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Staying Out of Syria

Why the United States Shouldn't Enter the Civil War—But Why It Might Anyway

A boy sits on a wheel in front of the bullet-riddled facade of a mosque in Damascus, October 4, 2014. Bassam Khabieh / Courtesy Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama has taken pains to avoid being drawn into Syria’s civil war. He does not appear convinced that the United States has sufficient strategic interests in Syria to warrant—let alone sustain—another long-term commitment of military force to shape the outcome of what is a complicated and many-sided struggle. Even as Obama has expanded the U.S. war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to include targets in Syria, then, he has tried to circumscribe the mission.  The aim is to battle ISIS without either aiding or fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the balancing act is proving difficult. The United States could soon face a choice between appearing to provide tacit support to Syrian government forces and joining the fight against them. 

The United States has long faced pressure to intervene in Syria’s civil war; it

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