Perhaps if America had a successful track record in the Middle East, President Obama’s appeal for a “limited” attack on Syria might carry more weight. But because our attention span in the region increasingly resembles that of a fidgety 4-year-old, an examination of recent history is in order.
Consider Iran. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter supported toppling the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Whatever the shah’s shortcomings, who believes the theocratic government of the ayatollahs that replaced him was better than the one we helped overthrow? At least the shah was not pursuing nuclear weapons or fighting proxy wars like Syria.
Or Iraq. In 2003, President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the Iraqi refugee code-named “Curveball”? He was the main provider of “intelligence” that Saddam was pursuing WMDs. No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, “Curveball” was officially classified a “fabricator” by the CIA – too late for those thousands of Americans who died or were wounded.
Now, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say we can trust the intelligence on Syria. Do you?
Even if the videos showing dead Syrian children are real and the intelligence is accurate, that is still not sufficient reason to attack Syria. Given our experience with Iran and Iraq – and the increased likelihood that growing instability in Afghanistan, Libya, possibly Egypt and even Lebanon might turn out unfavorably for the U.S. – what makes anyone think history won’t repeat itself?
Anyone who has spent time in the Middle East knows things are not always what they seem. Alliances and loyalties shift depending on who is most likely to win a power struggle. The secular West doesn’t fully comprehend the religious motivations of extremists who claim to love death more than life. Getting killed by missiles launched by people they regard as “infidels,” they say, transports them to paradise. How does America deal with that?
Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger wrote to me in an e-mail: “The Syrian threat to vital U.S. interests … is a derivative of Iran’s regional and global megalomaniac aspirations. The focus must be on the source and not on the derivative. Shifting attention from Iran to Syria provides Iran with extra time to develop nuclear capabilities.”
Exactly. The Middle East is imploding, and if the U.S. continues with the fiction that it can make things better, or that freedom “is the hope of every heart,” as Bush likes to say, we will be sucked into its vortex with no escape. A recent headline in the Weekly Standard, which editorially favors a strike against Syria, branded the region “The Muddle East.”
Having proved the wrongheadedness of pacification, Obama seeks authority to push forward and repeat the mistakes of the recent past.
The war we are in has less to do with Syria than with transnational forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida. Ettinger writes that these radical groups aspire “to sweep the Middle East and beyond, first and foremost the remaining pro-U.S. Arab regimes such as Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing Gulf states.”
They will then come here. A limited strike on Syria will do nothing to stop them. Learning from history, listening to what they say and watching what they do and confronting this evil, rather than trying to pacify it, is America’s best option.