TAMPA, August 21, 2013 – Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. in an August 19 letter obtained by the Associated Press that the Obama administration is opposed to even limited military intervention in Syria because the rebels wouldn’t support American interests even if they won. Dempsey said that the U.S. is capable of destroying President Assad’s air force, but that it would plunge the U.S. into another Mideast war with no strategy for peace.
Sen. John McCain has been critical of Dempsey’s assessment, calling a previous letter by Dempsey to Sen. Carl Levin “disingenuous.” According to the Jerusalem Post, McCain said “No one is seriously talking about striking Assad’s naval forces as part of a limited campaign. And no one seriously thinks that degrading Assad’s air power would require hundreds of American military assets. The whole thing is completely misleading to the Congress and the American people, and it is shameful.”
It’s time to take a serious look at just who has misled the American people. For twelve years, neoconservatives and other war hawks have presented military intervention in the Middle East as the only way to fight terrorism, bring stability to the Middle East and champion democratic values.
Twelve years of active war has failed to achieve any of those goals. Neither has it advanced any U.S. interest in the region, even if that were a justifiable cause for war.
Dempsey’s assessment of intervention in Syria highlights lessons the U.S. should have learned by now
First, the conflict is not between two sides, one pro-democracy and one dictatorial. It is a many-sided conflict, involving longstanding ethnic and tribal differences, according to Dempsey. No side is pro-U.S.
This is much like Afghanistan, where the U.S. attempted to combine military action with bribes, coalition building and humanitarian efforts to “win hearts and minds.”
In the end, the government it backed has waffled on supporting U.S. interests. The security forces U.S. military personnel are training have taken to killing their trainers from time to time, restrained only by Afghan officers who discourage the practice because of the weapons the U.S. is providing them.
Last month, the Taliban opened an office in Dohar, Qatar to begin negotiating with the U.S. and others to end the war. What that means for stability, democracy or U.S. interests in Afghanistan remains to be seen. The original reason for invading Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban.
This after the U.S. left Iraq a nation in chaos, its infrastructure razed, two million refugees displaced, an ancient Christian community destroyed, and a government with strong ties to Iran.
U.S. intervention in Egypt has had similar results, where a military junta uses arms purchased with U.S. foreign aid to slaughter those who protest the recent overthrow of a democratically-elected government. That government was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, hardly a result the U.S. welcomed in terms of its own interests or those of its allies.
In addition, the Assad regime is a longstanding friend of Russia, which has a naval base in Syria. The Obama and Bush administrations have both unnecessarily strained relations with post-Soviet Russia. Military intervention in Syria could strain them further, with no discernible benefit to the United States.
Idealists look at the twelve year U.S. adventure in the Middle East as a righteous mission to bring democracy to the oppressed peoples under dictatorial or Islamic rule. From that perspective, the U.S. has been played for a sucker by a myriad of tribal factions that have cooperated temporarily and then turned on the U.S. the minute cooperation no longer served their interests. Wherever democratic elections have taken place, Islamic governments have been elected with dubious prospects for supporting the U.S. or Israel.
Cynics see the period as one of quasi-imperial conquest by the U.S. to remake the political landscape to better serve U.S. interests and secure access to oil and other natural resources. The project has been a disaster from that perspective as well, even if true.
It’s time to take a serious look at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and in general. There are questions that need to be answered.
Based upon twelve years of experience, what do we expect to accomplish in the Middle East? How many decades are we willing to stay at war to accomplish it?
How much more money are we willing to borrow?
What evidence is there that we have accomplished anything? Why will next year be different?
If the U.S. is indeed waging “wars of liberation,” how did U.S. taxpayers become financially responsible for the liberty of every soul on the planet? When will this financial responsibility end?
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.