After spending more than a decade getting out of two wars, the United States is coming dangerously close to yet another military intervention - one that may pit it against former cold-war rival Russia once again.
Despite warnings from Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, that Syrian intervention is risky and expensive; the US congress has tentatively approved the Obama administration’s plan to arm Syrian rebels.
"We believe we are in a position that the administration can move forward," House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Reuters on Monday.
The President had earlier announced his decision to send small arms and ammunition last month after reports emerged that the Syrian regime was using chemical weapons. And now Congress is behind him despite their concerns over weapons falling into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked militants.
If the US ends up backing Syrian rebels, who will champion Assad’s regime? Not surprisingly, old cold-war rival Russia appears to be stepping into these shoes. According to Syrian official Qadri Jamil who recently met with Russia’s foreign minister, Assad’s government is seeking an economic loan from its longtime ally. He also told journalists that Russia still planned on delivering S-300 missile systems to Damascus.
It is no secret that Assad's army has been receiving support throughout the two-year conflict from Iran, Russia as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Even though the two sides have agreed on orchestrating peace talks with the Syrian government and its opposition in Geneva, both have expressed their anger at each other’s stance on the conflict. The second Syria talks, coined Geneva II, have yet to be scheduled and according to a UN spokesperson they are not likely to be held anytime soon.
Driving a further wedge between the two superpowers is Putin’s refusal to hand over US whistleblower Edward Snowden for official persecution. Awaiting asylum approval from several countries around the world, including Russia itself, 30-year-old Snowden remains in his transit lounge hide-out at Moscow’s airport.
What is more reminiscent of the cold-war is the disconnect between the power struggle at the executive level and that on the ground.
The United Nations recently announced that the Syrian refugee crisis is the worst since Rwanda’s genocide twenty year ago. Almost two million Syrians have been forced to leave their home and flee to neighboring countries, many suffering violent atrocities along the way. Another 4 million have been internally displaced.
What will arming Syrian rebels and Assad’s regime mean for the millions who remain in the country and those who wish to one day return? How will this potential proxy war affect a region already heavily burdened with refugees pouring in from Syria?
These are some of the crucial questions that need to be considered before offering support to either side of the conflict.
“We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos said at the UN Council in New York on July 16.
Even the UN Security Council cannot seem to agree on a solution, with Russia and China refusing to sanction action against the Syrian government suggested by fellow veto powers, the US, Britain and France.
As the country descends into further chaos, reports of war crimes and atrocious human rights violations keep mounting. The UN death toll has reached a staggering 100,000.
The US and Russia are at a pivotal crossroads. Will they find a common ground with regards to peace? Or will they once again fight a proxy war in the region? Their current actions suggest the latter.