Fuel on a Mideast Fire: U.S. Intervention in Syria Would Make Catastrophic Situation Even Worse
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As it was in Libya, creation of a no-fly zone is widely understood as a step towards regime change. According to Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense during the US intervention in Libya, the first act in imposing a no-fly zone is an extensive bombing campaign – an act of war. This time around, that would mean bombing Syria, to destroy its sophisticated anti-aircraft system. How many civilians would die in that bombardment, given the widespread presence of anti-aircraft facilities across the country, including in populated areas?
We should also note that Israel’s ability to send bombers to attack several discrete sites in Syria, apparently from the skies above Lebanon, has little relation to the consequences of flying the dozens of US sorties flown directly into Syrian airspace that would be needed to neutralize the entire strategic Syrian anti-aircraft system. Drones won't be enough for this one. So when the first US bomber pilot is shot down, and special forces are sent in to rescue him, what happens to the 'no boots on the ground' rule? Ignore it because the special forces guys wear sneakers instead of boots? Do we really want to claim that killing more Syrians with conventional bombs, to prevent the future possible use of alleged chemical weapons, is somehow a legitimate 'humanitarian' effort?
Second, we should note that even the US government officials themselves acknowledge they don't have specific enough evidence chemical weapons were used at all. And even if they were (which is certainly a possibility), they appear to have no evidence of who used them. Reports from UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte point to use by the rebel forces, not the regime. Footage circulating on the Internet shows several ill people whose symptoms appear to include dilated pupils and a bit of foaming from their mouths, but no evidence of who and where they are, when or where they were injured or got sick. A Syrian doctor who treated them tells al-Jazeera that since they showed no sign of bombing or other trauma, no broken limbs or shrapnel, than it must be chemical weapons – but he provides no evidence of why it could not be one or more of the variety of other diseases and poisons (including several common fertilizers) that a quick Internet search indicates can cause those same symptoms. In a hugely complicated civil war, where the fighters on one side include many defectors and weapons from the other side, that means there's simply no definitive evidence of what side, if any, may have used chemical weapons at all.
That's an awful lot of "no evidence" on which to base a new threat of a massive military escalation. And of course, it sounds way too familiar. Who among us has forgotten the certainty of George Bush's lying claims of WMDs in Iraq – yellowcake uranium from Niger, aluminum tubes from China, and of course the ubiquitous Curveball, the source of all that secret information…?
Third, the chemical weapons issue is being used very much as a partisan issue. For neo-conservatives and Republicans there is little downside to supporting unlimited militarism: if Obama and the Democrats resist using military force, they are deemed weak on national security. If they do use force, Obama and the Democrats will be blamed for the inevitable disasters that follow [see Benghazi…]. Certainly there are Democratic hawks, including supporters of so-called “humanitarian intervention,” who never saw a human rights crisis that didn’t need a military response, crying for greater US military involvement. But it's also being used for Republican attacks on Obama. Republicans remain far more supportive of many of Obama’s war policies – his troop surge in Afghanistan, the Libya attack (despite the claimed outrage over Benghazi), the escalating drone war and more – than most Democrats. So they are all too eager to use the current Syria crisis to portray the president as soft on “terrorism,” unwilling to enforce his own “red lines,” and overall insufficient as commander-in-chief.