Why do I feel like we’ve seen this movie before? A despot leader of a nation ruthlessly killing his own people, using chemical weapons no less; intelligence reports that are hardly a "slam dunk," yet point to only one logical conclusion; a president who fervently believes action of some sort is warranted and a British prime minister who agrees with him.
Oh yeah, we’ve seen this movie before and it was pretty lousy and, as it turns out, damn expensive. Ten years ago, the United States was plunged into a military action against Iraq on what turned out to be the flimsiest of intelligence, most of it manufactured. The cost was almost $3 trillion and thousands of military and civilian deaths.
Now before I go any further, let me just say that there are a few differences between what’s going on in Syria and what happened in Iraq. For one thing, Bashar Assad is engaged in a long, protracted and brutal war with a large segment of his own population. Saddam Hussein, while no angel, did not even remotely approach Assad's level of brutality. Syria is a nation under siege by its own government with major areas of it decimated by military assaults on both sides. By comparison, Iraq was a fairly stable, if repressive country; that is until the U.S. invaded it.
Worse, still, is that the increasingly deteriorating situation inside Syria isn’t just being contained within its borders; it's spilling over into other countries and further destabilizing an already volatile Middle East that is reeling from the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and other countries and a militant regime in Iran whose ambitions in the region are well documented. Over a million Syrian refugees have already crossed over into Turkey looking to escape the carnage. Clearly something must be done.
And, let’s be clear, no one has mentioned ground troops. A few Cruise missiles lobbed into an area believed to be housing most of the chemical weapons Assad is using to gas his people. Seems like a measured response to a tyrant. So why do I have knots in my stomach?
Because the cynic in me doesn’t believe for a minute that it will end there, that’s why. Two years ago, when Barack Obama decided to get involved in Libya, he did so with a U.N. resolution, the blessing of the Arab League and the assistance of NATO forces who did most of the heavy lifting, much to the chagrin of the neo-cons who wanted the U.S. to direct the assault. The result was that the international community was involved in the orderly and legal removal of Muammar Gaddafi. It was a rare and special moment for the United States and one which Obama should be proud of.
This time, the U.S. is going it alone, if it goes at all. No U.N. resolution, no Arab League blessing, just little old us playing cowboy again. Don’t be fooled. Whether a missile attack or an armored division, once you decide to take a shot at a sovereign nation –even one as brutally run as this – you are now the rogue nation. Period!
This is one time when I am siding with many of my fellow progressives and even some Libertarians. The United States should stay the hell out of Syria. Yes, what Assad is doing is atrocious and it is criminal. Let the Hague Court deal with him when the time comes. The issues that plague Syria run deep and will not be solved by launching a few missiles into it. What is needed is a plan that forces Assad’s hand and allows for the beginning of a peaceful transition to shared power with all sides concerned; not shots across the bow.
No matter how lofty our intentions might be, this is one Pandora’s box we should not open. Obama would do well to remember the words of Colin Powell, who should know better than anyone:
“You break it, you own it.”