The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress


This past Tuesday the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released its newest report, "Possible U.S. Intervention in Syria: Issues for Congress," in response to the deteriorating situation in Syria following the August 21 chemical weapons attack. Faced with an imminent decision regarding U.S. military intervention, Congress is considering the question of intervention from many different angles. The report describes that certain members of Congress support military action in order to "hold Syria accountable" for its use of chemical weapons, an action previously described as a "red line" for the Obama Administration. Other members oppose intervention as it would not advance U.S. policy goals in Syria and beyond and because support of Syrian opposition may ultimately "empower anti-American extremist groups."

This report seeks to aid law makers in considering short- and long-term issues related to intervention so that answers to policy questions regarding the situation may be provided. The overarching questions, however, remain "how to define, prioritize, and secure the core interests of the United States with regard to Syria's complex civil war." In order to do this, the report identifies key issues for Congress, such as chemical weapons issues, war powers, cost and budgetary resources for intervention, military planning, U.S. aid to the opposition, and U.S. humanitarian response. It also explores possible international responses to an intervention, especially responses from the UNSC (United Nations Security Council), Russia, China, Europe and NATO, Arab States, and Israel.

The final "Outlook" section projects possible congressional decisions regarding intervention and outlines other variables that may affect that decision. The report states that while "intense current speculation centers around the potential for [a] punitive U.S. -led military strike on Syrian government forces," stated U.S. objectives have also indicated that it is "unlikely that any U.S. actions in the immediate future would attempt to eliminate the Asad regime entirely." This would represent an effort to avoid an "open-ended" conflict with Syria, a stated interest of President Obama. Domestic and international interests will also play into the congressional decision - although these interests tend to be at odds as well. The international community remains in disagreement over best practices for enforcing peace and defending international norms, and, in a recent poll, the American public is split 50/50 over whether or not the U.S. should intervene in the Syrian conflict.