowning economy. In this way, a ground-invasion of Syria could renew global conflict with Russia, which will only accelerate refugee crises across conflict zones.   

Recently the Wall Street Journal editorial board admonished the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power for her role in the continued inaction of the United States in Syria. The editorial labeled Power a hypocrite, highlighting her past criticism of the Clinton administration for failing to intervene in the Rwandan genocide.

This critique of Power and U.S. policy glosses over the fundamental difference in the geopolitical substance of the Rwandan genocide and the civil war raging in Syria. While intervening in Rwanda would have had little repercussion, doing so in Syria would result in the most serious challenge to U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War ended. The conflicts produced a similar, tragic and preventable loss of life. However, a proposed intervention in Rwanda would not have threatened the stability of the entire region or reignited Cold War tensions as a direct intervention in Syria would.

Though Syria has turned into a slaughterhouse at the intersection of Cold War tension and radical Islamic terrorism, the decision to not intervene in Syria does not represent a failure to grasp the severity of the conflict.

An intervention in Syria would risk an all-out conflict between the United States and Russia outside of each respective homeland. It would mean the continued destabilization of the region, and the death of many more innocent Syrians. It would mean pouring billions, if not trillions of dollars into military materiel.

For now, the priority must be to end the bloodshed between rebels and the Syrian government. The United States and Russia do have a shared interest in defeating Daesh, having lost civilians to their evil.

During the Cold War, the United States and Russia both sought to forcibly guide nations toward a right-leaning political and economic system through treaties, substantial military aid and direct involvement. Now, as it appears we are entering a new peak in tension with Russia, the United States should seek to exert not to influence in this immoral manner, but through a fundamental shift in how we go about molding the socioeconomic landscape in susceptible nations.

The unit cost of a Hellfire missile, the kind fired from U.S. drones, varies between $65,000 and just over $100,000. That is one missile, capable of killing dozens, inspiring anger toward a faceless power in the sky and occasionally causing the death of innocents.

If, when faced with potential powder kegs, the U.S. opted to spend that $65,000 on a school or improved infrastructure or medical care, democracy might have an organic chance at life. Turning a nation into rubble, even in a just war against a dictator or radical group, destroys lives, cultures and the reputation of the United States. Expecting democracy to spring from the ash of war is foolhardy.

Though the ideological distinction between the socioeconomic policies of the U.S. and Russia no longer exists in the polarized manner of the Cold War, gaining a reputation as a harbinger of stability and prosperity would benefit mankind greatly.

The U.S. still faces problems of systemic inequality, poverty and death domestically. Some might argue it would be better to recede from international entanglement and direct resources homeward. Given the economic clout of the United States, there exists the potential to both aid the world and remedy domestic ills.

A direct invasion of Syria would be a bold wager for the United States. Given the current loss of life in Syria, and the fragile stability of many nations in the region, this boldness could destroy thousands of lives and create the power vacuums on which Daesh and others thrive. Seeking diplomacy, ending this conflict and providing for renewal in Syria are the only methods capable of creating an organic free society in Syria.

Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at He tweets @ChrisPSacco.