It’s the right time for optimism. Why? Because for the first time in three years, something positive has been done in the Middle East. The United States has finally overcome its red line scandal, and made the right decision concerning the spread of ISIS, and the atrocities of the Assad regime. On September 18th, the U.S. Congress agreed to arm and train Syrian rebels, and has since conducted airstrikes in Syria and Iraq in cooperation with numerous countries.
Airstrikes are a good start, but they won’t suffice. The Assad regime and ISIS can only be uprooted by a patient, relentless, and organized international effort that builds off the U.S. initiative. The international community has begun to right its wrong of staying on the sidelines and counting death tolls since 2011.
Opponents of this idea fear one thing: a power vacuum. The emergence of a power vacuum once military operations are done is reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the chaos in Iraq. Can you guarantee that rebels being armed and trained with American weapons and expertise will not radicalize, they ask, and pose a greater threat than ISIS? A valid concern, but too naïve. We sometimes fail to understand that the Syrian Civil War is as tiring for the rebels fighting as it is for us spectators. The Free Syrian Army deteriorated in 2013 because of meagre support, as opposed to the radicals who, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, went on fighting. Money lures to the dark side, and thus extremist ranks have grown in number and expertise. Meanwhile, moderate rebels have returned home, waiting for ammunition. Once moderates receive training and arms, their forces will grow in number and strength, and radicalism will be less incentivized. Moderates have also seen so many atrocities that to revert to the very same ISIS brutes and Assad forces they were trying to eradicate seems implausible. In addition, the international community will fill the vacuum with the Syrian government in exile, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, as the political leadership.
To support Syrian rebels and bomb ISIS is more than to right a wrong: it’s the only right thing to do. Whatever happens can’t be worse than the Assad regime or ISIS; that’s why we should be optimistic.