President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deliver small arms to the Syrian rebels has placed the United States on a slippery slope with dangerous consequences. Much like President Ronald Reagan’s deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon in 1983, we are entering into a conflict about which we have little knowledge and no clear allies. Our adventure in Lebanon left nearly 300 Americans dead with nothing to show for it. Intervention in Syria has the potential not just to engulf the Middle East but to spark World War III.
In March 2011 the Obama administration committed the U.S. military to the NATO-led effort that ousted Moammar Gadhafi. The intervention was given cover by a UN resolution authorizing a no-fly zone, which Russia did not veto because it did not believe it would be used for regime change. This was not the case, and Vladimir Putin vowed to vigorously resist further Western attempts at regime change. U.N. resolutions aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have failed, and this American is glad of it.
This is not to say that Assad’s cause is the right one. However, the ousters of both Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi proved that the law of unintended consequences hits hard when longtime regimes are ousted. The Syrian civil war has devolved into a multi-sided ethnic conflict: Sunni vs. Shiite, Muslim vs. Christian, Hezbollah vs. al-Qaida. Any leader would have to possess enormous hubris to think that Western intervention should or can produce a workable solution.
Obama’s decision to intervene in the Syrian quagmire has an even more dangerous wrinkle. Russia has deployed naval and marine units offshore for the official reason of protecting 20,000 Russian nationals living in Syria. By deciding to reinforce American troops in Jordan Obama has become the first President since the Cold War to put American and Russian soldiers in direct contact in a potential war zone. It is one thing to knock off a tinpot dictator with a no-fly zone. It is quite another to risk a direct military confrontation with a nation owning over 3,000 nuclear warheads.
It would be folly to intervene in a conflict where we have few friends and all too many enemies. President Obama was elected in great part on his promise to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has now engaged the U.S. in Libya with nothing but a dead ambassador to show for it. Intervening in Syria at best means a prolonged conflict with minimal chance of a positive outcome. At worst it could involve the United States in a shooting war with Russia.
Considering how close we came to human tragedy in October 1962, I believe the United States would be best served by leaving the Syrian conflict to sort itself out.
East Bay Street