mh-60-black-hawkBy Peter Galuszka

Where I live in the piney woods of southern Chesterfield County, one can gauge U.S. foreign policy by sounds  in the night sky.

Listening to them, I was able to mark the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later, in 2011, the SEAL Team Six mission against Osama Bin-Laden.

It’s happening again. For the past several nights, I have heard the slow crescendo “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” of helicopter blades racing over my house. It usually means one thing. America may be going to war.

This time it’s Syria and could be a very dangerous move. I’m not sure what my opinion is. The country run for decades by strong arm dictator Bashar Al-Assad has been in the middle of a civil war for two years. His forces have tipped the balance by using sarin gas to kill hundreds of civilians.

President Obama wants to play the morality card and punish Assad’s regime for using gas. The result has been a confusing mess. Our usual allies, the British,  say no. The usually fickle French say “oui.” Russia’s Vladimir  Putin is showing that he is a “myzh” by sending Russian intelligence and amphibious landing ships to the Mediterranean to confront American warships in a bizarre replay of the Cold War.

At home, hawks like U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor are for a strike while U.S. Senator Tim Kaine waivers. The Washington Post says that the intervention issue has made strange bedfellows of liberal Democrats and libertarians.

This morning, an old friend, a seasoned foreign correspondent with whom I worked for years at BusinessWeek, called to ask if the helicopters were flying. I said yes, they are either racing from D.C. to  bases in the Carolinas or there are special ops practicing, as they typically do at Fort Pickett about 20 miles from my house.

The scenarios of intervention going wrong are awful to contemplate. A failed Syrian strike. Iran intervening against U.S. forces and Israel. A Middle East conflagration growing to something out of Dr. Strangelove between old foes America and Russia.

My friend said that we’d be idiotic to get involved. From 1980 to 1988, he said, we generally stayed out of the war between Iraq and Iran that killed thousands, including some by gas. That was a wise move. Let them settle their own differences. And, by the way, if Washington had a dog in that fight, it was none other than Saddam Hussein. How ironic.

Yet we did intervene in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s and likely kept many innocents, especially Muslims, from being slaughtered through ethnic cleansing.

We bought George W. Bush’s lies that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The result was a years-long war that killed hundreds 0f thousands (estimates are hard to follow) of civilians and Iraqi soldiers and more than 4,400 Americans. Afghanistan is a harder call and is notoriously tough place to deal with, as the British and the Soviets learned. When the U.S. got Bin Laden, it was actually  in Pakistan, an ally to which we have given $18 plus billion in aid.

I’m no military expert, but it hard to understand how we can expect relatively slow-moving but highly-accurate cruise missiles to hit the right targets when Obama has given Assad weeks of warning. Yet Obama is right to ask for Congressional support. That’s what Franklin D. Roosevelt asked when the Japanese attacked us. In this case, no one has attacked us.

Also, who’s to say that the Syrian rebels are people we want to befriend. They can be just as ruthless as government troops as a photo on yesterday’s front page of The New York Times shows.

Back in the 1980s, when Soviets were intervening in Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan and Rambo were creating the myth that the mujaheddin fighters were patriotic underdogs, something out of a movie about our own Revolutionary War.  We supplied them and, years later, some of the same were killing our people in their country.

This time, thanks to quirks of geography, missteps will be far more catastrophic because Syria is hardly as remote as Afghanistan.

I wonder if the choppers will be flying tonight.

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15 responses to “The Syria Conundrum”

  1. Breckinridge Avatar

    Insanity truly is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I don’t believe Iraq is better off, I don’t believe Afghanistan will be better off a year after we end combat operations, and I really don’t believe that the endless drone killings of militants in Pakistan, etc. are doing anything other than creating hate and discontent that will haunt our grandchildren. How are things on the ground in Libya these days? If there is a military option that neutralizes the chemical weapons capability, fine, but I doubt that is really possible. The stuff is buried deep now.

  2. Other than repeating the leftist canard that Bush “lied” about WMD in Iraq, this is a reasonable discussion of the pros and cons of Syrian intervention. The only significant factor you omitted, in my humble opinion, is the consequences of inaction after having drawn a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons. Kerry has conducted himself pretty well in the past week, but Obama came across as weak and vacillating. The tough guys in the neighborhood — Russia and Iran — are rapidly losing whatever respect they might have had. I have little doubt that Iraq, having tested Obama’s mettle, will decide it has little to risk by completing work on its nuclear weapons.

    That all aside, I share the war weariness of other Americans. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we can’t fix what’s broken in the Middle East. Frack that shale! Drill, baby, drill! We’re picking up our toys and going home. If Middle Easterners want to butcher one another, that’s their business. Thousands more may die. I’m sorry about that. It’s not within our power to eliminate all the evil in the world. If the Iranians get nukes, well, at least they don’t have ICBMs, so they can’t bomb us.

  3. By the way, what’s a “myzh”?

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    (1) Bush lied about WMD in Iraq. That’s the truth not a “leftist canard.”
    (2) If Obama does nothing, you will see more death in Syria but I don’t think Assad is powerful enough in his war torn country to have much affect on others. I think this is a fight that America could stay out of. The consequences are greater if it goes in and screws up. On a larger topic, I don’t think we can control the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Not that influential.
    (3) A “myzh” is a Russian word for a man with big balls who likes to be photographed while horseback riding without his shirt on.

    1. Breckinridge Avatar

      I’ve always assumed Putin was compensating for things which are small when he pulled that macho crap.

    2. there is the real possibility that others in the region – like Iran will support Syria and engage in reprisals ……

      there are no easy answers here especially with Israel sitting smack in the middle.

      If Israel was not there, I wonder if we would care much more than we do about Africa or Bosnia…. as long as we could continue to get oil from Saudi Arabia?

      What’s amazing to me is all the folks who supported the Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfield interventionist policies now say it’s too “dangerous”. Looks like opinion has shifted….eh?

  5. you know.. trying to write a FEW words on this – is not easy especially when going back and looking at our prior efforts – not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Bosnia, Grenada, Panama, Vietnam, Korea, etc.

    The NeoCons and Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfield types are not exactly out in front on this….

    We have way too many young people sliced and diced with PTSD, etc and virtually nothing to show for it and why in HELL did we EVER get convinced we were going to show 3000 year old countries how to be “Democratic” in the first place?

    It took a while to actually do something about Bosnia and if you recall, the House of Representatives voted against it.

    Perhaps Obama did screw up… but so did Clinton – bombed a plant in Sudan and got the Cole blown up and Reagan sent 200+ marines to their death in Beirut to say nothing of Mr. “Mission Accomplished”.

  6. From a reader who commented by email:

    “Just read Peter Galuska’s post about hearing helicopters in Chesterfield County. While he may see this increased activity as a sign impending war… I see it as we just signed a deal to base the Army Air Guard Blackhawk helicopter unit at the airport, thus resulting in more military helicopter traffic.”

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Don’t understand. Chesterfield County Airport? That is maybe 10 miles to the east of me and the helicopters are almost always in a north-south pattern.

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    “Back in the 1980s, when Soviets were intervening in Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan and Rambo were creating the myth that the mujaheddin fighters were patriotic underdogs …”.

    The liberal ability to re-write history knows no bounds.

    The key figure in romanticizing the mujaheddin was … Democrat Charlie Wilson. He was also the genius who pushed for the US to give Stinger missiles to terrorists. What could possibly go wrong with that? A well known drunk, womanizer and reputed coke head, Wilson couldn’t distinguish the difference between a movie character (Rambo) and himself.

    So, what did the liberal literary world and Hollywood do about this? They turned WC Fields into Thomas Jefferson with “Charlie Wilson’s War”.

    1. well.. it’s kind of funny how we look back and derive different histories sometimes.

      Charlie Wilson was no Democrat NeoCon.

      His position was shared by many other Democrats who believed than anything and everything we could do to neuter the Soviet influence in the Middle East was correct foreign policy even if we had to hold our nose on the “allies” and nation leaders we collaborated with.

      We have a long history of trying to manipulate affairs in the middle east – a bi-partisan mindset – everyone was happy to do whatever was done to undermine the Soviets.

      The Middle East is still not a pure partisan issue – given the disparate views on both sides of the aisle and there seems to be a growing consensus that is rightly more skeptical of what our level of involvement ought to be.

      but most of the country was “Charlie Wilson” at one time….

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Don the Ripper,
    Absolutely right but I did like the movie.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      The book was great too. I just wish they would call it semi-fiction or something like that.

    2. And one more comment. It may not seem that long ago but in 1980 – it was relatively easy to conduct clandestine operations and “PR” them in the media.

      Now days, in the 24hr news cycle – there are still attempts at propaganda especially of the sound-bite variety – but it’s getting harder and harder to
      promote any perspective without other competing perspectives being also presented and the Syria problem is an example of it where what we know about the opposition is much more than what we used to know.

      You may remember early in the Afghanistan war – the images of US soldiers riding horses with the “good guy” Afghanistan… It was wonderful imagery for those who firmly believed that our involvement in Afghanistan was worth the blood and treasure we were going to expend on it.

      Now, look at people’s views. Not at all like Vietnam where at the end – the country was split between those who saw the effort as a massive unwinnable, wrongheaded war and those who felt we cut and run from something we should at stayed and won.

      Not so much with Iraq and Afghanistan – a few dyed-in-the-wool war mongers still blathering but most of America sees both as quagmires that we really had myopic views about what “winning” really is or was.

      Now we view this with more of a Bosnia or Darfur perspective – something that is wrong and ought to have some kind of an international response – but not something we want to use Afghanistan or Iraq as a model of American-led intervention on.

      The world is changing – well no.. the world is as it always was – but our perspectives of it are now less easy to influence when the 24/7 news cycle is generating a firehouse worth of information on – and now – we have to try to sort through what it means – ourselves… as there is open skepticism as what the current Administration’s version is.

  10. In difficult times of international crisis, I tend to support the president (or at least given him the benefit of the doubt) irrespective of his political party. But from what I’ve seen, the dissidents are just as nasty as the government of Syria. Sending arms to either side doesn’t seem prudent in the long run. Yet, as Obama has said, can we sit by and allow any nation to use chemical weapons? (My paternal grandfather was gassed in WWI.) This is a tough decision for any president.

    It’s easy to get into a scuffle in the Middle East, but damn hard to get out. And I’m not sure authorizing an air strike is not an effective commitment to put boots on the ground. Maybe, Obama should let the French go first.

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