Bombing Syria: A Prescription from Dr. Feelgood
Bombing Syria accomplishes nothing. At best, it’s a guilt-ridding military drill. At worst, it could be a premeditated diversion by the scandal-plagued Trump Administration.
Recent missile airstrikes against Syria are nothing more than a tingling salve applied to our wounded sensitivities, temporarily satisfying mass guilt that “something” had to be done over there in the world’s most destructive civil war.
Those images of poor Syrian kids coughing up blood were haunting. So, the time finally came to drop some bombs. Blow up lots of shit. Make sure the American public was fed plenty of cool visuals displaying the awesomeness of our military. Mission accomplished.
Back to golf. What time’s tee-off at Mar-a-Lago?
Oh sure. Taking “decisive” military action is certain to be popular with some Americans, particularly those who always love waging a good war, just as long as someone else’s kids are fighting it. Body bags filled with the anonymous softens the blow. How convenient we can push buttons, instead of landing troops onto beachheads or dropping them into war zones. Fighting a war remotely with missiles and drones tethered to our fingertips seems far more righteous than sticking a bayonet into the gut of the enemy. Yet, the carnage is the same.
The trouble with Syrian airstrikes is, they accomplish nothing. Dictator-President Bashar al-Assad isn’t resigning from office, nor fleeing the country. He will remain in power, probably for quite a long time given the unwavering military and economic assistance he receives from the Russians. Assad also continues to enjoy significant popular support within parts his own country, although it’s always difficult to measure approval within an autocracy.
There’s no doubt the Syrian strongman is most popular among secularists. Ironically, he’s least popular among Islamic fundamentalists. Oh, what a quagmire for America to be arming militants who fanatically worship the Koran versus a leader who adores classical music and wears double-breasted suits tailored in Paris.
Indeed, when it comes to Syria, there are no good options for us, or anyone else. There are only bad options, some far worse than others. Blowing up Damascus, Syria’s capital, might make us feel good in between watching ballgames and making burger runs. But it won’t create stability or make anyone safer. It could even make things worse.
We’ve already seen what happens when tyrants are removed from power within the volatile Middle East. There are no knights on white horses riding to the rescue. There are only more tyrants waiting in the wings ready to fill the void, usually ready to impose various twisted forms of Sharia Law. This is the risk.
American military engagement in Afghanistan successfully ended the awful oppression of the Taliban. Now, fourteen years later, we’re still over there fighting with troops on the ground with no end in sight. Afghanistan, almost forgotten here back at home, has become the longest war in American history. U.S. military commanders have warned that we might be in Afghanistan for decades to come.
Sure, it also felt good to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Much like Assad, he was a really bad guy. It was really satisfying to see him get what he deserved — death by hanging. Unfortunately, once his totalitarian order dissolved, ISIS spawned out of the chaos, which became an even more dangerous enemy. Sure, Saddam was terrible. But there’s no evidence that he ever supported international terrorism against American targets. The same is true of Assad in Syria.
America took a less active role in ending Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime, even though he openly courted international terrorists and was even responsible for the attack on the Pan-Am Airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. As terrible as his iron-fisted rule was for most Libyans, history shows, the United States took no significant action for 40 years, all whilst his people suffered unspeakable horrors.
The Taliban, Saddam, and Gaddafi — they’re all gone now. That’s good, in moral sense. Justice was served. But what about the long-term national interest. Can anyone argue that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are now more stable, or more livable societies? Can anyone argue the average citizens in those countries are better off with the tyrants deposed? When it comes to our active role in these conflicts, after thousands of our own lives lost and trillions of tax dollars wasted, haven’t we learning anything yet?
Bombing Syria won’t accomplish anything. However, it could create an even more dangerous crisis for everyone. Given Russia’s unshakable support for Assad, combined with the messy political scandal currently plaguing the Trump Administration which includes looming questions about his personal and financial dealings with the Putin regime, this Syrian business could spin wildly out of control. Right now, it’s a proxy war mostly being fought by Syrians, some with American weapons and other armed with Russian weapons. Tomorrow, it could be Russian pilots shooting at American pilots.
This all leads to the sticky question about whether or not we trust President Trump to make wise and impartial decisions, free of conflicts of personal interest. There are reasons for doubt. Is Trump acting in America’s best interest? Or, is he acting in Trump’s best interest? Given all the secret meetings and personal contacts between Trump dignitaries and known spies working for Russian intelligence in recent months, those aren’t questions spun in conspiracy. They’re entirely reasonable given the circumstances and suspicious timing of events.
Even a best-case scenario for the Syrian debacle actually looks more like a worst-case scenario for America. If Assad gets overthrown, then what happens next? Would Islamic fundamentalists take over? Should we risk yet another massive destabilization in that war-torn region? Do we want another Afghanistan? Another Iraq? Another Libya? Are we prepared to invest yet another decade stuck in the middle of the never ending conflict between the Sunni and Shia?
When it comes to Syria, we may be stuck with a choice between drinking battery acid and eating a shit sandwich. Neither option is very appealing. However, sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
Bombing Syria is nothing to celebrate.
Writer’s Note: Here’s a column I wrote in 2013 when President Obama was first confronted with the Syrian crisis. SHOULD AMERICA INTERVENE IN SYRIA?