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Why Syria Could Become Obama's Waterloo

Updated on September 4, 2013

The drumbeat of war is beating, brasher and ever ominously again. And as has been the case for much of the last three decades, the theater is banally and most unvaryingly the same: the Middle East; and the actors unsurprisingly infrangible: the US and yet another Arab League nation.

It is extraordinarily disheartening to watch; it’s practically like we are in a permanent state of war. Guided by an unquenchable thirst for empire or global dominance, our leaders in Washington simply cannot go a full decade without identifying a new Lucifer and plunging us into yet another war.

The current status of the Syrian conflict ought not surprise any astute student of history or probing follower of world affairs. It was only a matter of time before what started out as an internal skirmish snowballed into an all-out international encounter.

In fact, it is in the nature of intestinal conflicts like this for things to rapidly and confusedly escalate. You have two warring sides with deeply-entrenched, diametrically-opposed interests caught up in the worst form of a zero-sum game in a region with a protracted history of violence. And perhaps more importantly, you also have other external forces with ulterior motives, a well-worn interventionist tradition and itchy fingers anxiously seeking an opening to jump in the fray.

As has been true with the Syrian experience and most others before it, fact is, once the existing resolution window of opportunity isn't seized earlier on by the sparring parties, it unavoidably grows intractable and unwieldy as time goes on.

In this particular case, the core of the Obama administration’s justification for intervention is the so-called moral argument that a “red line” had been crossed with the introduction of chemical weapons into the Syrian conflict.

Believing that the Assad government was culpable for the nerve agent assault last week that caused more than a thousand defenseless civilians (including dozens, if not hundreds, of infants and children) to die, the US feels it has a humanitarian duty to lead another “coalition of the willing” on yet another military excursion.

But it just seems to me that there are way too many holes in official Washington’s line of reasoning.

First, there’s the credibility problem. The US happens to have a reputation for not just duplicitousness in its application of international law/standards but actually manufacturing false evidence to justify military intervention. Heinous and repugnant as a nerve agent attack might seem, why is it tolerable when it’s used by one of our allies against an avowed enemy (Iraq against Iran) but roundly decried when supposedly perpetrated by another we do not particularly care for?

Besides, how does anyone definitively know that the Assad government launched these chemical attacks? Why should we believe the claims of the US and its allies in this regard? Weren’t these interests eerily the same that sold us the Iraqi war in 2003 with trumped up aluminum tubes/WMD charges against Saddam Hussein? How real is Secretary of State Kerry's expression of outrage toward what he called a "moral obscenity?"

Second, is the legitimacy problem. What exactly qualifies the US as the “keeper of the faith” or judge, jury and executioner on matters like this? If the use of chemical weapons in the prosecution of a war is truly an affront to what is deemed moral and just---what rises to the level of acceptable national code of conduct---why is it not being handled under the aegis of the United Nations? Why are we choosing the extra-legal route; bribing and cajoling a few countries to create the mock appearance of multilateralism and even threatening to go it alone if we must?

Lastly, is the powder keg scenario; the fact that Syria is neither Iraq nor Libya.

President Obama seems to have fallen into the same trap of fresh-faced braggadocio and invincibility that blinded many before him. In a rush to prove his toughness as a leader, he seems to have forgotten the lay of the land. The Middle East is and has been undoubtedly one of the most dangerous locales in the world. There have never been and probably will never be any cheap victories or easy solutions.

Contrary to current efforts by career politicians, journalists and their army of armchair analysts to oversimplify or gloss over what is rightly a dicey international situation, this isn’t going to be a mop-up operation. It won’t simply be a "controlled" or “surgical” assault targeting Syria's key military installations and command/control centers that wouldn’t require any “boots on the ground!” It really never works that way.

If, besides the US and Russia, Syria has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world and Assad is as crazy as they’d like us all to believe, then what do the technocrats and the military strategists in Washington see as the end game here? Do they truly believe that Assad would cower before American tomahawk missiles and pipe down upon being attacked by the same forces that are sworn to his demise? I do not think so.

A more probable outcome is that the Syrian government would not only hunker down but do everything in its power to internationalize the conflict; with the doomsday scenario being pitting the Arab world against Israel and engulfing the entire Middle East in a fireball.

President Obama would be the wiser to leave this hornets’ nest the heck alone!

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    • Arum I. Arum profile imageAUTHOR

      Arum I. Arum 

      5 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Much thanks for the interest in this piece and the compliment, Jo. My fear is that the latest overtures might actually blur the real issue and inadvertently embolden the hawks into thinking that their position was justified. What's going on in Syria is neither the first nor will it be the last. It's a civil war but a war nonetheless. Regardless of what weapons are used to prosecute it, war is always hell! Assuming that Assad authorized the use of nerve agents, nothing gives the US the right to judge his actions. If a section of the population in America were to, for any reason, take up arms against the Obama administration and actually threaten its existence, it would do exactly the same---use any weapons necessary to quell the rebellion. It's really that simple. I know that some have tried to rationalize military action with the humanitarian crisis argument. Humanitarian crises are always painful to watch. I lived through one myself during the Nigerian Civil War. While I agree that we should all do whatever we can to ease the suffering, what I object to are hypocrisy and duplicitousness---turning the blind eye when it's convenient and overplaying your hand when it serves other covert intentions. That's what our government does so well and often under the cloak or pretext of neutrality. I think it's both paternalistic and evil.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      5 years ago from Tennessee

      Interesting article. You do write well.

      I'm still debating this issue, but I'm such a partisan that it's difficult to be open-minded. I was very much against the Iraq intervention, but now want to support Obama.

      I'm wondering if the latest diplomatic overtures affect your thinking on this?

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