Why Americans Can’t Win in Syria (And Shouldn’t Try)

About 18 months ago, I happened upon about 25 protesters outside of Congressman Mike Kelly’s office.  They were protesting possible military action in Iran.  Strangely enough, there was no serious consideration of military action against Iran at the time, and Mike Kelly didn’t really have much to say about the imagined action against Iran.  But the Congressman’s office is strategically located, and it was a pretty nice day by the standards of Erie, PA, in February, so there they were, protesting away merrily.  I spoke to a few of them and concluded that a) they were all pretty clueless b) having a protest like this was kind of like a substitute for church for some of them.  I wrote about my experience with the protesters here.  I guess that makes me an internet journalist.

Now the President has proposed an actual military action against Syria, with real bombs and missiles, and I am wondering where the protesters are when we really need them.  I even posted on the Erie Peace and Justice Center’s Facebook page to ask if a protest has been scheduled.  (If it has, they should know when and where it is.)  Because I might just make a sign and join this protest.  They wouldn’t know what do with me at a protest, and I might look a bit square in that crowd.  My protest songs would be different from theirs, too.  But it could be an interesting moment of political ecumenism.

My problem with this proposed war is that, the way it is being sold to us, we can’t win it.  (Incidentally, that is one of the several criteria for a just war, according to Augustine.  You have to enter into the war with some chance of success, however that is defined.)  I don’t mean that our soldiers won’t be able to go over there and kick some butt for a while.  They are very good at that.  I mean that, in the long term, because we are Americans, and because of the way the war has been sold, that no good will come of us getting involved.  Here is my reasoning.

1.  The actions Obama is proposing are not sufficient to meet his goals.

The president has said that we can’t allow the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and so Bashir al-Assad must be punished with bombs and missiles.  However, he says that we are not attempting “regime change” in Syria, and we will not send troops into Syria.

If our goal is to keep Assad from using chemical weapons, then it seems that we have two choices.  We can remove Assad from power, or we can remove the chemical weapons from him.  Obama already said that he is not pursuing regime change, so we have eliminated the first option.  That means that he is counting on destroying Assad’s chemical warfare capabilities with bombs and missiles.  And he is counting on doing that after giving up the element of surprise, so the weapons could not be hidden.  This is not realistic, so this strategy will fail.

If our goal is to punish Assad, it seems that we have two choices:  We can take away his power (thus supporting the rebels), or we can endanger his life.  We don’t punish him by just bombing his country, because he doesn’t really care if we kill some of his people.  So a limited bombing strategy will not achieve the goal of punishing Bashir al-Assad

2.  Because these actions are not sufficient to meet our goals, the war WILL escalate, and we will find ourselves choosing the side of the rebels.

Once we start bombing Syria, we can’t expect Assad to just turn over his weapons.  First of all, he can’t take the humiliation, and secondly, even if he says he got rid of his weapons, we could never trust him.  As we continue to bomb him, that will of course weaken him militarily.

Therefore, because the initial strategy failed, we will drift into a strategy of regime change by supporting the rebels.  This will be a violation of Obama’s initial stated goals, but very few people will notice.

3.  Once we choose sides in this war, we will find that there were no good choices.

Bashir Al-Assad is a brutal dictator, so replacing him might not sound like a bad idea.  In fact, some of our Senators want to help get rid of him.

Some of the rebels are decent people who just want to get rid of Assad, but many of them are heavily influenced by al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.  If they get into power, we can expect more persecution of minorities within Syria, and more threats toward Israel.  This is what we got in Egypt, once the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by the protesters, which led to the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood.

4.  Once we find out that there were no good choices, we will probably try to solve the problem with American-style meddling.

This will mean that we may try to work with the new government to try to make them into nice people.  They aren’t nice people, so we will fail, but not until we have “helped” them enough that we bear some responsibility for their failure.

This failure could take the form of moving our soldiers into Syria to “help” the transitional government, as they write a new constitution that ensures the primacy of Sunni Islam over the Kurds, Christians, Druze, and Alawites.  That would mirror what we did in Afghanistan.  Or we could just stand aside and ineffectively complain as the new government reflects the values of the Muslim Brotherhood, like we did in Egypt.

The last decade should have taught us that we can’t make Muslims act like Methodists.  That is a job for missionaries, not soldiers.

5.  The new government will be required to hate us.  But if Assad holds out, he will hate us more.  Therefore, if we lose, we lose, but if we win, we also lose.

If we help the rebels win, the first thing that they will have to do is hate us.  The leadership will feel the need to prove that they are not American puppets.  Most likely, they will feel the need to rail against the Great Satan (us), and they will probably engage in saber-rattling with Israel, AKA The Little Satan.  (If they capture the poison gas stockpiles, it could get worse than saber-rattling.)

6.  Ironically, the best thing to do is…. nothing.

This is not the Cold War, and we don’t have to pick the side that is opposing the side supported by Russia.  Really.  Anyone younger than Senator McCain should be able to figure this out.

We don’t need to get our soldiers shot at, in order to support one set of nasty people over another set of nasty people.  The war over there is not worth a drop of American soldiers’ blood, as long as they keep it within their borders.

If we let the Syrians fight it out themselves, then we will not pick the loser, or get stuck with a winner who is just as bad as the loser.

If we don’t take sides, the winners won’t feel the need to distance themselves from us.  And the responsibility for the results of the war will be theirs, not ours.

If we don’t take sides, we might even be able to help them make peace if they get tired of killing each other.

So, I hope that this latest outbreak of war fever can be contained, and that we can learn the lessons of the last decade.  And if anyone in Erie is planning a good anti-war protest, at a time and place that does not conflict with my work, I just might attend.


4 thoughts on “Why Americans Can’t Win in Syria (And Shouldn’t Try)

  1. Amen on the “Methodists” thing. We’ll know that we win when we see all parties coming together for an ice cream social. (I grew up Methodist, I know the drill) Too bad that the Methodists aren’t much on sending missionaries to dangerous places anymore.

  2. Us Presbyterians are still pretty miffed that the Methodist missionaries got to evangelize all those really nice warm sunny Pacific Islands. 🙂

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