The United States and Great Britain seem poised to launch a military attack on Syria later this week, if we’re to believe various news accounts. Is this a victory for humanitarian action to save people from their dictator? Or is it yet another mistake by politicians and bureaucrats who seem determined to make even more people around the world hate us?
The situation in Syria is being presented to us — once again — in a simplistic fashion. According to this narrative, this is a simple story of a terrible dictator facing off against rebels who seek their freedom. The evil dictator is using chemical weapons to kill innocent people as the rebels gain strength in fighting for truth and justice. Or something like that.
The “evil dictator” part of the narrative is the truth. The part about chemical weapons is probably true is well. (And a UN official said it was actually the rebels who used the chemical weapons, so there’s even a question about that.) The rest of it is pure fiction.
The United States has no business getting involved in Syria. The first reason is that there aren’t any “good guys” in this conflict. The second is that the war is none of our business and all we’re going to do is create new enemies and intensify the hatred that certain older enemies already have for us.
The war raging in Syria isn’t good vs. bad. It’s between bad and “possibly worse.” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a bad guy. He’s continuing a family tradition. When he came to power after his older brother’s death, some people thought he might be a reformer, but that hasn’t been the case. He’s ruled brutally at times and he responded harshly to protesters in the country who went public during the so-called “Arab spring” demonstrations across the Arab world.
Those protests have grown into full-blown civil war, but the rebels aren’t a bunch of western-style freedom fighters. Instead, they’re jihadists who see themselves waging a holy war for their particular brand of Islam. So why would some people in the West prefer to see jihadists who are aligned with Al Qaeda in power rather than a somewhat more secular Assad?
What some people see as a simple battle of “dictator vs. rebels” is turning more and more into a reflection of the regional battles between Shiites and Sunnis. (Here’s a quick overview of the line between these groups, who dislike each other just as much as Irish Catholics and Protestants did at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland.)
The Syrian government is allied with Iran and (to some extent) Russia. In the case of Iran, it’s largely for religious reasons. The Iranians have pledged to do everything they can do to save the Assad regime. If the United States and Great Britain go to war with Syria, it’s very likely that Iran would use its military to cause problems. I could even see the Iranians using the war as an excuse to attack Israel. Meanwhile, the Russians are warning the United States and Great Britain that it would be a “tragic mistake” to attack Syria.
The situation is a mess. U.S. intervention would just antagonize the Iranians and help put militant jihadists into power if the intervention were successful. Even if the Iranians weren’t successful in stopping the intervention — and they probably wouldn’t be — it seems likely that the Iranians would then increase their own support for terrorism aimed at the United States. Is this supposed to be a positive outcome?
Are there some good people in Syria? Of course. Are some innocent people being slaughtered in the war? Yes, as is always the case in war. But unless the United States and Britain are ready to stage a permanent occupation of Syria in order to force a democratic system on the place, the war is going to be won by either the dictator or the jihadists. (And you can look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see how well such occupations go.)
I don’t see a positive outcome. There are no good sides in this war. Both sides represent something that we greatly disagree with — and that is potentially dangerous to the West. What possible good can come of going to war with the Syrian regime? Is it just so a bunch of armchair strategists in Washington can say, “We did something,” about the Assad repression of his people? (If that’s the standard, why haven’t we invaded North Korea or Cuba?)
There’s an even more fundamental reason not to attack Syria. The Syrians haven’t attacked us. It’s their war, not ours.
I don’t have a problem if people who support one side or the other want to collect money for their favored side. I don’t care if those people go fight for whichever side they want to support. But I have a serious problem when politicians and bureaucrats choose to take the tax money of all of us and go make enemies — by killing people — in the name of all of us.
It appears that a U.S. and British attack is inevitable later this week. If true, it’s a serious mistake on a number of levels. I said the same thing before the invasion of Iraq and nobody listened. I don’t have any illusion that anyone will listen this time, either.
I’m sick of our tax money being used to kill people around the world. I’m sick of a government claiming to represent me creating more and enemies to hate me. But there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.