Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question. The current situation in Syria is dauntingly complex, both from the standpoint of furthering the United States’ global interests as well as domestic political constraints imposed by a war-weary American public. However, while optimal solutions remain elusive, it seems increasingly clear to me that the United States cannot continue its current neo-isolationist policy toward Syria.
If the United States wishes to maintain its status as a preeminent global political and diplomatic leader, it must respond to large-scale humanitarian crises in some meaningful way. At the very least, such a response will entail accepting larger numbers of Syrian refugees as some European nations have already done. This “soft” response would not only directly meet a critical humanitarian need, but it would also reiterate the U.S.’s strong historical and moral commitment to assisting and welcoming immigrants from oppressive regimes.
The U.S. should also consider exerting its “hard” economic and military power, working closely with its regional partners–such as the Turks and Kurds–who also share a common interest in a stable and functional (if not democratic) Syria in the future. Such an effort might entail committing to increased military strikes in Syria to contain ISIL, supplying materiel and other aid to friendly forces that seek to topple the deplorable Assad regime, or some combination of both. Critically, the United States must communicate a clear and achievable end state for any conflict.