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Fuel on a Mideast Fire: U.S. Intervention in Syria Would Make Catastrophic Situation Even Worse

Proponents of military involvement have it all wrong: The United States should de-escalate hostilities.

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Politically-driven demands for direct US intervention in Syria – more arms to the rebels, establishing a 'no-fly' zone, creating a safe area somewhere – have been flying around for months. So far, President Obama and the Pentagon leadership have resisted the political pressure. But Obama’s resistance has been weak and cautious; we don’t have enough evidence yet, it’s not clear the red line has been crossed. The clear implication is that if there is more evidence, if some claimed red line is crossed, then all bets are off – and in today’s diplo-speak, “all options are on the table.”

Now, allegations of chemical weapons being used in Syria and Israeli airstrikes against Syrian military targets have given rise to a whole escalating campaign for direct US military intervention. And it’s getting very dangerous.

Neo-Con redux

Most, though not all, of the calls for intervention come from the same people who led the calls for invading Iraq: neo-cons and other hard-line militarists, pundits and Congressmembers, mainly Republicans but plenty of Democrats too, including the 'humanitarian hawks', those who never saw a human rights crisis that didn’t require US military involvement to solve. It’s not a coincidence that many of the loudest voices – people like Republican Senator and defeated presidential contender John McCain and others – have been calling for direct intervention and regime change for more than two years now, starting way before any allegations of chemical weapons ever surfaced.

Making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows last week in the midst of the 'chemical weapons' hysteria, McCain’s call for escalating US intervention in Syria was that Obama needs to do “what we've been demanding for more than two years.” It was actually a fascinating acknowledgement that McCain's concern isn't with any alleged chemical weapons use – it's the same regime change he's been demanding since Syria's edition of the Arab Spring erupted more than two years ago, when no such chemical weapons allegations were on the table.

But the bi-partisan support for militarism remains. At least as far back as President Johnson in the 1960s, too many liberal Democrats believed they could only advance a domestic social agenda of civil rights, health care, education, etc., if they were prepared to out-macho the Republicans. They reversed the lesson Martin Luther King taught us, of the need to link civil rights to the struggle for peace if either is to have any chance. And what we’ve seen instead is a pattern of Democrats in government who still act on the belief that a hawkish, militarized foreign policy is necessary to advance any social policy that benefits anyone beyond the 1%.

The cost

The drumbeat is spreading.  Former New York Times editor Bill Keller, reprisinghis 2003 “reluctant” support for the Iraq war, once again supports US armed intervention in Syria. Why will this time be better? Well this time, unlike Iraq ten years ago, Syria represents a “genuine, imperiled national interest, not just a fabricated one. A failed Syria creates another haven for terrorists, a danger to neighbors who are all American allies, and the threat of metastasizing Sunni-Shiite sectarian war across a volatile and vital region."

Guess he hasn’t looked very carefully at Iraq today. His point about what happens if Syria collapses is true (despite his leaving out the far more dire impact on the Syrian people), but he ignores the crucial point that his description of a future failed Syria if we don’t intervene, matches precisely what exists today in Iraq – as a direct result of US intervention. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the exploding Sunni-Shi’a violence across Iraq and over the borders into Syria among other places; today’s post-intervention Iraq is precisely what Keller warns of if the US doesn’t join the Syrian civil war. He didn’t look at Lebanon, where the already-shaky confessional system French colonialists imposed in the 1930s is under renewed strain from the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into the country, as well as the political-military pressure of the Syrian civil war itself. He didn’t look at Jordan, where more than 500,000 Syrian refugees have stretched the country’s social fabric to a near-breaking point.

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