Until a few days ago, Austyene Vaughan hadn't paid much attention to the crisis unfolding in Syria. But after a Facebook conversation with a friend, Vaughan realized the civil war there affected her more than she'd thought.
Vaughan, 19, is a Seminole State College student. While talking with a friend in the U.S. Marine Corps on Wednesday, she found out the man had been deployed to the Middle East as part of U.S. preparations to intervene in Syria's three-year-old civil war.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told BBC television Tuesday the Defense Department has “moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take.”
Since finding out her friend was there, Vaughan has been paying closer attention to news reports about Syria. She's never known anyone in the military before, she said, and knowing she has a friend who could be in danger makes her nervous.
“I would just pray to God that he comes back in one piece,” she said. “I just told him to be careful.”
As the United States inches closer to military action, a University of Oklahoma professor and expert on Syria said a broader intervention in the conflict would likely draw the United States into a quagmire.
Joshua Landis, a professor and director of OU's Center for Middle East Studies, said President Barack Obama has little to gain by involving the U.S. military.
Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons against his own people in the conflict. Any American military action should be limited to punishing Assad for using chemical weapons and deterring him from using them again, Landis said.
Assad's objective is to kill as many rebel fighters as he can as quickly as possible, Landis said. Any American attack would need to focus on hurting Assad badly enough that using chemical weapons is no longer to his advantage.
“That's going to be very difficult to do,” he said.
Landis said he thinks it would be a mistake for Obama to bring the United States further into the conflict. U.S. forces could quickly overwhelm the Syrian military, but toppling Assad would leave Syria in a state of chaos, Landis said.
The United States doesn't have a partner in the region with which to form any kind of provisional government once the conflict was over, Landis said. The anti-Assad movement isn't a unified force, and more than 1,000 militias would be left vying for power. The strongest of those groups are anti-American Islamist militias with ties to al-Qaida, he said.
“There isn't a clear command and control that's accountable,” Landis said. “Syria could get worse, and that's what people need to be reminded of.”
But Oklahoma City University political science professor Mohamed Daadaoui, a Middle East specialist, said he doesn't think a narrowly targeted strike designed to punish Assad for using chemical weapons would be effective.
The use of chemical weapons against civilians is reprehensible, but the U.S. and other Western nations should push for a negotiated settlement between the Assad regime and the rebel forces, Daadaoui said.
A limited attack wouldn't degrade Assad's forces enough to amount to more than anything but a symbolic strike, he said. A negotiated settlement wouldn't satisfy everyone, he said, but it would be a more viable solution than a targeted military strike.
Daadaoui said he expects to see the U.S. launch cruise missiles against the Assad regime. After that, he said, he thinks the conflict will continue as it had before.
“I don't think that's going to resolve anything,” he said. “I think it's going to make things more difficult for the civilians that are already suffering.”