A Free Syrian Army fighter runs to take cover after launching a mortar towards forces loyal to Syriaâ€™s President Bashar al-Assad in the Jabal al-Akrad area in Syriaâ€™s northwestern Latakia province February 25, 2014. Picture taken February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Khweled
While the Syrian conflict has raged on largely unchecked for the past three years, the world has turned a blind eye toward its events. Public opinion in the United States and Europe is very strongly against any sort of intervention, and leaders are feeling that pressure.
After a decade of constant warfare, the American people have decided that they have had enough. In September, as President Obama requested a mandate to use military force, Americans made it clear that they would not grant it to him, with only 36% of Americans supporting action.
The public reckons that Syria is far away, and the conflict bloody and complicated. It draws comparisons to American involvement in World War I. As war broke out in July of 1914, Europe seemed very far away, and its effect on the US minimal. The public was very reluctant to involve the nation in such a bloody and brutal war.
However, just like in Syria today, the conflict affected the US far more than people had expected. Transatlantic shipping was disrupted, with hundreds of Americans killed. Eventually, the nation succumbed to the pressure, and it entered the war three years after its start.
The world is far smaller today than it was in 1914. The days when the Atlantic Ocean could insulate the US from international events are long gone. In such a globalized and interconnected world, what happens in Syria can directly influence affairs in the US.
As Middle Eastern conflicts are manifested in Syria, the region as a whole becomes ever more tense and belligerent. Syriaâ€™s destabilizing effect on the Middle East causes a rise oil prices across the world, which, because of transportation costs, directly influences the prices of ordinary goods.
Refugees flooding out of Syria are also destabilizing the surrounding nations. Lebanonâ€™s population has grown over 20% in the past year alone due to refugees, and by some estimates refugees now make up a third of Lebanonâ€™s population. The Lebanese organization Hezbollah has been directly involved in the Syrian fighting, and Lebanonâ€™s streets are rife with sectarian conflict.
In a region where thousands of Palestinian refugees are yet to be enfranchised, a new influx of refugees is threatening to plunge the entire region into conflict. And with the Middle East continuing to play a vital role in the world economy, this has potentially drastic consequences for all nations, especially the US.
Military intervention on either side of the Syrian conflict would be unwise, and possibly untenable. However, the humanitarian crises inside and around Syria must be contained and alleviated. Americans must see the impact that Syria could have on their lives, and must place the conflict as a priority for their nation to tackle.
The question often asked is: why is the United States looked to as the â€œpolicemanâ€ of the world? Americans are often frustrated that they are expected to resolve world conflicts, and perhaps rightly so.
However, as the most powerful nation in the world, the US exercises a profound influence over other nations. The US is still the worldâ€™s largest economy by a very wide margin, and it benefits immensely from the international system.
This means that Americaâ€™s economic fortunes are directly tied to the fortunes of the world. Usually, that means making huge sums of money trading with nations across the world. But at other times, that means helping an area in need, and ensuring that the world remains stable and peaceful.