Senator John McCain might have been the first one in Washington to argue for direct US military intervention in Syria. And the most pro-war person in Congress is still lobbying for such action, making headlines all the way.
“I’ve always stressed the need to arm the Free Syrian Army, who need weapons, since Russia is supplying [Syrian President Bashar] Assad with weapons. We need to secure a safe zone for the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition to organize their operations, train and treat the wounded,” he added.
Republican McCain also said that the U.S. administration should be doing more to “help in organizing a better resistance to end the ongoing massacres,” adding that, “It’s now known that I strongly support providing arms and necessary assistance to those fighting for freedom in Syria.”
Let’s first reiterate that McCain is openly advocating that the American taxpayer put money towards a disparate, unaccountable group of rebel militias which have strong ties to al-Qaeda and have been accused by the United Nations and the international media of committing terrible atrocities against civilians, extra-judicial killings and torture. The Obama administration is already providing the Syrian rebels with arms, while supposedly trying to avoid aiding terrorists through some sort of ridiculous vetting process. The Iraqi government has again, just this week, said that terrorists have crossed the border into Syria to battle Assad. “We have solid information and intelligence that members of al Qaeda terrorist networks have gone in the other direction, to Syria, to help, to liaise, to carry out terrorist attacks,” said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari on Thursday.
Blowback seems to be incomprehensible to McCain. The Saudis also happen to be aiding the Syrian rebels, which are largely Sunni. The parallels to Washington’s support for the Afghan mujahideen are all too apparent.
Experts generally agree that arming the Syrian opposition will not solve the problem. Prof. Eva Bellin and Prof. Peter Krause have argued in the Middle East Brief from Brandeis University that aiding the rebel fighters is unlikely to end in the way McCain hopes.
“The distillation of historical experience with civil war and insurgency,” they write, “along with a sober reckoning of conditions on the ground in Syria, make clear that limited intervention of this sort will not serve the moral impulse that animates it. To the contrary, it is more likely to amplify the harm that it seeks to eliminate by prolonging a hurting stalemate.”
And so-called safe zones are simply not a viable option. “Humanitarian corridors,” explained Marc Lynch of George Washington University in testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, “would be extremely difficult to protect, and could create a new refugee crisis if desperate civilians rush into designated safe zones or neighboring countries.”
Safe areas might also require airpower in some form, but Assad’s “anti-aircraft capabilities are located in or near urban areas, which means that significant civilian casualties could result from any attempt to eliminate them.” Lynch said. “Creating and protecting a safe area in Syria would therefore require a significant and lengthy investment of troops and resources, and would not likely hasten Assad’s collapse.”
Lynch has also said, “There are no cheap or easy forms of military intervention which would quickly bring down the regime of Bashar al-Assad or effectively protect Syrian civilians. Military half-measures, including safe zones, humanitarian corridors and arming the Syrian opposition, would likely spread the violence and increase the numbers of Syrian dead without increasing the likelihood of regime collapse.”
The White House, even as it surreptitiously arms the rebels, says that it opposes military intervention in Syria because it would lead to greater chaos and escalate the humanitarian crisis in the country, but defended providing aid to the opposition.
“We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”
McCain seems to be living in a fantasy land where the consequences for his actions (i.e., the US government’s actions) never materialize. Foreign meddling on behalf of all sides has been instrumental in prolonging the conflict by emboldening both sides and making a political settlement more remote. United Nations official Navi Pillay condemned the continued flow of weapons from foreign powers to both sides in the Syrian conflict. “The ongoing provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence,” she said in the text of remarks made to the Security Council. “Any further militarization of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.”
UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan said just last week: “Syria is not Libya, it will not implode, it will explode beyond its borders.” Yet McCain et al continue to argue for further intervention. Even while the interventionists claim to be on the side of the civilians in Syria, their whole argument for intervention rests on the notion that Iran will eventually be harmed if the US can oust Assad. The Manichean imperial venture in the Middle East knows no boundaries, even if civilian suffering and regional stability are at risk.