Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria - Another Fool's Errand?

While events in Syria where civilians and children are being killed by Assad's murderous regime are 
horrifying, a U.S. intervention may not solve the problem.  Indeed, it could make matters worse and harm far more innocents.  One need only look at the debacle in Iraq to recall that American intervention cost far, far more Iraqi lives than Saddam Husein at his most murderous.  Compounding Barack Obama's position is that (i) the UN has not approved intervention, (ii) now the UK is having second thoughts on foreign military involvement, and (iii) the American public is not supportive of the move, most likely because they still have the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan fresh in their minds.  A piece in Politico looks at the situation and some of the pros and cons of American military intervention.  Here are excerpts:

President Barack Obama had hoped for a quick, convincing strike on Syria, but growing opposition and Great Britain’s stunning rejection of the attack has thrust him into the uncomfortable position of go-it-alone hawk.

Just how Obama, whose career sprung from the ashes of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, got to this extraordinary moment in his presidency is a tale of good intentions, seat-of-the-pants planning and, above all, how a cautious commander-in-chief became imprisoned by a promise.

Obama seems likely to bull ahead with air attacks despite an impact and popularity that will be, at best, limited — an unsavory outcome marginally better than packing up his Tomahawks and going home, which would deal a humbling blow to U.S. prestige and embolden the Assad regime.  It’s a dilemma first-term Obama — who warned author Bob Woodward in 2010 that “once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don’t know where [they are] going to lead” — was careful to avoid.

Obama, tethered to his August 2012 “red line” pronouncement on Assad’s use of chemical weapons and eager to shed his lead-from-behind image, now runs “the risk of looking weak any way this turns out,” in the words of one former adviser who cited the limited impact of any missiles-only strike. 

“Obama’s caution has served him well in the past, but he’s completely abandoned it, and he’s paying for it now,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Egypt and George W. Bush’s ambassador to Israel.

“On two occasions, the rhetoric has gotten ahead of the policy-making process. Once when the president talked about chemical weapons being a game changer and a red line,” Kurtzer said. “Then [this week] when Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry made remarks that point clearly in the direction of some kind of military action — even though he hasn’t decided what he’s going to do and he hasn’t found a coalition.”

Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary at the start of the Iraq War, couldn’t help but gloat late Thursday when the British House of Commons rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for airstrikes. “Bush’s attack on Iraq was multilateral. O[bama], who attacked Bush for being a unilateralist, will make a unilateral attack on Syria,” he tweeted.

Opponents of a strike, who warn of unintended consequences that could precipitate a regional conflict, have cheered the delay. Nonetheless, it could force Obama to up the intensity of his attack, according to experts.
“The ghosts of Iraq haunt this administration very much in their decision making. It’s why they’re reluctant to become too deeply involved in an expansive mission in Syria,” Kahl said. “They’ve been reluctant to use military force overtly in Syria, but it’s not because they don’t have a [military] plan.”
[C]ongressional leaders in both parties described Obama’s strategy to explain the rationale for the strike as inadequate and improvisational. . . . . Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — an Obama ally and former Democratic National Committee chairman — told CNN Thursday that the administration needed the “full weight “of congressional leadership before signing off on an attack, joining about 150 members of both chambers to raise questions about an attack.

The House of Commons vote had a sins-of-the-father quality, hobbling a pair of leaders all too aware of the legacies of their predecessors George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who spearheaded the deeply unpopular Iraq invasion.

“Isn’t the real reason we’re here today, is not because of the horror of these weapons and the horror exists – but because the American president foolishly drew a red line and because of his position now, he’s going to attack or face humiliation?” asked Labour MP Paul Flynn during a raucous Thursday debate closely monitored by the White House.

It's a huge mess that may put American lives again at stake.

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