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ę Morning Thread (9-8-2015) | Main | Open Thread Ľ
September 08, 2015

Are We Going To "Sad" Our Way Into A War In Syria?

The war in Syria has been waging for 4 years and estimates are that hundreds of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more have been displaced by the fighting.

As is so often the case, powerful images appeared that suddenly placed renewed focus on a human tragedy. In the case of the Syrian war it was the images of a young boy's lifeless body washed ashore after the boat he was in sank and the parade of Syrian refugees desperate to get from Hungry to Germany.

An ongoing human tragedy suddenly had renewed attention in the west. Naturally this included calls to "do something" about the human suffering we were all seeing on our screens.

But what should that "something" be?

For some the course of action was clear....direct US involvement in the conflict. Noah Rothman, writing at Commentary, summed up the case.

The West had its chance to intervene in the bloodshed in Syria when it began. Ample chance, in fact. Western democracies were, however, snakebit by their experience in Libya, where the NATO powers that intervened in that conflict had no plan for the post-Muammar Gaddafi environment and left behind them a vacuum filled by Islamist militants. The West learned all the wrong lessons from that experience. Rather than to embrace of circumspect interventions with forethought applied to the post-war environment, not to mention the nation building required the interventionís participating powers, the community of nations simply shielded its eyes from the terror that followed the Arab Spring.


At the very least, it is incumbent upon us to look upon the face of the agony we permitted. Only then will it be possible to one day steel ourselves to the unpleasant task at hand. Only then will we eventually come to terms with the bloodletting we have abetted and to one day resolve to put an end to it. We owe that to that boy. Donít look away.

I agree with that final statement. We should not "look away." We should look at this challenge, as we should every other, with a cold, calculating view to what we can do and the cost we are willing to pay for it.

It's hard to look at our involvement in the Mideast over the years and think we somehow hold the magic formula to ensuring any sort of tranquility or reasonable political solution there.

Though not mentioned in Noah's piece the specter of Iraq haunts everything we do in that region now. One of the main arguments against Obama's total withdrawal of forces is that Iraq was a long term project that required some level of US force for years, if not decades, to maintain the post-surge gains. The problem with that is Iraq was never sold as a long-term project. American political and military planners never priced in the idea that we would be their for years. The Rumsfeld notion was go in fast, light, win and get the hell out (as early as the end of 2003). It didn't work. As a consequence by the 2008 elections Americans wanted out of Iraq and voted accordingly. It was not a failing on their part that they elected someone to get us out. You can say that war is an uncertain thing and you never know how it will end once you begin it. I agree. That's why we must be cautious in our choices of elective wars.

Look at how Iraq went sideways and devolved into a sectarian war that ripped the country apart. Now consider Syria....a country that suffered under similar despotism to Iraq. Like pre-invasion Iraq, it is ruled by a vicious minority dictatorship. Unlike Iraq however Syria has limited natural resources to fund a reconstruction and most importantly it has been ripped apart by a multi-sided civil war that has destroyed much of what there was to date.

In Iraq, the insurgency started after the Baathist regime was removed and the US fumbled to assert control over the country (with insufficient forces). In the case of Syria, removing the regime would just be the start as the al Qaeda led rebels and Islamic State fighters would constitute and immediate two front insurgency that would have to be dealt with.

And once we defeat these three separate threats, and assuming no others spring up in response to our efforts (a rosy scenario we should be deeply skeptical of, think of Iranian backed proxies like Hezbolah) we would then inherit responsibility for the economic and political rebuilding of a destroyed nation.

Oh and you may have to go through Russian forces to get to Assad. Are you ready to start a war with Russia over Syrian dead?

No doubt interventionists will talk about "our allies" and "international partners". Are you willing to bet Turkey (which is or at least strongly suspected of working with ISIS. Turkey has also been more enthusiastic about attacking Kurds than ISIS), Saudi Arabia and Jordan are going to provide significant forces? And each has their own vision for the future of Syria that are not aligned with each other or ours (if we ever develop one).

Should we decide to do this (hopefully we won't), it will be our mess. Much like Iraq and Afghanistan were overwhelmingly our fights despite the participation of allies.

Keep in mind, we've been trying for over a year to identify and train an allied rebel force in Syria. We've failed miserably and tragically. Does our inability to even stand up a few hundred moderate fighters give you any confidence that the US should or could wade into Syria with a full scale military and reconstruction effort and navigate the political and cultural crosscurrents we no little, if anything about? If it does, you've really missed the last 14 or so years of US military and foreign policy history.

The idea that there is any political appetite in the to undertake this task is laughable. But pretend for a moment there is. Do you really think there's going to be a generational will to rebuild that nation akin to what Iraq war supporters say we should have committed to post 2009?

And if those cold hard facts aren't enough to turn you against any notion of invasion, occupation and reconstruction of Syria, let me play the emotion card. How many American children are you willing to consign to the loss of a parent to a war in Syria? How many widows of American servicemen and women are you willing to tell their grief was necessary, not for the safety of America, but to spare Syrian families the pain they are suffering?

Personally, I'm willing to look at the awful imagoes of the Syrian war, and make no mistake, they are awful and heart breaking, and make the choice that I'm not willing to inflict that kind of suffering on Americans to assuage the guilt of people with an unrealistic sense of what America can and can't do and the cost it will entail.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:39 AM

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