Iraq and Syria: Learning From History



Yeah, I actually wrote this almost four weeks ago ... but since the problem was handed over to the US Congress, I figure it's still a problem.
 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


            After writing this column about Syria, I realized my 9/11 column was due that week. As a result of that delay, by the time you read this America might have turned Syria into a relief map of Edward James Olmos’ face. More likely, Congress will still be debating how much extra pork-barrel spending they can tack onto a law authorizing an attack on Syria.

            The mistrust fairly oozes from my pores when it comes to Congressional authorizations. Mostly they love to authorize the spending of giant Godzilla fists full of dollars. However, while I’m a well-known hater of Congress and pretty much everything President Obama stands for, let’s try to do something a little different, for a change:

            Let’s look at this objectively.

            I know, crazy, huh? Obama’s sitting in the Oval Office, trying to get us into a war while polishing his Nobel Peace Prize, and I don’t make the most of the comedic opportunities? Have I snapped, fallen from my partisan perch and fractured my humerus? Or is this too important to make fun of?

            Yes.

            It doesn’t matter. Anyone who wants to argue will cherry-pick facts, statements, and books to suit their point of view, so let’s just go for it.

            You have to give Obama credit for making a big, risky decision. If he’s now sharing that risk by asking Congress to approve, hey – that’s what he’s supposed to do. Basically the President wants us to go in and blow up somebody, somewhere, because someone used chemical weapons (also known as a Weapon of Mass Destruction) to kill Syrian civilians as part of their ongoing civil war.

            Fair enough. WMD’s are bad.

            Here’s a question: Suppose we do attack, then move in troops and inspectors to find the WMD’s and dispose of them. Suppose we then go in and can’t find those chemical weapons? Will we blame Obama? Will we picket with signs that say, “Obama lied, people died!” No?

            Okay, it’s not really a fair comparison. After all, Iraq didn’t have chemical weapons before we invaded it, nor did it use them on civilians in that country.

            Oh, wait. Yes it did.

             And there’s the problem, the trap that Obama could fall into. He’s obsessed a lot on the G.W. Bush Presidency, so I would hope he doesn’t repeat the mistakes, but it’s a real danger. Before the invasion of Iraq, almost everyone was positive Saddam Hussein had WMD’s. Hussein held up UN inspectors at every turn, in one case stopping them at a front door while evidence was taken out the back door. Virtually every intelligence agency in the world was sure he had them.

            In fact, he did have them: He’d used them, both against Iran and against his own people.

            And yet when we went in, they were gone. Maybe they’d all been destroyed after the Gulf War, maybe they were hidden, but they disappeared. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen in Syria?

            Besides, the biggest mistake in Iraq wasn’t the invasion itself—it was the aftermath. I was in favor of kicking out Hussein because he invaded two nations, and fired missiles at two others. He was obviously someone who had regional ambitions. I saw that and couldn’t help wondering: What would have happened if the other nations of the world had invaded Nazi Germany in the 30’s, as soon as Hitler stepped foot into Austria?

            They would have faced criticism from people who said they were being warlike and hostile, but in the long run that may have saved a lot of lives.

            However, like our government, I made the mistake of not thinking about the region’s history, and what would happen afterward. America took a shot at turning Iraq into a democracy, but it’s a shaky, flawed experiment that came at a huge cost. (Maybe the same thing would have said about a peaceful 1940 Germany, I don’t know.)

            So we shoot missiles at Syria. Then what? Assuming we can help drive the Syrian government out of power without sending in ground troops, who will take over?

            There is not one single group of Syrian rebels. There are dozens, by some estimates hundreds. Some are Islamist extremists. Some are Muslim Brotherhood. At least one has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. One rebel commander ate a man’s heart.

            Most don’t seem all that anxious to start an experiment in democracy.

            Oh, don’t get me wrong: Bashar Assad is evil, as evil as Saddam. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Syria won’t be taken over by someone who wants to kill just as many people—maybe the same people, maybe a new bunch, maybe both. There’s no guarantee that, Egypt style, a post-dictatorship won’t be a pre-dictatorship.

            There are dictators who oppress their people all over the world. America is broke. It’s time we stop being the world’s policeman, stop giving them money we don’t have and arms they may turn on us, and let it go. We need to realize our own problems. If they don’t leave their countries to invade the nations of others, then let them be. Face the fact that they hate us, and meddling in their affairs will only make them hate us worse, probably without improving the situation.

            President Obama, who loves to look back on the era of President Bush, should take history and experience into consideration.

            Oh, one more thing. Just before America invaded Iraq, large truck convoys fled across the border, leaving Iraq for Syria. Nobody ever found out what was in them.
 
            Wouldn’t it be ironic if those same WMD’s that never showed in Iraq are now drawing us into Syria?