News & Politics

4 Big Pushers of War in Iraq Now Gunning for Intervention in Syria -- Consequences be Damned!

Recent days have seen an uptick in strident calls for American intervention in Syria.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

The news from Syria over the past week has been dizzying. But if you can keep your head on straight you’ll recognize an uptick in strident calls for American intervention in Syria, though it remains unlikely the Obama administration will commit to full-scale war.

Over the weekend, the Israeli air force reportedly bombed Syrian military installations in Damascus, a move that marked the most significant and direct international intervention yet in a civil war that has turned into a proxy battle between regional forces. The Israeli strike over the weekend followed another Israeli attack last week that was reportedly meant to prevent Iranian weapons from being transferred through Syria to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of the Jewish state. The Israeli attacks come over two years into the grinding Syrian conflict, which started as part of the wave of Arab uprisings but has transformed into an armed civil war that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The Israeli strikes have been hailed by war hawks as proof that the U.S. and Western allies can easily pummel the Syrian regime to the ground and pave the way for a rebel victory. Calls for intervention have been ratcheting up since Israel, Britain, France and finally the U.S. concluded that there had been chemical weapons use by the Assad regime--a “red line” the Obama administration has warned Syria not to cross. But the chemical weapons use claims were muddied up yesterday when a UN investigator said that it may have been the Syrian rebels that used sarin gas--not the Assad regime. If the UN investigator is right--and there’s no guarantee of that--it should complicate the calls for the U.S. to directly arm the rebels. But considering their track record, proponents for more intervention can’t be stopped by much.

Since the news broke of chemical weapons use, war hawks and their allies in the U.S. have taken to the airwaves and Op-Ed pages to push for U.S. intervention. What’s missing from their analysis is recognition that U.S. intervention to depose Assad would lead to a power vacuum with unknown consequences; that the U.S. would become a target for those opposed to the West, including among the rebel groups; that America has a poor track record of intervening in the Middle East; and that the vast majority of Americans have no desire to get embroiled in another war. Also not on the table: a serious attempt to negotiate, with all international powers, an agreement to end the fighting and begin a transition in Syria. While that won’t be easy, the U.S. and allies have stymied chances of that in the past.

Still, the Obama administration has been cautious. While the “red line” remark was ill-advised, the administration has not rushed into fully diving into the Syrian conflict, although they have helped militarize the civil war by facilitating weapons transfers to Syrian rebels via the CIA.

Here are 4 pundits and politicians calling for more intervention in Syria--consequences be damned.

1. Bill Keller

The New York Times’ former executive editor and current Op-Ed contributor hasn’t learned the lessons from Iraq. Keller was a big-time pusher of the Iraq War, and has since repented. But now he’s calling for more American involvement in Syria.

In an Op-Ed in the Times today, Keller writes that the U.S. debacle in Iraq should not prevent more action on Syria. “In Syria,” he writes, “I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.” So what’s to be done, according to Keller? “The United States moves to assert control of the arming and training of rebels”-- the same rebels that are increasingly radical, as the New York Times itself reported.

Keller adds that if Assad refuses to end his “campaign of terror,” the U.S. should “send missiles against his military installations until he, or more likely those around him, calculate that they should sue for peace.”

Missing from Keller’s take are important points articulated by former State Department official Wayne White writing in LobeLog: U.S. intervention will not stop post-Assad Syria from being riven by continued instability and violence, particularly if Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists continue to play a role in the rebel forces. Additionally, White notes: “Making matters worse, seething sectarian divides — with the very real danger of Sunni vengeance resulting in further bloodletting and possibly the flight from Syria of several million Alawite and Christian refugees — threatens to stain the aftermath quite darkly.”

2. John McCain

Another lead pusher of the Iraq War, the Senator from Arizona has been consistently calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria. The news of chemical weapons use has put McCain’s war calls on overdrive.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,”McCain said that the U.S. could disable Syrian air defenses “with cruise missiles; cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.” McCain also thinks a small contingent of U.S. troops could secure Syria’s chemical weapons. But the Pentagon has estimated that it will take 75,000 American soldiers on the ground to secure the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.

3. Lindsey Graham

This Senator from South Carolina, the neoconservative buddy of McCain, has also predictably called for escalating U.S. involvement in Syria. In March, Graham called for U.S. troops to be inserted into Syria to secure chemical weapons sites.

“We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves,” he told Foreign Policy.  “You've got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons... I don't care what it takes. We need partners in the region.”

But sending U.S. troops on the ground in Syria would firmly place America in the middle of a raging regional proxy battle. While the U.S. has taken sides in the proxy war, sending American troops would inevitably mean U.S. casualties and a magnet for Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists. If the U.S. doesn’t want Syria to become an Al Qaeda magnet, U.S. troops are a bad idea.

4. Danielle Pletka

Another reliable proponent of armed intervention has been Pletka, a vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute.

The U.S. should “Arm moderates among the Syrian rebels," she wrote late last month. "Take out Syrian air power. Take out scud launchers. Create a humanitarian corridor. These are DOABLE goals, requiring no boots on the ground. And while sorting the moderates from the Qatar-funded terrorists fighting Assad is getting harder and harder, surely such a job is not beyond the grasp of the United States of America.”

But Middle East analyst Juan Cole has pointed out the perils of American air force intervention, which is what Pletka means when she says take out “scud launchers” and “Syrian air power.” Cole writes: “Syria’s weapons depots, tanks and artillery are not out in some desert where they can be bombed with few casualties. They are in the cities. Bombing them would kill a lot of innocent civilians. Even just trying to take out the large number of anti-aircraft batteries (the essential first step of any aerial intervention) would be very costly in lives.

Everyone always forgets that if foreigners bomb a hated regime’s installations and accidentally thereby kill large numbers of innocent civilians, the dead civilians show up on the front page and everyone turns against the foreign air force.”

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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