Indecisiveness in the matter of the impending action against Syria is a natural conundrum. Knowing there is no good outcome for America in such an action, as readily demonstrated in the two recent forays in the Middle East, is the obvious place to end consideration. Yet to end there is to leave open the possibility of continuing violence and brother on brother brutality.
The visuals of innocents probably gassed to death in the streets virulently hurl decisiveness to rushing in guns blazing and saving the day. Until the visuals of rebels summarily murdering face in the sand Syrian soldiers. Now what?
Supporting one group of brutal killers to protect them from another group of brutal killers leaves the mind stuck, indecisive. For in that indecisiveness resides the honesty of not wanting to act once again in the interest of others at the expense of ourselves.
When there is a clear and defined need, such as the years leading up to WWII, the decision becomes clear. Rallying support becomes easy. Leading the charge feels like being the great savior.
Prior to WWII America stayed out of the conflict. We ‘lent’ and ‘leased’ ships and equipment to Britain. President Roosevelt worked diligently to keep America out of the war in Europe. Knowing the atrocities being committed in camps to Jews, gays and other minorities it became no longer possible; by then newsreels and radio had brought the war to America’s living rooms and most Americans were well versed in the objectives. Over time we became ready to fight that war.
In my lifetime there have been three major wars. The war in Vietnam was a disaster almost from the get go. America basically picked up where the French had thrown up their hands in defeat. It was too long before America did the same, but not before 58,000 American lives and $738 billion of today’s dollars had been spent (CRS 6/2010). Gays could avoid the war being declared unfit to serve.
Then the almost unilateral push to invade Iraq, for the second time. The first time, known as the Persian Gulf War, we can ignore here; it had a specific purpose, the purpose was achieved and we went home. The Iraq War was minimally discussed by the American people, and perhaps less by Congress. Before we knew it America was mired down in a loosing game that lasted past a decade until we basically packed up and went home leaving most of the tension we set out to dissipate in place; though not before spending $784 billion of today’s dollars and 4,500 American lives. The Iraq war did serve to expose the illucidity of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Turning attention to Afghanistan, in search of Bin Laden and the crucibles of terrorism, we picked up there just about where the Russians left off when they packed up and went home a generation before. Entering the Afghanistan conflict offered us the unique opportunity to be shot at by our own weapons, weapons we had given the rebels to fight the Russians. Again, we pushed ourselves into a war with little real discussion and over a decade later we are still ‘planning to get out in the near future’. When we do leave the expectation should be for Afghanistan to revert to just about the same place it was prior to our incursion though we have spent 2,200 American lives and $321 billion, so far. Of course we did kill Bin Laden.
Shoving America into the Syrian affair has echoes of past American wars written all over it. Syria is an unwinnable quagmire created by tensions dating back to arbitrary borders established by western powers over a half century ago across the Middle East that pushed religious fanatics of varying stripes into unnatural political groups ruled over by a strong man.
The ‘Arab Spring’ as we hopefully call it is no more than a generational adjustment to changing power structures long past due. No matter the Middle Eastern nation, each has gone or will go through their revolution. They must because western states imposed unnatural borders, populations have been ruled despotically by minorities and as each people awakens they will demand change; change that will not be willing given by the ruling power.
These have not been and never will be wars that America can win nor in most cases even really influence. These are wars that America is best served to observe from afar, no matter the atrocities committed, until they run their natural course. Then, and only then, is it appropriate for America to step in with humanitarian, reconstruction and educational aid. Any other American effort will serve only to destroy American treasure and lives for no real outcome. Ric Reily