Summary to Date
The U.S. has failed in three attempts to intervene in Middle East conflicts. First, there is the 2003 decade long Iraq War where the U.S helped the Iraqis topple the then President Saddam Hussein but then occupied the area for over a decade; the 2011 incursion into Libya where the U.S. assisted rebels in ending the reign of Colonel Gaddafi but with a U.S. quick exit; and finally, Syria where, the U.S. did not assist the rebels on the ground to bring down the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and thus, there was no subsequent U.S. occupation. In all three cases, these countries at the time did not directly threaten U.S. national security and there was sufficient data and intelligence available in real time for the decision makers to vote against military activism. In the case of Iraq, President George Bush listened to the Pentagon neocons instead of more reasoned voices; President Barack Obama adhered to the advice of his Vice President over other experts when he supported the Iraqi presidency of Nouri al-Maliki beyond 2010, who then mistreated the Muslim minority of Sunnis, some of whom formed the Sunnis militant group of ISIS in response; President Obama was persuaded to approve the 2011 U.S. incursion into Libya by his then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton versus legitimate opposing views .
And in return for these poor outcomes, the American taxpayers have been saddled with the bill of 1.7 trillion plus dollars for our country’s missteps with no end in sight; the loss of lives and injuries sustained by middle east innocent civilians, U.S. soldiers and its military partners, along with the needless cases of massive human suffering as exemplified by the desperation of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing their country for safety.
Then besides these abysmal failures, there is one consistent outcome for all three U.S. involvements in the middle east which is the spread and growth in strength of the hard-line, Islamic militant and brutal terrorist organization, ISIS which definitely poses a clear and present danger to western powers including the U.S.A. With this development, it is a hard sell to make to the average American, that we are now in a safer position than we were prior to 9/11/2001.
Finally, instead of our government providing constructive solutions to mitigate these losses, we have the benefit of watching them play the blame game when there are “NO CLEAN HANDS” from either party or any governmental agency regarding these middle east quagmires. Now why would the American tax payers NOT be furious with the Washington political establishment crowd?
Discussion of Syria
In the blame game, we have all heard the following republicans’ favorite talking points when assigning the failures in Syria to President Barack Obama and his administration: “President Obama’s refusal to act in adequately arming, supplying, and assisting the Free Syrian rebels between 2011- 2012, is what precipitated the current Syrian devastation. The other frequently heard talking point refers to President Obama’s not backing up his well publicized threat to act if Syrian officials crossed the red line by dispersing chemicals into the civilian crowds. This second allegation will be covered in a future blog.
In a March 3, 2016 Democracy Now article, the NY Times writer, Scott Shane who wrote the “Libya Gamble” two part expose` made the following comments:
“When, how and whether to intervene in other countries, particularly Muslim countries—remains sort of a pressing question for American presidents.”
“But, you know, there are—there is no good example of intervention or non-intervention in these countries since the Arab Spring (2011) and before that. I mean, you have Iraq, where we spent years occupying, a very tragic outcome. You have Libya, where we intervened but did not occupy and pretty much, you know, stayed out of it afterwards—not a good outcome. And you have Syria, where we have really not intervened, have not occupied, and you’ve had this terrible civil war with huge casualties. So, you know, some people in Washington are questioning whether there is any right answer in these extremely complicated countries in the Middle East.”
It is my belief that the assigning of blame solely on President Obama and his administration for Syria’s present state of ruin, is unjust, as there are legitimate arguments to be made on the side of not acting versus deciding to intervene especially after the U.S. had experienced two previous failures in the cases of Iraq and Libya.
In the spirit of reasonableness, the Syria that we see today in ruins, could be in a similar or worse state, if the U.S. had become involved, but with the U.S. becoming mired in a mess similar to Iraq and Libya. Post the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Syria, it had to have been so hard for President Obama to choose to limit U.S. intervention in Syria; however, technically, it can be rationally argued that he made a reasoned but tough decision. However, it is hard to observe the devastating and tragic consequences in Syria without wishing we had done something to mitigate the sufferings of the peoples.
It is my analysis that the poor decision making demonstrated by both the republican and democrat presidential administrations which resulted in dire outcomes in Iraq, Libya and Syria stems from the lack of a coherent middle eastern policy which could be used as a guide in the decision making process, as to when, whether or NOT, the U.S. should act in any given situation.
Example of a middle east policy
The number one objective should be that whenever the U.S. decides to intervene abroad in a middle eastern country like Iraq, Libya and Syria, it should be because our national interests definitively are at stake based on sound intelligence. The second rule should be that the U.S. will NOT intervene in any middle east area to assist opposition groups in the successful overthrow of their dictator (no matter how brutal) unless there are realistic well- formed long term plans to insure the subsequent peace and stability of a given area via an interim governing body and / or with the presence of independent Muslim peace keeping forces. For point three, it is crucial that a power vacuum not be allowed to take hold, which then leaves the country vulnerable to insurgency terrorist groups to occupy the gap. It is when groups like ISIS strive to enter into such a region, that the U.S. and other bodies need to act decisively with military might to block any such attempts. We want to leave a country no worse off because of U.S. intercession.
Background on Syria
In the case of Syria, the price tag for U.S. timidity has been high. The 2/20/16 report from the Economist details well the results of inaction by the U.S. government:
“IN A war as ugly as the one in Syria, several bleak lessons stand out: the longer it goes on, the bloodier it gets, the more countries are sucked into the vortex and the more unpalatable become the options to stop, or at least contain, the fighting. But perhaps the biggest lesson is how America’s absence creates a vacuum that is filled by dangerous forces: jihadists, Shia militias and now an emboldened Russia.”
“Syria is a nasty complex of wars within a war: an uprising against dictatorship; a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Alawites (and their Shia allies); an internecine struggle among Sunni Arabs; a Kurdish quest for a homeland; a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran; and a geopolitical contest between a timid America and a resurgent Russia.”
The one argument in favor for U.S. military assistance in the case of Syria, would have been around 2012, when President Assad’s coalition appeared to be faltering and thus, it would have been in the U.S. national interests at that time, to assist those who were willing to topple him. (In 2011, President Obama publicly announced his demand that President Assad step down from his post.) While the U.S. would have to be cautious in providing weaponry like stinger missiles to moderate opposition forces, it could still have buttressed them in so many other ways. In addition, it was in 2012, when ISIS began its movement into Syria. This was an opportunity which was wasted.
However, if the U.S. was not serious about assisting the moderate opposition forces by around early 2012, then in 2011, President Obama should never have publicly demanded that the Syrian President Assad step down from his position. Expecting moderate opposition forces without external support to prevail against President Assad and his Syrian Army was not only pure fantasy, it also meant turning these brave men into cannon fodder.
In short, if the U.S. cannot figure out how to deliver on the 3 goals described above, the U.S. should NOT act to intervene, with the one exception of acting to check the growth of ISIS or other militant groups of a similar bent in these same regions, because they do pose very real and present danger to the western world including USA.