Fuel on a Mideast Fire: U.S. Intervention in Syria Would Make Catastrophic Situation Even Worse
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Oh yeah, as to his abject years-later apology for getting it wrong on Iraq, a mistake he recently called “humbling?" Not to worry – he’s figured it all out. This time will be different, because “getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.” For Keller, and for too many like him, it seems that “getting over Iraq” is today’s equivalent of the Iraq-era “getting over Vietnam.”
It is important to recognize one of the key differences between this drumbeat for war and that of the pre-Iraq period in 2002-03: unlike the years of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the most important war hawks are not occupying the White House and the top echelons of the Pentagon. While not enough – Obama’s resistance to the calls for war is dangerously weak – the administration’s position is a far cry from echoing those calls for war. The Vice-President, Secretaries of State and Defense, none of them are pushing for war. And in the Pentagon, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described himself as “cautious” regarding greater US military intervention in Syria, because of explicit “doubts that it would halt the violenceor achieve political reconciliation.” That’s all important – even though so far the proponents of a new US war in the Middle East have shown far more energy and intensity than its opponents. That’s what has to change.
The failure of militarism
What neither side of the Washington debate have considered, however, is that the overall escalating crisis in the Middle East is taking place in the context of the significant decline of US power and influence. With US economic and diplomatic power reduced, military force remains the one arena in which the US is the indisputable champ. The $800 billion annual US military budget has become largely irrelevant in determining history. The US-NATO campaign in Libya was partly, though not entirely, an attempt to remilitarize problem-solving in the region and thus re-legitimize US centrality. But it failed.
What the civil war in Syria and the Arab spring have exposed is that the massive political and social transformation and real regime change underway is led by people themselves – largely without military force and certainly with no role for the US. US military involvement serves only to escalate the destruction, while distracting from other failures. The people on the ground engaged in those political struggles don’t want US military intervention; the only ones who benefit are the arms manufacturers whose CEOs and shareholders continue to reap billions of blood dollars in profit.
War hurts civilians, but US wars hurt and kill civilians far from the US – so consequences remain far from US public consciousness. The problem for US policymakers is that an arms embargo also hurts their key campaign contributors: the arms dealers. The US remains the largest arms exporter in the world; can anyone doubt that sending US arms to one side of Syria’s civil war (even, or especially, if it extends the war) helps justify things like the pending $10 billion arms deal to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Or that instability in Syria, whatever its cause, can only help reinforce calls for increasing the existing $30 billion ten-year commitment of US military aid to Israel? No wonder the international Arms Trade Treaty – not to mention any potential for global gun control – remain far from the top of the agenda in Washington.
Let's start with the 'even if' argument. Use of chemical weapons is illegal; there are separate international laws prohibiting such weapons, and any use, by any side, is undoubtedly a war crime. But how would escalating the civil war with more arms to the opposition side, or creation of a Libya-style US or US-NATO no-fly zone, prevent any further use of chemical weapons – inherently something as easily hidden in a civilian garage as in a military storage facility? It would not; it would only insure that more Syrians would die and be forced from their homes.