Can you hear the drumbeats? They are getting louder as national leaders step up their propaganda for the next war. This time it’s Syria. The pretext is an ugly one: the alleged use of sarin gas by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, of which the Obama administration claims to have indisputable evidence.
I have problems with all of this, perhaps you do, too.
First, by what authority does the United States arrogate to itself the presumptuous responsibility to mete out justice? Is it because we’re the biggest bully on the block? Is it because we have the most guns? Is it because we possess the highest morals? Is it because we are the de facto empire carrying a mandate to maintain global order? Is it because the U.S. has a history of “humanitarian intervention” and why stop now? Or is it because we desperately need a distraction, with the world economy stuck in neutral?
I, for one, find it difficult to imagine that the Finns wake up to their morning papers with headlines announcing Helsinki itching for a declaration of war. Same for the inhabitants of Chile or South Korea. If there are headlines about the looming attack on Syria they are all about the U.S. and efforts to persuade the United Nations to give its blessing.
Second, and as Peter Jackson asks in this morning’s Everett Herald, what happens the day after we strike? He writes:
You can’t unscramble the egg, which is why the Obama administration needs to game-out all of the day-after questions. What happens after cruise missiles hamstring the regime’s command and control? Will the United States enforce a no-fly zone? After two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are Americans willing to spill more blood and treasure in the Middle East?
It wasn’t all that long ago that we employed—as one of many pretexts for attack and invasion—Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons “on his own people.” At the time he gave the order, Hussein was our buddy. Then he had to go all unreliable on us, including his invading Kuwait. That we chose to bomb and occupy turned out very badly, with continuing adverse consequences.
I might suggest, then, that we not base foreign policy decisions on the nobility of rationales, though I’m not prepared to offer prescriptions for foreign interventions, save for two: Did someone cause us harm or threaten us with the same? Can we be certain that our actions improve matters? Acting against Syria fails on both accounts, if history is any guide to the latter.
Third, the messiness of the Middle East militates against any easy, clear-cut solutions, regardless of who is trying to do the solving and how. The many factions at play, both within and without Syria, nearly guarantee that actions taken against one will trigger reactions from others in ways that we cannot possibly anticipate.
Fourth, and to elaborate on the last point, I do not see the likelihood of developing any coherent “plan for the Middle East” that satisfies multiple criteria, including how actions against Syria would fit. Moreover, even if one could be devised, proper execution can hardly be assured.
My list does not begin to exhaust the challenges. One hopes that the Obama administration follows Peter Jackson’s advice before committing to any strategy involving the use of force. The time to question is before, not after the fact.