By James Grant, For The Miami Student

April 20, 2012, President Barack Obama painted a “red line” in the sand, declaring that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad may trigger a U.S. military response. Along with the president’s creation of his imaginary line, he explicitly said, “My answer is simple, I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”

After three years of refusing to listen to his top national security advisers to take more decisive action in Syria, President Obama finally gave in. Oct. 30, 2015, the president officially announced he would send troops to Syria, putting American boots on the ground. White House spokesman Josh Earnest saids the United States would deploy “less than 50” Special Operations forces, who will be sent to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria. The two-term president who has never served in our armed forces just about-faced on one of the biggest international issues facing our country today.

The tensions between the various groups and nations in the Middle East have increased exponentially over the past four or so years. To add to the chaos, Russian military forces entered eastern Syria in early September. While Russian president Vladimir Putin claims his motives are purely to fight the Islamic State, a recent article published in The New York Times in October would suggest otherwise. The article titled “Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts in the Syrian War” maps out the Russian airstrikes. The visual shows Putin systematically pinpoint the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, not the territories held by ISIS that they claim to be targeting.

Since Russian military forces entered Syria in September, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have written about the possibility of proxy war tensions between the United States and Putin’s regime.

The United States and Russia had a similarly tense relationship during the Cold War, in which both countries developed advanced weaponry and formed alliances across the world. It was an ideological battle between communism and democracy. The two world powers, United States and Russia, are at it once again, but this time what’s at stake?

Instead of viewing the situation through a Cold War lens, it is important to take into account the ideologies of the al-Assad regime, ISIS and other groups competing for regional dominance. Russia backing a leader who slaughters his citizens with chemical weapons is not a sign of supporting human rights and freedom. It is a step back from modernity. Putin’s motives to keep Middle Eastern countries under vicious rulers are a rejection of modern values and the United States should not stand by and watch.

The Syrian president and radical Islamists, from ISIS and Boko Haram, to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, set to fight modernity and encourage the elimination of all those who oppose them. They succeed in murdering their opponents through fatwas and funds from terror sponsors like Iran. In pushing their extremist values, they succeed in suppressing western ideals of civil rights and freedom.

Will this ideological war be won by military action, as the direction the president is taking, or can we use symbolic force? We need to do more than just tell the billions of human beings who live in the unfree world that modernity provides freedom and civil rights. We need to show them, not by force, but rather by presenting an overwhelmingly appeal to American values. We need to defeat the extremist propaganda that attracts so many young militant men by creating a stronger appeal to our country’s values of human rights and freedom.

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