I wrote an op-ed about this last week, that I will reprint here, but have some other thoughts on the matter as well that I will discuss following the article. First, from The Justice:
It now looks like military action by the United States in Syria is all but inevitable. In the next few weeks, as actions will be taken by this country and others in North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it is important to remember some basic ideas. Most importantly, the situation in Syria will not lead to another Iraq War.
The Iraq War is the only time in this nation’s history that we invaded an overseas sovereign state with absolutely no immediate defensive reason. Even if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (they did not), it would not have made the war defensive, only justified. This is because there were absolutely no ongoing hostilities in the region before this nation attacked in 2003. While other wars were surely promulgated on faulty, if not deceptive reasoning, such as the explosion of the USS Maine leading to the Spanish-American War or the controversial Gulf of Tonkin incident leading to the Vietnam War, Iraq stood alone in its implications for its diplomacy and reasoning—or lack thereof.
In Syria, there is an ongoing civil war, and there is a somewhat well-organized opposition rebel army. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein faced no secession or credible opposition front. At the time of the United States’ invasion, Hussein’s Baathists were in control of the entire country. Since there were no opposition figures to Hussein, the United States had to step into that role to take conservatorship of the country after his regime was toppled and attempt to rebuild the nation. That alleged “rebuilding” is what constituted an unmitigated disaster of military planning, ultimately resulting in perpetual Iraqi sectarian violence and an appalling loss of life, including 4,805 American soldiers.
However, “boots on the ground” so to speak, would never be required in Syria. Once Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime is toppled, control of the nation will be gifted to the opposition fighters, under the protection of the Arab League.
There is, in fact, another Middle Eastern conflict that a limited intervention in Syria would be reminiscent of, and it is not the Iraq War. It is the 2011 Libyan War.
Similar to the likely upcoming Syrian intervention, the American intervention in Libya was in response to a humanitarian catastrophe. The dictator of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, much like Syrian dictator al-Assad, had committed horrendous acts of terror against his own people, leading to a tipping point—or red line—beyond which something had to be done. In the case of Syria, the regime has used chemical weapons—most likely sarin gas—against children, an unprecedented act of terror.
Back to Libya, the United States, backed by both NATO and the Arab League, established a no-fly zone over Libya and provided immense military aid to the rebel opposition. This was done after official approval by the president and Congress, and led to the tide turning against Qaddafi, by the way of the oppositions’ military victory, and ultimately led to his regime’s demise.
There were never American boots on the ground in Libya, zero American causalities and the United States did not take an active role in the nation’s rebuilding. Further, Libya is much better off now than it has been in decades, attempting to embrace democracy after years of terror at the hands of a sadistic monster. In fact, recent elections have taken place in Libya, the first in 47 years.
The same approach must be taken toward Syria. The humanitarian situation in that country is deplorable, and has been long before al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. This has happened after a deteriorating Civil War that has lasted over two years. A swift military strike, preferably in conjunction with the establishment of a no-fly zone, could help to turn the tide against the Baathists and in favor of the rebels, just like with Qaddafi.
Those with the naïve temerity to allege that the Syrian rebels may be worse than al-Assad’s current government are deeply mistaken. The current Syrian government is already a sworn enemy to the United States, as well as NATO and other allies including Israel. Further, the Baathists already aid and abet organizations defined as terrorists by this country, most notably Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. The main opposition representation, the Syrian National Coalition, was recognized by the United States in December 2012 as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
It is a far cry from being the world’s policeman to simply choosing a side in an ongoing conflict that we did not start.
By taking concrete action against al-Assad’s regime, the United States is simply noting that the regime is no longer the legitimate representative of the people of Syria.
Iraq was never about an ongoing civil war or an instant humanitarian crisis. It is an unfair comparison to juxtapose the past quagmire with the future conflict.
That being said, I wrote this article before Obama asked Congress for their support, and the article isn’t even about the justifiability of a strike. It is simply making that case that Syria is nothing like Iraq, and is far more similar to Syria.
That being said, I obviously did not think that this situation would come to a place where Congress –and, therefore, the general public– would be asked to weigh in on the issue.
While I certainly believe that the world would be better off with Bashar al-Assad
out of power dead, it would not be the best idea to do this while very many sacrificing American lives. On one hand, the chemical weapons attacks are deplorable and require a powerful response; on the other hand, the American people are far too war-weary for another conflict.
There are some differences between Libya and Syria, however, that I did not discuss in my op-ed. Mainly, Syria’s military is far better organized and more advanced. Accordingly, while implementing a no-fly zone over Libya was somewhat simple and resulted in no casualties, the same would not be true in Syria.
I certainly agree with my previous assertion that putting a no-fly zone is, morally and diplomatically, the correct thing to do. However, this may not be feasible with the same ease as was done in Libya in 2011. Less than the implementation of a no-fly zone, I would support some limited military strike that does not include the possibility of boots on the ground, or any scenario where American lives would be put at risk.
In taking this position, I break with some of my colleagues’ positions. Namely, the good bloggers of All People Have Value (Neil Aquino/Texas Liberal), Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Texas Leftist all diametrically oppose this point of view of mine. I certainly respect their position, and absolutely empathize with the idea that this country should not march on towards another war. I do, however, have some company in this position amongst Houston liberals, namely John Cobarruvias (Bay Area Houston) and Jim Henley.
Additionally, I have long been seeking out a way to connect this issue to local stuff, and B&E nailed it a few days ago in the article I linked in the preceding paragraph. Therein, B&E notes that the Congressional authorization on Syria will put many local Republicans (e.g., Congressman John Culberson) in a tough position, as he will either vote yes and suck up to Obama or vote no and be seen as weak on defense.
The comment about Culberson is somewhat peculiar, however, as the Congressman might receive a primary challenger anyways. Culberson, for his part since the article, has pledged a “no” vote on Syria intervention. However, this is less because of blind hatred for the President (something Culberson has no shortage thereof) and more about an odd libertarian streak he has recently developed.
Back in June, Culberson pledged his untethered opposition to both the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security, putting him in ranks of Republicans such as Rand Paul. The weird leftward step on these issues may very well draw a jingoistic, strong-on-defense, Tea Party primary challenger next year.