We take too long to learn.
Finally, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells us in a letter to Congress: “We have learned from the past 10 years that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration with what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state.”
Gen. Dempsey doesn’t want to go into Syria because there is no such thing as limited war. The military is trained to fight wars, not do target practice or carry out limited strikes. President Obama and Secretary Kerry keep calling for a “limited strike” that contemplates no reaction. We already see a reaction with refugees streaming into Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Refugees who cannot defend themselves become terrorists.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal headlines “Iran Plots Revenge on U.S.” (9/6/13).
No doubt chemicals were used and Assad forces used them. But I don’t think Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered the attack. Assad is a London-trained doctor, an ophthalmologist who ordinarily would not want to inflict his people with chemical death — maybe when losing but not when winning. After 2½ years of war and winning, the last thing that Bashar Assad wanted was for the U.S. to come into Syria against him.
The very reason that my friend, Secretary of State John Kerry, proves it was Assad “beyond a reasonable doubt,” i.e., the attempted cover-up that took four days, is the reason I don’t think Assad was aware of the chemical attack. He thought he could cover it up — and quickly.
Several interests have been trying for 2½ years to get the U.S. involved. It could have been a cabal paid to launch the chemical attack to bring the U.S. into Syria. The limited strike lesson could fall on deaf ears.
Washington turns to the military too often to solve its problems offshore. We sent the military into Vietnam to stop the spread of communism. The military tried for 10 years to change the culture but communism won out. Then in Iraq, which was kept together by a tyrant, we used the military to support a democracy to keep the country together. Today, however, it is anything but together. Rep. Charlie Wilson told us that Afghans don’t like foreigners. And using the military for 12 years to teach Afghans to like us foreigners has yet to happen.
Finally, Tom Friedman in The New York Times (9/4/13) acknowledges that the military not only has limits (“... just limited bombing of Syria from the air makes us look weak at best, even if we hit targets”) but can cause problems (“And if we kill lots of Syrians, it enables Assad to divert attention from the 1,400 he has gassed to death to those we harmed.”)
President George W. Bush contrived the War on Terror to go into Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden had escaped into Pakistan at Tora Bora, an unruly area not controlled by either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Afghanistan was grateful for the U.S. ridding them of the Russians in Charlie Wilson’s War. Afghanistan had no Army, Navy, Air Force to speak of — was no threat to the U.S. Bin Laden and 16 of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. We had reason to invade Saudi Arabia but no reason to declare war against Afghanistan.
Now anybody that disagrees with us — particularly if he is Muslim and can be found by the CIA — is subject to drone killing in the War on Terror. We create terrorists with drone kills.
We keep the War on Terror going by continuing to prove bin Laden’s case. He argued that our support for Israel was a Second Crusade against the Muslim world. This was 30 years ago when we had little military in the Mideast.
Now we have military everywhere in the Mideast and are preparing to missile-kill in Syria while drone-killing Muslims in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s time we pull in our horns, reappraise the deployment of 200,000 GIs, stop creating terrorists, stop the War on Terror and start making friends.
Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, a Democrat, served as governor of South Carolina from 1959-63 and in the U.S. Senate from 1966-2005.