Take Syria Seriously–And Stay Out

syria-intervention-rebels-chemical-weapons-red-line-assadSyria’s civil war has inspired some in Congress and in the media. Stupidity or insanity? Some people don’t learn from past mistakes. Why start another body count in a Middle East conflict with no direct relationship to U.S. security? New York Times reporter Bill Keller says, “Get over Iraq,” like commanding AIDS patients to get over their disease, and “poof,” it will magically happen.

Bush and Cheney lied and used false intelligence designed to justify their lust for war. Iraq had no WMD or links to Al-Qaeda, as the two had claimed, but invading U.S. forces did destroy Iraq’s integrity. In the end, killing Saddam remains their lone accomplishment – unless one lists the deaths of U.S., NATO, and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

Today, U.S. military intervention in Syria would ensure more dead U.S. troops, more dead Syrians, and future pain for U.S. troops serving as an occupation force. We would ally ourselves with Saudi Arabia, which supports Syria’s opposition because the Saudis want to break the Syria-Iran alliance, their rival for Persian Gulf dominance. The Saudis also fear the “Arab Spring,” and have tried to contain the unrest before it reaches their territory.

In Spring 2011, the Syrian uprising offered the Saudis (Sunnis) an opportunity to strike at Iran’s key Shi’ite-led Arab ally. Saudi Arabia lacks the military capacity to intervene directly, but used its oily treasure to try to buy a replacement for Assad, with a regime friendly to the Saudi royal family.

Aggressive U.S. pundits ignore the Saudi role, but instead challenge Obama to act militarily. Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter warned: if Obama fails to act militarily he “will be remembered as a president who proclaimed a new beginning with the Muslim world but presided over a deadly chapter in the same old story.” Maybe Obama has learned that the U.S. war with Iraq did not make Muslims love the U.S. or improve our security position.

The “Invade Syria” gang has also claimed that Assad’s forces used sarin gas against the rebels and argued that such a diabolical act justifies U.S. intervention. A UN investigating body, however, has claimed it has evidence suggesting the rebels, not Assad, had perhaps used the gas.

Obama’s spin language on Syria referring to the use of chemical weapons (calling it a “red line” and “game changer)” sounds like a moral imperative, but it overlooks key facts: the U.S. military used phosphorous bombs in attacks on Fallujah during the Iraq War, and U.S. Air Force planes dropped tons of Agent Orange on Vietnam. Pro-war advocates seem less concerned with Syria’s well-being and more with the principle of righteous American power displays.

“If the Obama administration continues to dillydally, it will further undermine the credibility of the United States as a super power, a position already shaken by its failing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan,” fretted George Washington University’s Amitai Etzioni. Since World War II the U.S. has already bombed Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, and Panama. What foreign leader would doubt U.S. credibility to act militarily?

After the mire in Afghanistan, why would Obama want to get more young American soldiers killed in Syria, and simultaneously make more enemies in a region where Washington receives routine blame for its interventionist ways and its links with Israel?

Indeed, 9/11 plotters hated U.S. policy, not our freedom, and isolated acts of terrorism from irate Muslims constitute a security threat that is aggravated by regional interventions. When U.S. planes bomb, or U.S. troops fire into villages and cities, we make enemies. Corpses from these assaults have relatives, some of whom swear oaths of vengeance.

We did not reconstruct Iraq or bring it stable democracy; nor did we succeed in Afghanistan, or previously in Vietnam. Indeed, wars rarely turn out the way the invaders envision. Rather, wars lead to inadvertent and unintended consequences. The Chinese now have access to more oil, for example, and Iraq’s government has moved closer to Iran. People from the region, however, learned lessons that correspond more closely to facts than do the reactions of amnesia-stricken Washington war hawks.

Pew recently surveyed 11,771 people from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, Germany, France, Britain, the United States, and Russia. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Ninety-five percent of Lebanese said they were concerned that violence would spread west into their country, with 68 percent of them saying they were ‘very concerned’ and 27 percent saying they were ‘somewhat concerned.’ Eighty percent of Jordanians, who live to Syria’s south, and 62 percent of Turks, who are on Syria’s northern flank, expressed worry.”

So why escalate? President Assad has not threatened to attack the U.S. or allied governments, such as Israel; nor can he take an offensive stance while his government fights for survival. Indeed, Israel has twice bombed Syria in the last month, without retaliation.

Washington, however, has decided to aid the Syrian rebels, as it once armed Afghan insurgents in Pakistan. Thus, the U.S. played an inadvertent role in helping the now-despised Taliban emerge victorious in the 1990s.

Syria’s civil war, an internal battle, got upgraded when Saudi Arabia and Qatar paid jihadists to fight against Assad. This influx of foreign warriors fueled the death toll, over 70,000, and helped force more than one million Syrians to become refugees.

Syria’s struggle also confronts Washington again with the drama of the Arab Spring: pro-U.S. dictatorships in Arab countries vie with an amalgam of democrats, socialists, and religious authoritarians, a setting ripe for more conflicts.

Assad’s ouster could actually lead to worsening conditions. Some rebels have already proclaimed Sharia law in areas they control and have slaughtered Christians, Alawites, and other minority Assad supporters.

U.S. military intervention could also hinder humanitarian relief operations and simultaneously embroil the United States in uncertain military commitments. Unilateral military action could strain key international relations, since no world or regional consensus supports armed intervention. And intervention could bring the United States into a broader regional conflict. Obama should not commit what the Pentagon estimates as the 75,000 troops needed to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, which do not threaten U.S. interests.

Stay out of Syria.