You love me, but you don’t know who I am
I’m torn between this life I lead and where I stand
And you love me, but you don’t know who I am
So let me go, let me go
—3 Doors Down, Let Me Go
Consider this as the Obama administration is preparing to begin military intervention in the civil war in Syria.
Last week the New York Times published a piece telling the story of Matthew Schrier, an American free-lance photojournalist imprisoned for seven months in Syria. Schrier was attempting to travel to the city of Aleppo when his cab was stopped and he was taken into custody. He was told he was on trial before an Islamic court, but was not told what the charges against him were. His prison guards looted his bank accounts and shopped in his name on eBay. They hacked his email account and sent messages to his mother. They beat him so badly he could not walk, and he could regularly hear the screams of other prisoners being similarly beaten.
Rusty, isn’t this why we have to go in and get rid of Assad?
The problem is, Schrier was a captive/victim of rebel forces, not the Assad regime. And his story highlights the basic problem with the administration’s blindfolded and naive policy in the Middle East: it’s a dangerous game to go picking winners and losers when you don’t really know who the combatants are, because it’s nearly impossible to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Yet the administration has for some time verbally supported the rebels in Syria, even if it doesn’t know exactly who the rebels are or what (if anything) they represent.
But the current positioning of naval assets to launch strikes into Syria represents a new escalation of involvement. Ostensibly, any strikes would be in retaliation for what we’re told is Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Haven’t we heard the whole crusade-against-WMDs tale before?
The administration assures us that it’s virtually certain that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons last week, killing between 300 and 1300 people, depending on who you ask. Of course, we’ve previously seen dubious and even false claims of this nature before. Secretary of State John Kerry—he of the “seared—seared—in me” memory† of being in Cambodia in Christmas 1968, except that it didn’t happen—tells us it is “undeniable,” but offers no proof other than his say-so. And, conveniently, we’re already being warned that the actual evidence to support the allegation that (a) chemical weapons were used, and (b) it was Assad’s forces that used them may have been destroyed. So we’re left to accept on faith this administration’s claim that military intervention in someone else’s civil war in which we do not know who the combatants are is justified because the administration says one side has used WMDs.
At least Bush 43 made some attempt to demonstrate his case for moving into Iraq.
You’ll forgive us if we’re just a wee bit skeptical at this point of anything anyone in this administration says:
- It has yet to tell the truth about Benghazi, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
- It has yet to tell the truth about Fast & Furious, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
- It has yet to tell the truth about NSA spying, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
- It has yet to tell the truth about the IRS being deployed as a political weapon against conservative groups, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
- It lied about the practical and fiscal effects of Obamacare (“if you like your coverage/doctor you can keep it,” “I won’t sign anything that adds one dime to the deficit,” “premiums will go down under Obamacare”).
For those of you true believers, recall that Obama promised you he’d end the war in Afghanistan, and close Guantanamo Bay, neither of which has come to pass. In fact, I defy you to give me a single example of anything over the last six or seven years on which this administration has told the truth or kept its promise, other than the promise to enact “fundamental change,” (and notice they never told you what that change was going to be). And now Obama wants us to take him at his word that new military intervention in Syria is justified.
The fact of the matter is this administration has been consistently and spectacularly on the wrong side when it comes to sticking its nose in to pick winners and losers in the rash of civil wars in the Middle East. The situation is not better, and U.S. interests are not more secure as a result of Obama’s support of rebels in Libya and Egypt; Libya turned a relatively benign but stable regime into a chaotic maelstrom of fundamentalism, ultimately costing the lives of four Americans in the military-style assault on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and in Egypt a stable and pro-U.S. regime was replaced with an unstable soup of military control and Islamist extremism. In both instances, the administration seems to have been woefully ignorant as to just what they would be getting as a result of regime change. And in the one instance where there was a clear “bad guy” to remove that would have resulted in real and positive change for American interests in the region—Iran 2009—the administration did . . . nothing.
Obama has made no case for intervention in Syria. He has offered no explanation as to what risk of harm the Assad regime posed or poses to American interests or those of any of our allies; Assad never threatened the U.S. or Israel. Indeed, I don’t recall that Obama’s made any effort at all to communicate to his employers—the American public—what’s going on, why it matters, and what he proposes doing. It is impossible for this administration to make an intelligent choice in taking sides, because when it doesn’t and can’t know who the players are or what they represent, it can’t know on which side U.S. interest—if any—lies.
I hear the human rights argument. But it is not our business—nor is it a legitimate function of the federal government under our Constitution—to be the world’s policeman, particularly if it’s going to involve the expenditure of vast amounts of taxpayer money or cost so much as a single American life. Otherwise, why aren’t we also deploying to Sudan, Somalia, Burma, the Philippines, Kashmir, Balochistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and the many other places around the globe where there are ongoing armed domestic conflicts?
And the stakes are much, much higher this time. Nobody was really all that bent over American involvement in Libya and Egypt. But Syria’s different. They are a client state of Iran, and pretty chummy with Russia. One suspects Vladimir Putin is itching for a chance to assert himself on the global stage, and you know he’s morally certain that when push comes to shove, our Commander-in-Chief is a pussy. Iran and Syria have both made clear that they will respond to a U.S. attack by retaliating against Israel. All three of them know perfectly well that the American public does not have the stomach or attention span for a fresh military engagement in the Middle East. This isn’t the time or place to be provoking either the Russians or the Iranians, especially with so little U.S. upside, if any.
At the end of the day, the conflict in Syria is a civil war. It’s their fight, and they need to be left to fight it, particularly when we can’t possibly have enough information to take sides.
† Ironically, when Kerry said this in 1986, he was giving a speech denouncing U.S. military involvement overseas when the White House wasn’t—in his view—telling the American people the truth about it.