The phrase if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it is nowhere more evident than with the current proposal for a limited military strike in Syria.
We, more or less, tried this in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years and also in places like Somalia, the Balkans and, if you go back far enough, Vietnam and Korea.
The problem with Syria (just as in Afghanistan and Iraq) is that you can’t “sort of” go to war, which is a good definition of “limited, narrow” military use our secretary of state is asking the American people and congress to support.
In Syria, the president, secretary of state and a growing number of congressional leaders want to send a few missiles to hit government targets to essentially punish the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons.
Ga. Senator Johnny Isakson put it this way, ‘If we fail to take strong action against Syria for this horrendous attack, then we are sending a signal to Syria as well as to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one.”
What the dictator/president Assad did was criminal, reprehensible and cowardly. He unleashed internationally condemned toxins that killed an estimated 1,500 civilians including 426 children in one attack on a subdivision.
Proof is pretty clear that this was not the first time the ruling group in Syria had used chemical weapons against their own people and there is no reason to believe that it will be the last. Assad’s father was also a dictator in that country who didn’t hesitate to apply force against dissenters.
While the crime may be evident, the path forward is fraught with peril. To begin with, Syria is another of those middle-eastern counties with arbitrarily set borders that pulled multiple different ethnic groups together – many of whom have not gotten along since the beginning of time. Power struggles among many rebel groups of different religions and different ethnic backgrounds and a government don’t ever end well.
According to statements made, the administration recognizes the futility of full-scale involvement and doesn’t want to completely run Assad from power, but hopes to chide the dictator into behaving somewhat better.
While sympathetic to the suffering of Syrian civilians, we’d argue this is a case where U.S. force may do more harm than good.
Among the problems/challenges and reasons it won’t turn out well.
• History has shown that limited engagements don’t remain limited. Remember the idea that our soldiers would be hailed as liberators in Iraq and back home quickly?
• Some of the rebels in Syria are linked to Al-Qaeda. U.S. officials have expressed concern that any weapons given to the rebels may one day be used in a jihad directly against us. Even the most optimistic “hawk” on Syria acknowledges that there is not a reliable rebel option out there should Assad be forced out of power.
• What Kerry has expressed hope for, at best, is to force peace talks – as though that has ever worked in middle east (it seems like the Israelis and Palestinians hold peace talks every week and they aren’t getting any closer to achieving anything).
This is too vague a mission or reason to commit military force. With that as an objective, you can bet there will be no clear timetable for drawing back down our forces.
• There is a whole set of complex alliances out there involving the rest of the middle eastern nations -- Iran, and Saudi Arabia are already involved and Israel is ready to get into it. In addition, Russia has pledged to firmly back Assad.
• If we strike Syria to help the rebels, they may strike back directly at us. Chemical weapons and terrorism would seem to go hand-in-hand.
It is horrible to see reports of the brutality of the civil war in Syria and no end is in sight to the violence and killing. But our opinion is this is one to sit out.