Checking out the news these days, it might seem pretty clear why the U.S. is at war in Syria: destroy ISIS. That is almost certainly the way the two main presidential candidates will see it during their upcoming first debate, in a rare point of agreement.
The funny thing is that ISIS did not become the reason for what now is a major regional war until late in the game.
If we rewind about three years, the original justification was to “rid the world of the dictator,” Syrian president Bashar Assad. The US involvement was started under the pretext that Assad was using chemical weapons against the other side in what was once confined to a civil war. American declared Assad thus had to go to avoid a genocide and humanitarian disaster.
FYI: If you read no further, remember anytime a politician uses the word “genocide” these days we’re about to be dragged into another conflict that will morph into a quagmire.
So here’s a reprise of something I wrote three years ago. Let’s revisit it and see whether or not any of the current disaster, political and humanitarian, could have been anticipated.
From Three Years Ago:
As for intervening in Syria, the United Nations does not say to do it. The United Kingdom voted against it, the first time in two decades the UK has not supported US military action [the UK later changed it’s policy and is now involved across the Middle East again]. The US Congress will not have an opportunity to vote on it, though many members have reservations. Many in our own military have doubts. Half of all American oppose it. Why does the president insist America must attack Syria?
Obama’s reasons seem vague at best, something from the 19th century about “firing a shot across Assad’s bow” as if this is a pirate movie. Or maybe protecting the US, though Syria (and others) have had chemical weapons for years without threatening the US Even Saddam did not use chemical weapons against the US during two American-led invasions of his own country. To protect the women and children of Syria? If that is the goal, the US might best send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps, and nerve gas antidotes into Syria itself.
Vagueness is a very poor basis for the US entering into another war in the Middle East, throwing itself deeper into a chaotic and volatile situation it little understands.
So let’s reprise our handy questions summary:
- The US is intervening in Syria’s civil war because maybe it was Assad who used poison gas.
- The poison gas killed a couple of thousand people. A horrible thing by any measure.
- Close to 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date [in 2013; the death toll is now likely in the millions].
- The US is thus going to war again in the Middle East because a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones.
Because it seems Obama is not asking himself some important questions, here’s a list he may wish to consult:
- Is it Iraq again? That went well.
- Does it have oil?
- Does it pose a direct threat to America, i.e., knife to our throat?
- Can you define specifically what US interests are at stake (no fair just citing generic “world peace” or “evil dictator” or a magical “red line”)?
- Does the Chemical Weapons Treaty say it is the US’ job to take punitive action against violators? [Trick question; it does not.]
- Is Syria’s evil dictator somehow super-worse than the many other evil dictators scattered across the world where the US is not intervening?
- Did Syria attack any US forces somewhere? Kidnap Americans? Commit 9/11?
- Does the US have a specific, detailed follow-on plan for what happens if Assad departs or is killed?
- Does the US have a specific plan to ensure weapons given to the rebels, some of whom are openly al Qaeda [Now ISIS], won’t migrate out of Syria as they did in Libya?
- Does the US believe its secret deal with the “rebels” whoever the hell they are to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons after they take power is airtight?
- With that in mind, can the US tell with accuracy the “good” rebels from the “bad” rebels?
- Has the US considered in detail what affect a rebel (Sunni) victory in Syria will have on chaotic Iraq next door and the greater Middle East?
- What are the possible unintended consequences of another military strike? Are they worth whatever is hoped to be gained by the strike?
Obama, if the answer was “No” to any of the above questions, you should not intervene in Syria.
NOTE: Obama did intervene, and golly, who could have thought it, look what happened!
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.