The plain and simple fact of the MidEast and our involvement there, such as it is, is that the United States of America is unwilling and/or unable to assist in any meaningful fashion, preferring to stand aside and above and watch thousands more Syrians being killed, although now being gassed by their own leadership.
Mr. Obama’s famous “red line” has long since been crossed. Some news outlets are reporting that nerve gas of some kind has been used fourteen times, not only this one gigantic blast of a few days ago that killed so many women and unsuspecting children. The pictures were horrifying enough. Our weakness, our influence and capabilities in that country are equally horrifying.
The polls of which Americans seem so fond don’t give us a lot of direction. Yes, people say by a small majority, we should be doing something. No, the people say, no American “boots on the ground.”
The idea that this conflict actually is a civil war seems finally to have dawned in the heads of those old enough to have experienced Viet Nam and Iraq.
And in that dawning, Americans are not happy about the prospect of being dragged into another war they can’t win. Not just that they can’t win for themselves. They can’t win this one for anyone.
All kinds of dangerous scenarios are being written by punditry. A no-fly zone might bring the threat of retaliation by surface to surface missiles from Syria to Israel, Jordon, Turkey. Small arms assistance to the rebels, once earlier promised but never delivered, only serves to make the battle more bloody and the outcome no less certain. And to whom do we give this aid, insofar as we haven’t the name of one single “moderate” Islamist in all of Syria willing or able to stand up against Assad and make progress. Furthermore, this “leader” we seek would likely be unknown even to his own people. He would be our leader. And we don’t want “our leader” to be decimated and disappeared.
If we are planning on “going in” on a punitive raid to punish Syria for its use of nerve gas on its own people, is that a sufficient cause for war? Punishment but no regime change? What does punishment do? It allows Assad the opportunity to continue doing exactly as he wants as long as he can absorb the punishment we send.
It may even encourage him in the use of gasses on his neighbors. If he has nothing more to fear than a few days of Mediterranean launches of missiles, what “red line” has he in fact crossed? None, as far as we can see.
That idea alone makes staying out of this miserable civil war, because since we will have proven ourselves indecisive and powerless, what has he to fear?
Being supplied by Russia with aircraft, by Iran with weaponry and missiles, maintaining his own air force and his own lines of supply — although with the mounting death toll in Syria he needs less and less food and medicine than before since so many have already died — Assad can continue to wage terror on his enemies within Syria and feel comparatively free to launch whatever he wants on his neighbors.
Finally, it seems, we have learned the lessons of the Viet Nam war. Republicans in Congress for these past 30 months have dared not breathe a word to liken one war to the other. Now, however, they’ve turned tail and can only cite the likelihood of a long entanglement we can no longer afford.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are suddenly turning hawkish. Not on behalf of the Syrians, mind you, but on behalf on the status and position of the United States of America in the world. And they’re right. But they’re also too late.
We think only one idea is clear in all this. The US of A has lost what purchase it had on the imaginations of the world. We may still welcome tired, hungry, and poor, but we can’t defend them any longer.
We’ve postured and promised and then ultimately disappeared, not performed, not been the stalwart of Freedom and Democracy we advertised.
No wonder England got off the ship. Apart from having been burned by Mr. Bush over Iraq, the English may well have a clearer view of the future than we do.
Examining the still smoking remains of another country we set out on the path to freedom, i.e., Iraq, the English seem to understand what we do not: we cannot win wars for other countries until and unless we can identify men and women willing to lead their countries in ways most of us do not approve.
Should we actually level Syria, what do we have? A desert still divided and still fighting, only without any good guys or even any bad
guys. Chaos, in other words, very much like what erupted in Iraq when we finally pulled out, having decided we could not give that country what we wanted to give it either.
As for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, is there any doubt that there, too, we lose? That pandemonium among the tribes and sects of that ancient land of spices, explorations, and anguish will reign? We don’t trust Karzai and he doesn’t trust us. We can’t negotiate with the Taliban, and Al Queda stands in the wings, ready, as were the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, to woo and win the men and women on the street by providing food, clothing, shelter, and water for them.
One of the features that separates us from Great Britain is stark and clear. Britain lost an empire it had won, rightly or wrongly. We’re losing an earthly influential mental empire on which we were proud to say we had no deigns. But we did, and we do.
Cynics report that to fight over the skies of Libya made sense: it had oil. To fight over the skies of Cairo doesn’t. Nor fighting over the air space of Damascus. Hence, Libya, though still a mess, will have to pull itself together faster than Syria or Egypt…Egypt which did have a genuinely democratic election the result of which we didn’t like. Therefore, we support the Egyptian Army at this time as the only stabilizing force in that nation with whom we have already worked for thirty years. Just as we used to support the Assads who, in their own bloody way, kept a peace between Iraq and Jordan, between Jordan and Lebanon. Regardless that Syria was enemies with those nations, they were sitting in the right spot for a long time and it was to our advantage to let matters rest there. It no longer is.
Picture the MidEast as a small continent caught in global warming, beginning to slide away from the larger land-mass of Eurasia. No one knows in what eventual direction it will float, or sail, or be propelled.
But increasingly, because America won’t any longer accept what for centuries has been its peace-making role, this new continent could bash up against Europe, or Turkey, or even Africa. And the diseases it carries on its voyage will infect those countries against which it makes landfall.
It has already changed the United States, and not for the better.
In the 40’s and 50’s, all Washington wanted to know was “Who lost China?”
At the beginning of this century, the questions will be “Who lost Syria? Who lost Egypt?”
The answers to these last two questions will doubtless be as partisan as the answers to the loss of the Far East.
We’ve got a lot to look forward to.