By Jay Holmes
When we last published an analysis of the war in Syria in April 2013, this was where things stood:
- Various factions of Islamic fundamentalist-branded gangs had hijacked the conflict.
- Russia had announced its continuing support for Assad.
- Turkey’s own Islamic-brand despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan (a.k.a. Yippy) was criticizing the American interventionist approach to the Mideast circus while loudly demanding that the US immediately intervene in Syria to save Turkey from the chaos. Erdogan mumbled this nonsense while simultaneously explaining that Turkey’s archenemies, the “dastardly and disgusting Kurds,” were really always their good friends–good friends with oil to sell.
- Iran was directing its always-adventurous Hezbolalalalala branch employees to strike against Syrian rebels while continuing the ongoing campaign of murder and mayhem in Lebanon.
- The Iraqi government, though unable to govern in Iraq, was growing more helpful in assisting the Iranian-backed Shia factions in Syria.
- Not to be outdone by the Iranian Mullahs, the Gulf petrol-sheiks were sending cash and arms to Syria to counter Iranian goals. The petrol-sheiks were not altogether certain to whom they should hand over the cash and weapons, but they didn’t let that delay their shipments.
If this all sounds too complicated to fit into an Italian comic opera, remember that while it seems too absurd to be real from a distance, the view from the streets in Syria and the refugee camps is far less comical. The 1.25 million-person-sized elephant in the in the Mideast room—the refugees from Syria—are not enjoying their long vacations. If the Syrians that left Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are less than thrilled with their lives, their countrymen at home have still less reason to celebrate. In Syria, rival factions frequently execute children for the crime of having been born in Syria.
With their eagerness to occasionally appear relevant, spokesmen for the international cash cow that we sentimentally refer to as the United Nations have since decided that they are certain at least 100,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria. They remain just as certain that they are uncertain what they should do about it, but if things continue at the current murderous pace, the UN might eventually escalate to having a spokesman demonstrate a “dark frown” to assembled journalists.
I am less optimistic than the UN. I will offer my own estimate of 130,000 deaths, but my own personal dark frown will do no more to prevent the next child execution in Syria than the dark frown that the UN will eventually demonstrate. Don’t rush them. The fine art of “grave concern and dark frowns” as practiced at the UN is a slow and well-financed process. It all takes time. They’re still busy bringing peace and happiness to Korea.
Since the spring of 2011, the Obama administration and its partisan pals in Congress have stuck to strong rhetoric and menacing finger waving as a foreign policy response to the Syrian chaos. The White House loudly proclaimed that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian despot Assad’s forces would constitute the crossing of a “clear red line” and the US would not tolerate it. Naturally, opponents of Assad were listening and soon started claiming that Assad had used chemical weapons.
The rebels’ vague hope that Obama would follow up his grandiose statements with grandiose action was not fulfilled. The White House instead responded by explaining that we were not certain that chemical weapons had been used. That doubt was honest enough a year ago, but the current balance of evidence indicates that doubt is not well-founded now. Not everyone is convinced, but on June 14, the US government announced that it had confirmed that Assad’s forces had, indeed, used chemical weapons.
It now turns out that when President Obama said “clear red line,” he really meant something more like “crooked dull pink smudge.” This month, the Democrat-controlled US Senate helped out the President by declaring that the US should support the Syrian rebels by shipping arms to them. The White House agreed and announced that it decided to help arm the Syrian rebels. The Senate quickly followed up its strategy statement with guarantees that it had received (apparently invisible and very magical) assurances that any US arms shipments to Syria would not fall into the hands of any people that were likely to shoot at Americans or American allies.
The Senate and its pals in the White House have not disclosed the nature of these magical assurances of a clean and predictable indirect intervention. Perhaps these weapons will include some of the safety devices that anti-second amendment lobbyists often demand. Perhaps the weapons will have magic chips that will prevent them from functioning when people that like shooting Westerners or Israelis are holding them. Perhaps a sensor would determine the degree of Islamic jihadi fervor before allowing the weapon to fire or detonate. No one is sharing that information.
The White House has not said what weapons the US will deliver. Like the Senate, the White House also has not mentioned precisely how it will ensure that such weapons will remain in the hands of the Syrian rebels and out of the hands of al-Qaeda and the other various sectarian migrant jihadi workers that are currently harvesting this summer’s crop of Syrian mayhem. The White House’s announcement to arm the rebels seems to be the result of a need to “do something” while not having any actual policy goals to follow.
The vast majority of the American public responded with a yawn. This lack of interest is easy to understand. With the looming war in Egypt between jihadi factions and the rest of Egypt, the continuing river of cash and US blood flowing into Afghanistan, and the continued drift toward third world poverty status for so many unemployed and low wage earning Americans, it’s tough for the US public to get too excited about Syria. Idealism is a hobby most easily practiced when life is comfortable, and for many Americans right now, life is not comfortable.
Europe is currently busy doing next to nothing about its own dazzling array of economic disasters and immigrant issues. The crowds of deeper-thinking-than-thou devout and loyal Obama admirers in Europe have painted over their “Obama is our Savior” signs with “Hang the war criminal Obama” messages.
Their respective governments, particularly France and the UK, have followed a “whisper” diplomatic policy concerning Syria. They mumble vague statements about chemical weapons and rush to demonstrate frowns for the media before the UN can upstage them. When the cameras are turned, they look to the West and whisper, “Obama, hurry up and get involved in Syria so that we don’t have to.” Their speech writers have already written their denouncements of whatever action the US might decide to take. Just fill in the blanks when the time comes. The US will be blamed for “creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria.”
While it’s easy for me to criticize the US administration for its lack of a meaningful foreign policy, it’s a bit tougher to come up with an approach they might sell to a disgusted American public. One highly-respected foreign policy expert recently published a suggestion that the US concentrate on improving education in the Middle East as a long-term strategy for reducing violence and despair in the region. While in theory it sounds like a great idea, many Americans would hasten to point out that before we reduce the slaughter of children in the Middle East, we might want to do something about the slaughter of children in regions such as Chicago. Before we attempt to educate Middle Eastern children, we might wish to achieve a minimal standard of literacy in places like Detroit, east L.A., and the halls of our Congress. While it’s concerning that Obama and Congress continue to rely on a strategy of “slow drift” foreign policy, it would be even more disturbing for them to pursue a “leap now look later” policy toward Syria. The combination of over a decade of wildly expensive and ineffective US intervention in the Middle East and the declining standard of living for working class Americans has left US politicians with a tough audience concerning foreign policy.
The US and Europe are making small and “low noise” efforts to find and assist legitimate Syrian rebels, but for the moment, those efforts have proven inadequate. For the moment, Assad will not be trying to sneak away from Syria. He and his supporters have staked their lives and fortunes on defeating the rebels at all costs.
In my opinion, strategies for supporting the Syrian rebels without violating our own national interests are possible, but they are not clean and easy. Those strategies would require the White House and Congress to make clear choices and act decisively. It would require them to place foreign policy concerns above 2014 election concerns. The degree to which US politicians will do that will determine whether or not the US will be able to impact events in Syria. For now, expect more mumbling and frowning.