Perhaps if America had a successful track record in the Middle East, President Obama’s appeal for a “limited” attack on Syria might carry more weight. But because our attention span in the region increasingly resembles that of a fidgety 4-year-old, an examination of recent history is in order.
Consider Iran. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter supported toppling the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Whatever the shah’s shortcomings, who believes the theocratic government of the ayatollahs, which replaced him, was better than the one we helped overthrow? At least the shah was not pursuing nuclear weapons or fighting proxy wars like Syria.
Or Iraq. In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the Iraqi refugee codenamed “Curveball”? He was the main provider of “intelligence” that Saddam was pursuing WMDs. No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, “Curveball” was officially classified a “fabricator” by the CIA; too late for those thousands of Americans who died or were wounded. Now, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say we can trust the intelligence on Syria. Do you?
Even if the videos showing dead Syrian children are real and the intelligence is accurate, that is still not sufficient reason to attack Syria. Given our experience with Iran and Iraq—and the increased likelihood that growing instability in Afghanistan, Libya, possibly Egypt, and even Lebanon might turn out unfavorably for the United States—what makes anyone think history won’t repeat itself?
Anyone who has spent time in the Middle East knows things are not always what they seem. Alliances and loyalties shift depending on who is most likely to win a power struggle. The secular West doesn’t fully comprehend the religious motivations of extremists who claim to love death more than life. Getting killed by missiles launched by people they regard as “infidels,” they say, transports them to paradise. How does America deal with that?
Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger wrote to me in an email: “The Syrian threat to vital U.S. interests … is a derivative of Iran’s regional and global megalomaniac aspirations. The focus must be on the source and not on the derivative! Shifting attention from Iran to Syria provides Iran with extra time to develop nuclear capabilities.”
Exactly. The Middle East is imploding and if the United States continues with the fiction that it can make things better, or that freedom “is the hope of every heart,” as former President Bush likes to say, we will be sucked into its vortex with no escape. A recent headline in The Weekly Standard, which editorially favors a strike against Syria, branded the region “The Muddle East.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes, “… Obama’s sensibilities—his early friendly outreach to Muslim despots and Iran, his reluctance to apply pressure to authoritarian Muslim rulers, and his obvious discomfort with the moral challenges of American power—made him particularly diffident. … Barack Obama is now the American everyone in the region loves to hate.”
Having proved the wrongheadedness of pacification (“pacification” also failed in Vietnam), the president seeks authority to push forward and repeat the mistakes of the recent past.
The war we are in has less to do with Syria than with transnational forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. Ettinger writes that these radical groups “[aspire] to sweep the Middle East and beyond, first and foremost the remaining pro-U.S. Arab regimes such as Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing Gulf states.”
They will then come here. In fact, Clare M. Lopez, writing for the Gatestone Institute, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit international policy council, maintains there is ample evidence they have already infiltrated America, Great Britain, and other parts of Europe. A limited strike on Syria will do nothing to stop them. Learning from history, listening to what they say and watching what they do and confronting this evil, rather than trying to pacify it, is America’s best option.