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Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in Featured, International | 8 comments

Syria is still not our fight

Olle Johansson, Sweden

Olle Johansson, Sweden

WASHINGTON — President Obama is right to resist the mounting pressure for military intervention in Syria. Action by U.S. forces may or may not make the situation better — but certainly could make things worse.

This assessment could change, of course. It would be reasonable to consider intervention if such action were necessary to protect U.S. national security interests or prevent the kind of genocide we saw in Rwanda. At present, neither condition is met.

This view may seem cold and uncaring. According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed in two years of brutal conflict between rebel groups and the heavily armed regime of Bashar al-Assad. More than a million Syrians have fled the country, a million more are internally displaced, and major cities have been turned into rubble-strewn battle zones.

On Monday, Assad’s prime minister, Wael al-Halki, narrowly escaped assassination in Damascus when rebels targeted his convoy with a car bomb. The attack demonstrated that even in heavily guarded parts of the capital, the regime is vulnerable and under attack.

And U.S. officials now believe — but say they cannot be certain — that the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons in several instances against rebel forces. Obama once said this was a “red line” that Assad must not cross. Last week, he called reports of the use of sarin nerve gas a “game changer” that could provoke international action.

“We cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations,” Obama said. Note, however, the qualifiers “systematic” and “civilian,” which appear to set a standard of depravity that even the Assad regime has not reached.

Obviously, the president is not eager to wade into another Middle East war. Critics who are braying at him to do something — (BEG ITAL)anything(END ITAL) — to relieve the agony of the Syrian people should have to spell out just what they think Obama ought to do.

The hills, valleys and ancient cities of Syria have little in common with the empty deserts of Libya, where the limited use of U.S. air power in support of allied forces was enough to tip the scales against Moammar Gaddafi. Syria lies at the heart of the Arab world. Its heavily armed and deeply entrenched government has long had the support of such powers as Russia and Iran — and is still backed by a substantial minority of the population. The Assad regime is weakened but far from defeated.

Official U.S. policy is that Assad must go. But if the Arab Spring has taught the world anything, it is that when despots are toppled, it matters who takes their place. In the case of Syria, which lies at a strategic crossroads in an exceedingly dangerous part of the world, it matters a great deal.

The rebel “army,” such as it is, has been increasingly dominated by Islamist fighters who are proving themselves well-organized, disciplined and effective on the battlefield. Officials in neighboring Jordan are concerned that Islamists aligned with al-Qaeda could take power in at least parts of Syria. Jordan’s King Abdullah, visiting Washington last week, warned of a “fragmentation of Syrian society” involving the rise of “militant terrorist organizations.”

It would be wrong to seek the survival of a dictator as brutal and oppressive as Assad solely because of his effectiveness at squelching militant Islam. But it would be foolish to give advanced weapons and training to rebels who, after dealing with Assad, are likely to threaten U.S. allies and interests.

The United Nations is powerless because Russia, using its veto, will forbid any meaningful action by the Security Council. This means that if the United States were to intervene, it would be perhaps under NATO or as part of some “coalition of the willing.” But while there’s lots of gnashing of teeth in Western capitals, there is little stepping up to the plate.

Would U.S. intervention at least save civilian lives? Perhaps. But if, say, the regime responded to a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone by using its armored vehicles in even more brutal attacks against innocent towns and villages, what would we do then? Try to destroy all the tanks as well? Start using drones to blast Assad’s palaces in hopes of taking him out? Put boots on the ground?

What’s happening in Syria is enough to break your heart. But for now, the right thing to do is stay out.


Eugene Robinson’s email address is [email protected](c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • sheknows

    Excellent article!! I absolutely agree. We need to stay out of it for all the reasons you have mentioned here and for a few others. We cannot afford to pay for another Middle East entanglement monetarily or politically. If we don’t have much enthusiasm from our allies, this could be costly on more levels than we care to know.
    The use of chemical weapons should not be a lukewarm topic among the world powers.

  • SteveK

    I agree sheknows but the nutters will automatically decide that that alone is reason to jump in.

    I doubt they know the definition of either “jump” or “in”… And more to the point, when has ignorance (or intentional stupidity) ever stopped them?

  • dduck

    I hope we at least are giving the maximum aid for civilians in Turkey, Jordan and other havens for refugees. Game changers and red lines sound nice, but helping these people, using covert operations with no publicity (campaign is over) and negotiating with the Russians for a deal are very important.

  • zephyr

    What’s happening in Syria is enough to break your heart. But for now, the right thing to do is stay out.

    Agree with Robinson – on both counts. Rushing in, even with the best of intentions, could make matters much worse. We have lessons of history at our disposal, let’s try using them for a change.

  • The_Ohioan

    What dd said except we should get credit as a nation when we do the right thing.

    The neo-cons and their enablers are now floating the “If we’d done something 2 years ago” or “1 1/2 year ago” meme. Completely without substance, the same people were in the rebel uprisings then that we are concerned about now.

    Let the Arabs handle it, they are the ones most likely to be affected, and they have the money and influence to protect themselves. No one needs to be worried about Israel, they also can protect themselves.

  • zephyr

    The neo-cons and their enablers are now floating the “If we’d done something 2 years ago” or “1 1/2 year ago” meme.

    Of course they are, it’s to be expected. These people have no sense of responsibility, nor shame, nor willingness to learn from their own mistakes. Instead they seek to undermine those who are determining policy carefully instead of rushing in. Needless to say, their contention can never be proven nor disproven – which is consistent with the remarkable lack of personal courage neocons have displayed in this century.

  • sheknows

    Our resident warmongers, McCain and Graham were on the news tonight criticizing the president and saying “he should have done something about this situation months ago”. (what situation?) And they have “never been happy with the way Obama has handled Syria”.
    I guess I want to blame the media at this point.They love to show the opposition ( usual suspects) criticizing the president. Get the viewers all fired up, keep em interested in the newest polarizing remarks. Instead, why couldn’t they show 2 or 3 favorable remarks from Dems who support the current cautious behaviour.
    I blame the media for stirring up the pot constantly. In case they don’t get it…It isn’t a good idea to continually show your commander in chief as being criticized and reviled to the rest of the world. What sort of pride and unity does the rest of the world see in the US when we are constantly tearing down our own leader!!
    These sort of comments and opinions have been going on for decades between parties, but they weren’t slathered all over the tv, facebook or the newspapers. And it wasn’t because communication has changed so much. It is because the image the media projects to the rest of the world meant more than the ratings they might get to watch the “fight” continue.

  • I’m with dduck on this one. I also think that we have some good lessons to learn from Libya re: European leadership.

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