By BRANDON QUINTIN
In September 2013, when I was a freshman, I attended an interest meeting for the College Republicans here on the University of Mary Washington campus. The country was in the midst of a strong debate about military intervention in Syria. There were questions of chemical weapons, Islamic atrocities and the need to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the civil war before things got out of hand. But most attendees, it seemed, were opposed to any use of military force to end a conflict that was thought to be irrelevant to American interests. A poll was taken at that meeting to see who supported and who was opposed to intervention. Out of the thirty or so people present at that meeting, I was the only one to raise my hand in support of military action.
Now, a full year and a half later, our country is paying the price of our inaction. The chaos of a long and brutal civil war left a vacuum that was quickly filled by a new and terrifying enemy: ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS exploited the breakdown of law and order in Syria—and the failure of the poorly supplied and trained Free Syrian Army—to gain thousands of new recruits. They consolidated their power in the rebel territories so that it can now be said that there no longer exists a moderate rebel movement. The Free Syrian Army, which John McCain, Mitt Romney and others pleaded for the president to supply and train, has been thoroughly defeated by ISIS. The “good” rebels are no more.
From their new base in Syria, ISIS looked toward a greater goal. Since the forces of Assad had been pushed back to the southwest and fought to a standstill in the area near Damascus, they sought expansion elsewhere. In this case, it meant expansion into fragile Iraq, which had lived a precarious existence since the premature American withdrawal. Their sudden strike resulted in the entire northern and western half of the country—nearly all of its Sunni areas—to be quickly occupied. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was among the first to fall. It is an embarrassment to see a city in which so many American soldiers were wounded and killed to be in the hands of Islamists just as, if not more, dangerous than Saddam Hussein and his Baathists. It is also no coincidence that nearly the entire military high command of ISIS is made up of former military officers of Hussein’s Iraq.
Last year, only after large swaths of Syria and Iraq had fallen to ISIS and numerous American and allied journalists and aid workers were barbarically beheaded, did the United States decide to intervene. While I am glad that military force is now being used, why did we have to wait so long? Why must we wait for journalists to be executed? Why must we wait for tens of thousands to die? Had we acted earlier, none of this would likely have occurred. It is a lesson we have repeatedly failed to learn as a country. I worry, as a citizen of the United States and the world, that next time we will not have the luxury of delayed reaction.
If one basic law exists in international and military affairs, it is one worth remembering: big things have small beginnings.