What’s currently playing out in Syria is essentially the worst case scenario contemplated a year ago. The war is now estimated to have claimed over 42,000 lives, and it has destroyed the social fabric of the country. Meanwhile, the violence and chaos has spread to neighboring countries, especially Turkey, which has clashed with the Syrian military, and bolstered its defenses along its long border. Other of Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan, and Lebanon, already straining under the flood of refugees unleashed by the U.S. war in Iraq, have now had to accommodate hundreds of thousands of additional refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. The situation in parts of the country already resembles anarchy, and all of these problems could worsen in the event of total regime collapse.
But the worst case for the countries in the region, and for the Syrian people, does not imply a worst case for the United States. The Assad regime poses no credible threat to either the physical security or the economic fortunes of the United States, and its successor won’t either. Syria is a second-tier player in a region that has consumed thousands of American lives and several trillion dollars, to no good effect. Americans are now wisely turning their attention to Asia, and to domestic economic problems. Overt U.S. intervention at this late stage would deliver few tangible benefits, at the risk of dragging the United States into a conflict that doesn’t affect our vital security interests. Unsurprisingly, a Chicago Council survey found that 81 percent of Americans oppose sending U.S. troops into Syria. A separate poll by the Brookings Institution’s Shibley Telhami found that just 13 percent of respondents support a military mission in Syria.