More than two years ago on “Political Safari,” we asked what made Egyptian children and Libyan children more valuable than Syrian children?
In the beginning of the uprising in Assad’s country, we could have and probably should have intervened immediately.
Time has passed. Assad is still there. 90,000 plus people have been killed. The revolutionaries, such as they are, having been up are now down. Aleppo may fall at any moment.
Millions of refugees are jamming Jordan and even Iraq; Lebanon, too, and Turkey.
Nothing was done when this sad story began, and little has been done by the international community since – not necessarily to help Assad from his quasi-royal perch but just to assist his people to eat, sleep, clothe themselves: in effect, to stay alive.
Now we’ve been wrong before, and we admit our errors.
We stand now, as of yesterday, on a precipice of being wrong again.
Not just us, as commentators, but us as a nation.
80 years ago in Spain a civil war was fought between loyalists to the crown and its version of democracy and fans of totalitarianism under General Franco. In those battles that raged in mountain towns and plains settlements, on farms and in cities, sides were naturally taken…not by the Spanish alone, but by the world powers. Germany leapt in to assist Franco, not to mention to practice its fine arts of air warfare. Other nations fought with the loyalists, including Russia and individual members of the American brigade. Soon enough, the war in Spain was a proxy war: Germany and Italy against the “democractic” powers which did include Russia because Communism at the time was being excoriated by Franco and its members slaughtered.
The mechanized Axis of Germany and Italy overwhelmed the peasantry on the ground who believed, fought and died for democracy.
The parallels are not far-fetched. What happened in the 30s was a war being fought for and by proxies. The combatants cared little enough about Spain, but cared very deeply about their weaponry and its success. Russia fought Germany over the skies of Madrid; the US fought Germany and Italy in the cities and fields of Spain.
What was happening was a warm-up for the Second World War. What may be being fought for in Syria may be a warm-up for the second Syrian War, after Assad has fled and the country begins to descend, or ascend if it’s lucky, into an international status combining wish-fulfillment and horror stories.
The confusion announced yesterday by Washington over whether or not, and how much, to help the Syrian rebels is natural. We don‘t even know who these rebels are. Worse, we do know that Iran is supplying Syria with arms, as is Russia, and that Iran has purchased the loyalty and skills of Lebanon’s terrorist Hezbollah. This war is spreading now to Jordon, to Israel, to Turkey.
Is it possible that by aiding the rebels in Syria at this time the US is arriving too late to have maximum influence? Is it possible that the concerns of diplomats the world over could be realized and that the Syrian conflict could become a wider Middle Eastern War, in effect another world war fought by proxies for competing philosophies?
The American public seems, according to polls, to want to do something to aid Syria and return her to a stable civilization. The big question is what: a partial no-fly zone over Syria, which would eventually means American lives probably lost in battles or air defense maneuvers, either fostered by the Syrians themselves or the Russians, who most recently have sent anti-aircraft weaponry to Syria?
Maybe we should just increase small arms aid to the rebels? But to whom do we give them?
Perhaps increased humanitarian aid would be sufficient?
The biggest unknowns: if the US decides that Syria has crossed the “red line” of chemical warfare (a) are we entering the fray too late and (b) could we be embarrassed by attempting to assist the rebels when the rebels are on their own last legs and perhaps destined for extinction?
A worst possibility is, is the US going to be guilty of carrying warfare to another MidEast country, this one not necessarily Muslim, but how easy it is to conflate Alawhite with Sunni.
What, pray, would be our goal? What would our exit strategy be? What would our expenses be?
All these unknowns are exactly the reason why the White House’s announcement yesterday is so confusing. Clearly the military has a plan, or it wouldn’t have even breathed a word about helping the rebels.
But what, besides a general desire to help an underdog fight a dictator, does the US really want from all this?
To date no one has stated or even hinted at answers to these questions. Are we considering action in order to weaken Iran in the future? Are we considering action in order to reassure our allies, the Israelis, that we stand with them still? Are we shoring up Jordan against possible Syrian incursions and probable bankruptcy as it accepts so many refugees. Are we hoping that the MidEast’s new strong man, Turkey, will be heartened by our engagement and tell us, no, never mind, we can handle this?
And for conspiracy theorists, are we headed down another Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction dead-end that could cost thousands of lives and fifty million dollars a day? Are the Neo-cons really making a new stand?
It seems to us that our announcement of aid to Syrian rebels was premature, and years too late at the same time. What we didn’t know at the beginning, how to make the best of a bad bargain, is still true today. And if we can’t find a solution to the suffering of other people whom we wish to assist, we’re probably better off not getting involved.
But we still maintain that the life of a Syrian child is worth as much as a Libyan or an Egyptian child. We only wish we had acknowledged this two years ago.