Syria and the Confused Role of the United States – by Rusty Walker

Rebel forces and human rights activists have confirmed that poison gas was used at a site near Damascus, killing several hundreds of people, including women and children, August 21, 2013. It cannot be confirmed who did this, while UN investigators pulled out prematurely. Syria’s reply to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistent claim of “undeniable” evidence of chemical weapons used by Syrian government forces on a rebel stronghold near Damascus is: “You’re lying.” Assad’s government-run Syrian Arab News Agency responded that Kerry has “fabricated” evidence to sway the international community to side with rebel fighters. While Kerry did not fabricate evidence, the U.S. president Barack Obama insists this is the work of Assad, which more neatly fits into his “red line” agenda.

Regarding the Syrian government and chemical weapons, the president publically committed to a “red line” if chemical weapons were used that is now crossed. The U.S. was then forced into a weakened position due to Obama’s rhetorical hedging after the line had been crossed. That is, what appeared to be a clear message sent to the world, that the U.S. would not tolerate the use of WMD/chemical weapons, and would take action, resulted in a redirecting of his narrative. It appears the president was perhaps insecure or overwhelmed, based on his waffling over a red line crossed by either the rebels, or Assad, who called his bluff. The president responded by suddenly changed his imperative by suggesting the necessity of the UN Security Council involvement and the need for a “coalition” before action. This was not stated in his initial “red line” declaration. I have inserted an update in the last four paragraphs, as, since I wrote this, President Obama has been heating up his rhetoric to suggest action is imminent.

Even Bush had more of a coalition going into Afghanistan and Iraq than Obama now has with Syria. The impact of Obama’s prior indecision and pull-back over using immediate force over chemical weapons had an impact on US commitment to use force in conflicts under Obama. Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and affiliates, were emboldened. The world has watched as Obama has proven a propensity to obfuscate American foreign policy by pronouncing platitudes and rhetoric that is more confusing, than clarifying. When the world’s most powerful nation is perceived as weak, nations may decide to take calculated risks that under normalized international relations, would not. Then again, military action from a nation that is not under imminent threat, is aggression that will have unintended consequences and a widening of the war. The president by speaking out and drawing red line, subsequently crossed, found himself in a no-win situation of his own doing.

What is even more dangerous is that this perception is incorrect. The widely held belief that the U.S. is afraid to act is in fact, historically untrue, and remains untrue today. Right or wrong, the U.S. will act with aggression if threatened. The United States’ congressional will, and public opinion, is far stronger and capable of swift action than may be believed. If and when the U.S. has evidence of a clear and present danger, or is provoked, transgressed, or outright attacked, the U.S. will use its global military superiority with impunity. However, the U.S. is not being provoked in any way by Syria. Yet, more and more, Obama is once again changing his narrative and suggesting military action, and one wonders if the “red line” comment is the compelling reason to once again meddle in the Middle East, this time with missiles.

There remains evidence, despite Kerry’s claims, to assign the use of chemical weapons to the Salafist rebels. The evidence is based on the photos from the Syrian region that some staging was involved. For just one example, those attending to the victims were not wearing protective gear that is necessary in the aftermath of chemical weapons. If the rebels used the chemicals, this could be an attempt to fake a larger scope of use to incite the United States into action. While there is sufficient evidence that chemical gases were used, it could be Assad or it could be the Salafists that have taken over the initial civil rebellion. But, to act now without decisive knowledge just to save presidential credibility over the “red line” comment, is dubious and would have dangerous consequences. The Extremists are the opposition, and are as evil as Assad.

U.S. Foreign Policy has been consistently inconsistent. We, in the United States, as freedom loving citizens, hold the ideal that we act on principle. This is a comfortable but mistaken reality that Americans still hold onto. Americans are good people, but more often than not, complaisantly misinformed. While I understand Realpolitik is a messy business, and there exists the need for acting in a nation’s self-interest, we must not cloak ourselves in self-righteousness if we are as Machiavellian as the next nation. Our history is filled with inconsistencies. Clinton acted in Bosnia, yet failed to act in Darfur and Rwanda. We allowed Saddam Hussein to use chemical weapons against Iran in 1980s, oppress the Shias in Iraq, and use chemical weapons against the Kurds.

When it suited Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, we attacked Iraq over WMD with scant evidence. Iran and North Korea are producing nuclear weapons, yet we are indecisive. Should we now decide to bomb Syria without full investigation of which side released chemical gasses.

Is there a red line nations should not cross with regards to human rights? We align with Saudi Arabia, a human rights nightmare, oppressive of women, corrupt and duplicitous, but, also continue to fund Salafists and supports Wahhabi Madrasses that churn out young suicide bombers. Saudi Arabia has recently attempted talks with the goal of partnering Russian oil with OPEC for concessions it selfishly desires in the Syrian region. Bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. The U.S. refuses to extract its own ample oil and natural gas resources in Alaska and Northern states, preferring to remain in a dysfunctional oil-based marriage with the Saudis.

I am not suggesting American Isolationism, but we as Americans must insist that congress and the president representing us, come up with a consistent foreign policy, not one based on monolithic, dogmatic “principles,” that demands action regardless of consequences. The global landscape will always be one of power politics, power vacuums, competing interests, evil regimes, broken promises, uneasy alliances, and self-protective governments. For a nation to decide on moral grounds to police such a dangerous world of WMD, is futile.

Thus, we have been inconsistent with regards to our mythical belief of standing on principles. If those same principles are driving us to consider attacking Syria, we would do better to rethink our role in the world. I am a patriotic American, yet I can see that it is with good reason that the world is losing trust in the U.S. over needless invasions costing young American lives, staying decades, the result of which multiplied terrorists. Our staunchest ally, Great Britain parliament has announced its intent to distance itself from the U.S. over Syria. If we are to align with our stated “red line” principles against the use of Chemical Weapons, we are placing ourselves in the position of policing the world. We better be certain of facts on the ground, and who will be next in line after a regime change, given the disastrous assumptions about Egypt, we are headed for a dangerous déjà vu.

Let us realize the need to be more informed about Syria before action, if any. The presidential administration still ignores the fact that the advice we receive on foreign policy for the Middle East and South Asia comes mostly from Salafist sympathizers embedded in our university system since the 1990s (Phares, 2010); the Saudis having endowed the universities with huge sums of money. Increasingly Saudi-funded radicalized Mosques are a home-grown reality, and extremist Sunnis remain in the State department. The Sunnis are not the problem. The radical fundamental Sunnis kill moderate Sunnis as quickly as they do Shias, Christians, Hindus, Sufis, Ahmedis, and other peaceful minority religious. C.A.I.R. is aligned with Jihadist views. How are we to be well-informed given these advisors.

Thus, our press seldom has its facts right in the Middle East. Seldom does the U.S. media sufficiently report that the Salafists are gaining ground. Also, that the Jihadist Wahhabis and Al Qaeda affiliates in the Syrian rebel forces may have set off chemical weapons to force Obama’s hand and intervene on their part. On the other hand, if Assad set off chemical weapons, and we intervene, we are effectively siding with Al Qaeda and their Salafist Jihadists (LeJ, AWSJ, LeT, Muslim Brotherhood) who will end up in power. These terrorists, if they gain power in Syria, will launch genocidal murder against the Alawites, Christians and Shias, as they have in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa. Launching missiles into Syria when no one knows who will ultimately replace the Assad regime, is myopic, not strategic.

To act with lethal force against Syria is premature at best, and by picking a side, portends a disaster when both sides have evil intent.

The following is a next-day update, as events are heating up:
As the “red line” comment haunts the president, of late, his rhetoric is becoming more hawkish, and aligning more closely with Secretary of State Kerry’s. The president again only hints that the U.S. may go it alone. With the usual caution, using imprecise statements, he nevertheless, has strongly stated that the “use of Assad’s chemical weapons,” does not meet the expected “international standards,” and that no one else is volunteering to make limited operations, so he appears of late to be suggesting that we will take action…soon. Obama’s statement today moves ever more toward his initial red line commitment. Obama declred outright that his “action” would not mean, “boots on the ground,” and would “not be a long term commitment,“ but one might make of the president’s guarded narrative that he is preparing us for a strike at U.S. military select targets against the Assad regime. The president and his administration are getting direction from U.S. military, state department advisors and some congressional members of congres:

Anti-Syrian government operatives on the ground are advising the U.S. that the “good guys,” “the Free Syrian Army,” who are moderate opposition to Assad can be bolstered up after a strike against Assad’s formidable force. The Salafists, although never directly mentioned in Obama’s speeches, are only recently conceded by White House insiders to be a real danger, were Assad’s regime to fall. Advisor and writer, Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War appears confident that the Free Syrian Army can be strengthened to take on the “Al Qaeda and affiliates.” She claims the Salafists are physically recognizable and geographically separated from the Free Syrian Army, and are waiting for the U.S. to use air power.
I remain unconvinced at the ability of the Free Syrian Army to rise up and prevail, given their current marginalization by the Salafists Jihadists. The alliances of rebel militias are not to be trusted. Opportunism by the rebel forces trumps ideology as Hezbollah has aligned with Assad, and alliances have proven fluid and opportunistic as Hamas’s strange switching of sides in Egypt. Even Russia has Salafist issues of its own in Chechnya. The Syrian National Coalition has lost traction over diverse rebel groups divided among FSA, and the ISIS Al Qaeda and affiliates which turned on the FSA commander by way of superior force in the rebellion.
In my opinion, to act with lethal force against Syria is simply a bad idea given our recent history, a history from which we never appear to learn; and by picking a side, portends a disaster when both sides have evil intent, and the hope and promise of propping up the Free Syrian National Coalition in the aftermath of a U.S. “limited strike” is once again using “hope” as a strategy. If this U.S. strikes hinges on the Free Syrian Army rising like a Phoenix to save Syria, I am highly skeptical. One thing is certain: we need no more “red line” rhetoric from American presidents. But the president appears to have boxed himself into a red line corner commitment he cannot get out of, and with each day, his smoke and mirrors rhetoric becomes ever more clear, that he will do something to show the world that using Chemical Weapons is “morally” inexcusable and therefore, means unilateral action from the United States; and it may be….soon.

Again, the current U.S. president and his administration have learned nothing from the prior administration’s mistakes, and the American decade of historical quicksand in the Middle East and South Asia. It is self-righteous egomania to assign oneself the moral police the world.



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