Saturday, September 7, 2013

Would a Syrian Intervention Be a "Stupid War"?

I was living in Illinois when the war in Iraq began, and I was so happy that one of the state's politicians, an up and coming state representative from Chicago named Barack Obama, had come out forcefully against it.  The war made me sick to my stomach, from the lies used to promulgate it, the jingoist attacks on the Dixie Chicks and anyone else who dared to oppose it, to the thousands of lives snuffed out.  As Obama took on national aspirations, his vocal opposition to the war was questioned, even after its failure and false pretenses were made manifest.  (People forget just how awful the climate for dissent was back in 2003-2004.)  He famously said that he was not opposed to all wars, only "stupid wars."

I thought that was a great statement at the time, not only because Iraq was a stupid war, but also because blanket pacifism is not a viable basis for this country's foreign policy.  Obama's military actions in power, such as drone strikes, troop increases in Iraq and the bombing campaign in Libya, have surprised those who missed the second meaning of his "stupid wars" statement.  That said, I have been increasingly alarmed by the continuation of these Bush-like policies when it comes to the "war on terror," especially drone strikes and the activities of the NSA.

The president clearly does not see these interventions, Syria included, as "stupid wars." The covert activities and drone strikes are meant to carry on the same old war against Al-Qaeda, but through different, less costly and risky means than invasion and regime change.  He is pushing for action in Syria on wholly different grounds, namely to dissuade the Assad regime and other nations from using chemical weapons.  Essentially, he is trying to enforce international norms through Bush-like methods of unilateralism.

The goal of these strikes is rather admirable, and reflects a kind of liberal interventionism now prominent in Obama's cabinet.  In so many ways, it would be a far less stupid war than the war in Iraq.  The United States would not be aiming for regime change, it would only be involved short term, and it is responded to a case of mass murder perpetuated by a horrible cruel regime.  The war in Iraq was a naked imperialist adventure by the Bsuh administration to remake the Middle East to conform to a neo-con vision.  The talk of weapons of mass destruction was never anything more than a pretense, rather than the real motivation in the case of Syria.  Obama is not aiming to put a new regime in power, or to subject Syria to occupation.

A potentially open-ended intervention to unilaterally enforce an international norm isn't exactly inspiring the American people to action now, even though they got in lockstep behind the Iraq disaster.  Of course, the fatigue from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan perpetuated by Obama's predecessor has a lot to do with that.  I also think that the horse sense of the public is actually right for a change, but perhaps not for the reasons I usually hear.  The same conservatives who hurled abuse at me while I protested the war in Iraq ten years ago are now against intervention in the Middle East in large part due to their antipathy to the president.  Most other people know little about the war in Syria, and the suffering that Syrian people have endured at the hands of the Assad regime.  Unlike in 2003, they aren't scared of the boogeyman.  

From where I stand, war in Syria would be stupid (namely), namely because it would, no matter how advanced our smart bombs are these days, lead to the deaths of innocent people.  Their deaths would be all for the cause of the United States saving face after its president set a "red line" of behavior that the Assad regime broke.  It will result in more, not less suffering by regular Syrians.  It will not bring an end to that horrible war, and the rebels fighting Assad could end up being even worse (and Taliban-like) when they get into power, anyway.  It would be stupid because it would be unilateral, and harm all the efforts Obama has made to patch up America's relationship with the rest of the world.  It would continue to arouse the hostility of the people of the Middle East, who are tired of American political and military intervention.  That hostility gives Al-Qaeda its foot soldiers.  Any blowback will be worse than anything that might possibly be accomplished.

Perhaps the successful raid on bin Laden's compound and the bombing campaign in Libya have made the president over-confident about the capabilities of American force.  I just hope he thinks about where he was and how he was thinking back in 2003, and somehow changes his mind about this stupid war.

No comments: