As of this writing, the top headlines of the New York Times, NBC and the BBC are all spotlighted on Syria and how President Obama will proceed concerning the troubled nation. Astute and retentive readers will perhaps remember that my opening salvo for Wondergressive focused on the looming specter of Western intervention in the troubled nation. It now appears that this short-sighted interference is imminent and probably unstoppable, despite public antipathy. According to an August 26 Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 9% of Americans support Washington intervening in Syria.
The calls for action intensified after an alleged chemical weapon attack outside of Damascus last week that reportedly killed up to 1,300 people. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to the BBC on the President’s stance:
We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take…[Obama] has seen [all options and contingencies]. We are prepared. We are ready to go.
Syrian National Coalition official Ahmad Ramadan spoke on the pressing urgency of the West’s response to the strife in Syria:
There is no precise timing … but one can speak of an imminent international intervention against the regime. It’s a question of days and not weeks.
Here’s a snippet from my inaugural post in January, which still perfectly sums up my view on a Syrian intervention:
Much like Mugatu, I feel like I’ve been taking Crazy Pills watching this slow entrenchment into a state of permanent war. How is it possible that the US, helmed by equally bloodlust-y Democrats and Republicans, remains utterly incapable of learning from the abundant mistakes of our past?
It’s not as if one has to Indiana Jones these lessons of history from some hidden crypt. The US/UK led coup in Iran in 1953, which re-established the Shah to power, did not prevent the violence and reactionary backlash in that nation, but rather directly contributed to it. The Vietnam War was a prolonged, hellishly painful, and ultimately pointless disaster. The overthrow of the Taliban and installment of President Karzai in Afghanistan has not yielded the stable government we wished to create. Iraq remains a mess nearly a decade after our intervention. The US has sent military forces to central Africa to stabilize threats of terror in that continent, which will likely be just as fruitless.
Despite these recent foreign policy failures, governments still seem prepared and willing to intervene in Syria.
And yet intervene we should and shall!
Related Article: Clouds of Western Intervention Loom Over Syria
Dexter Filkins’ article in The New Yorker sums up the pro-interference mindset, not just for Syria but also for Iraq II and for nearly every other conflict in recent memory, in his very first sentence: “This time it’s different.”
My sarcastic and mocking rejoinder: “This time is always different. It’s last time that’s always the same.”
What can America do? It’s not unreasonable to ask whether even a well-intentioned American effort to save Syrians might fail, or whether such an effort might pull America into a terrible quagmire…But how much longer are we going to allow those questions to prevent us from trying?
In other words, the US should continue to ignore its horrible record of Middle Eastern intervention altogether, despite acknowledging that it might further embroil America into a fetid and futile marsh of violence and occupation.
I understand the horrors of the Assad regime and lament the lives of the estimated 100,000 that have been killed so far. I acknowledge how terrifying and terrorizing the alleged use of chemicals weapons is for citizens there. However, I also acknowledge the historical reality that the West’s interfering might not only be ineffective in ending violence, but I also understand that in all likelihood an intervention will actively increase instability and promote political conflicts.
By arming rebel groups or by striking with cruise missiles to destabilize the Assad regime, Obama will be traveling on a well-trod, dangerous and predictable road. The ramifications of pursuing the role of Team America: World Police will likely create further discord within Syria. One does not have to look far back in history to see manifest examples of this.
After US and British forces bombed Libya to oust Gaddafi, various groups struggled for control of the government. US Ambassador Christopher Stevens wrote in his diary about the growing influence and threat of al-Qaeda in the region. He and three other diplomats were killed in the September 11, 2012 attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Unrest in Libya continues unabated.
After the 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown this July in a coup only a year after his inauguration. Violent protests between Morsi supporters and the anti-Morsi military have resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 in two days of fighting in August alone. And yet the US continues to send billions of dollars of aid to Egypt, including 4 F-16 fighter jets, despite the country’s lack of stability and a decidedly uncertain future.
Even when countries intervene under the best of intentions it fails catastrophically. Famously in the First Gulf War, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990 after Saddam invaded Kuwait. Among other things, these measures denied Iraqi access to medical equipment and expertise, including supplies as basic as painkilling medication. As a result, an estimated 500,000 children died in the ’90s, unable to receive care refused to them by “well-intentioned” overlords at the UN.
Sickeningly, here is Madeline Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN and future Secretary of State under Clinton, defending this massive loss of life on CBS’ 60 Minutes, declaring that this horrendous loss of life was “worth it.”
Despite these crystal clear and relevant examples—all remarkably recent events—the US, UK and French governments seemed imminently poised to pursue yet another “peace-keeping” venture in the Middle East.
The West may be poised to support some some seriously shady characters within the rebel camp. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) represents a large subset of the anti-Assad factions. The SNC supports an organization called al-Nusra Front, which has been called “the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force.” The group is also a self-acknowledged wing of al-Qaeda and has admitted to having ties to extremist groups in Iraq. The US itself considers the group to be a terrorist organization, but has been urged by the SNC to not take action against al-Nusra, or any other group that aims to topple the Assad regime.
What could possibly go wrong when Washington aids and arms groups based on expediting immediate goals rather than focusing on long-term strategy?
Oh, right……that guy.
Dexter Filkins’ piece in The New Yorker argues that America needs to exert its might in Syria in an attempt to quell violence there. He does this despite recognizing that our track history in that regard is woeful at best, and that further Middle Eastern intervention could likely mire our military in yet another diplomatic swamp.
I have a much more simple suggestion concerning the West’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. History tells us that we shouldn’t do it. The American people tell us that they want no part of it.
So, just don’t do it.