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

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.

8 responses to “Syria and the Confused Role of the United States – by Rusty Walker”

  1. A balanced and sensible article from Rusty. Syria meddles in its neighbour’s affairs, but unlike Iraq it doesn’t invade them; so any intervention can only be justified if it helps the Syrian people. The logic seems to be that by weakening the regime, but not toppling it, Assad will be forced to negotiate with the opposition. Then everybody will stop killing each other and live happily ever after. What could possibly go wrong?

  2. The purpose of an assault on Syria is to impair the Assad regime’s military ability to support Iran if and when Iran is attacked; relying solely on the terrorists has not worked. Plan Two ……… a western assault

    It is entirely irrelevant who used the chemical weapon, all that counts is that it was used, Obama’s red-line was crossed – whether by Assad, terrorists, CIA, SAS, or Uncle Tom Cobley …………. and bombing should begin before the UN inspectors report – remember Blix ????

  3. This is fucking bonkers. On the one hand violent jihadists are bad guys who have to be defeated by intercepting our electronic communications, but on the other hand they are allies if it means toppling Assad.

    This is a civil war which the regime has been winning against a force of increasingly foreign fighters who are perfectly capable of using chemical weapons against Syrians, as they are not Syrians. They have driven thousands of refugees away, including Kurds that even Assad could not get rid of.

  4. Rusty Walker tells us what we already know. We know that this is another attack which has echoes of the Iraq War and Libya. We know that the West was itching to intervene. But maybe, as Orwell once states, we need to tell people what they do not want to hear sometimes.

    The news of the alleged chemical weapon attack has acted as a pretext for intervention. The exact facts are less important that the ambitions of the Great Powers in the region who are jockeying for geopolitical advantage and control over the supplies of oil and gas.

    The real stakes in the Syrian conflict are energy resources and global power politics. Qatar has funded the Muslim Brotherhood as has Turkey because Iran is a major geopolitical rival that is also vying to pump gas from the South pars field it shares with its tiny neighbour and leading state in the Arab League.

    Qatar is a major supplier of liquified natural gas ( LNG ) to the West where numerous states want energy diversification and not to be too dependent upon Russia. The depletion of North Sea Gas has also made Britain anxious to please Qatar and benefit from the colossal amounts of money it invests in London.

    Qatar is a regional gas rich superpower upon which the EU states especially depend upon and hence why Britain and France were pushing Washington to intervene militarily. But the US has vital interests there too as it has become a major player in the global LNG market after its ‘shale revolution’.

    The Gulf states became increasingly hostile to Assad as Iran stepped up its supply of arms via Iraq and to its Lebanese proxy Hizbollah. Saudi Arabia also fears its non-Arab and Shia rival across the Persian Gulf. The oil rich kingdom fears an axis of influence between Iran, Iraq and Syria to the north and a planned pipeline.

    Saudi Arabia even offered Russia a deal on control of the oil market if it gave up its support for Assad. But Russia fears that Westerm missile strikes could embolden Al Qaida affiliated groups within Syria, some of whom come from Chechnya and are allegedly funded by the West’s strategic partner.

    If Russia drops its support for Assad, then Saudi Arabia’s Head of Intelligence Prince Bandar has offered an alliance between the OPEC cartel and Russia and to safeguard its gas interests in the Eastern Mediterranean such as those discovered near Tartus on the border with Lebanon where Russia has a naval base.

    The lack of compliance would result in Saudi Arabia not being able to guarantee the security of the Sochi Winter Games as the West proceeds with removing Assad Bandar claimed of the jihadists “We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”

    The imminent US and British attacks on Syria have little to do with humanitarian outrage at chemical weapons use as these are largely a pretext for an intervention they wanted. The aim is continuity with that of getting regime change while not leading to a collapse of Syria into a failed state.

    That’s the reality. European states and their economies are basically too overdependent upon gas for energy from states such as Qatar and do not wish to be dependent on states such as Russia which are global geopolitical rivals with huge resources of oil and gas that it doesn’t have enough of anymore.

    Instead of wasting time denouncing ‘hypocrisy’, ‘warmongering’ and so on ( as if this were some surprise ) it is better to concentrate on the underlying reasons why the double standards in the West’s foreign policies have become increasingly obvious since the end of the Cold War.

  5. Rusty, good analysis.

    However, you forgot to mention the elephant in the room…Israel. I have been cruising Israeli blogs during this crisis and am afraid what their mindset shows is terrifying for a sane world…they are actually talking about the ‘Final Battle’ as mentioned in some holy book of theirs (Talmud, I believe). The Independent has it right…this war has morphed into an Iran/Israel proxy war. If Assad wins, so does Iran..and THAT is unacceptable, to Israel and all those whom we now know as the ‘West’ (why..?). OK, so the Salafis and what-have-yous’ are also in on it…but they are a sideshow. So the battle will go on…the only place to stop it is at the UN, whether the US likes it or not..the rest of the world has to act.

  6. Asad, thank you! And, thank you for that perspective.
    We may differ over the effectiveness of the U.N.
    I think it will be the U.S. that reigns in Israel.
    The bloggers are not necessarily reflecting Israel foreign policy. Israel is dependent on the U.S. as the ONLY ally in their environment, surrounded by Muslim countries, and may talk big, but, cannot afford to alienate the U.S.
    The United States can and will contain Israel if it makes irresponsible threats or dangerous military actions that threaten the stability of the region.

  7. US with it all modernity seems like a state from stone age. They prove the theory of Rousseau ” might is right” irrespective of how wrong it may be. Silence from the common masses of US once Israel attacked Lebanon on the directive of Bush jr or shall i say US Govt, attack on Iraq and joyful scenes on Fox TV reflected the true sentiments of common people in US , after 9 /11 US citizens supported attack on Afghanistan though amazingly in 3200 page inquiry no was nominated and fired after but it was more suitable to kill 1 million afghans. So mr Rusty Walker you are wrong when you say ” 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.” B/c appearently it doesn’t seems to …. so just keep walkin.

  8. I have added a four paragraph update at the end of the essay, as the U.S. president’s tone becomes more militant towards teaching Syria a lessson for having crossed the Chemical Warfare “red line.”