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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Be Careful Of Who Your Enemies' Enemies Are

It is obvious that the Obama Administration regards Syria's President Assad and his government as an enemy. Any rational person should regard Assad as a horrible tyrant. But whom would America be supporting if it attacks Syria? That is one of the important questions that requires an answer. Another important question revolves around why, during the week of the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington, is the President, who is considered to be a partial fulfillment of "The Dream," choosing force and violence as his way to resolve Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons?

We will address the first question first. It isn't that America's leaders just want to bomb Syria to stop its alleged use of chemical weapons, they are also thinking about arming the rebels. Their goal is to force a regime change. But there is a problem here. The rebels are a mixture of many different groups including Islamists who are killing Christians and others who are associated with Al-Qaeda. And of those who are neither affiliated with Al-Qaeda nor are Islamists, it is unknown what they want.

Currently, like many other countries, America supports the Syrian National Council which is a conglomeration of resistance groups. As mentioned before, America opposes Assad's government. But in addition, the word on the web says that overthrowing Assad's government weakens Iran's influence in the region.  At this point, our government's allegations that Assad's forces used chemical weapons is being employed to rationalize participation in the conflict. For if Obama's Administration can convince the world that it is convinced that Assad's forces have used chemical weapons, then Obama can direct America to do more than just cheer from the sidelines and give money to boosters. 

If we were to use the Cold War's bipolar mentality, we would then support all of President Assad's enemies regardless of his use of chemical weapons. But some who fight against him either already are or would be our enemies. This includes some Islamists and Jabhat al-Nusra, the latter of which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. We should also note that many of the rebels are Sunni Muslims while Assad's government is made up of Shi'ites and thus the longer the war continues, the better chance this conflict will change from a civil war into a sectarian conflict and, as seen in Iraq, there will be no telling when the violence will end.

So the question is, should America jump into the Syrian Civil War to support a group it doesn't know much about except that it opposes the government that it also wants out of power? We find that History has a mixed record when it comes to supporting the enemy of one's enemy where the first enemy is not a natural ally. It was necessary and beneficial to do so in WWII. One of the reasons why we could defeat the Nazis is that Germany was fighting a two-front war against multiple formidable opponents. As Russia turned the war around on the eastern front, there were fewer German resources that could be used to repel the D-Day invasion and its aftermath.

But supporting Russia also carried a high cost. For immediately after WWII, we were locked in the Cold War with the new Soviet Union. That Cold War put us on the brink of nuclear war more than one time. So it was by the role of the dice that the story of supporting Russia during WWII had a happy ending. 

But since then, that previous partnership with Russia has been used to rationalize quite a few other partnerships. So we should look at other examples as well. For example, we partnered up with Islamic extremists to draw the Soviet Union into a Vietnam style war in Afghanistan. We should note that Carter's signing statement authorizing support for these extremists preceded the Soviet invasion by six months. These extremists practiced terrorism against the people. But because they were trying to overthrow a Soviet backed government, and this is despite the fact that it was a secular government that helped advance the place of women in the country, America supported them. 

We know the end of this story. The end was that some of those terrorists, whose bills we paid, eventually attacked two of our embassies in Africa in the late 90s and then two of our cities on 9-11. The collapsed buildings are being replaced. But we will never be able to make up for the loss of those who perished, especially for those who sacrificed themselves to save others. That kind of loss is a wound that burns forever. Those who died on 9-11 were part of the cost of supporting those whom Ronald Reagan called "freedom fighters" during the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan. 

There is another story to consider as well. We use to support Saddam Hussein while he was President of Iraq. We supported him despite the fact that he used some of that support to build WMDs and used them on his own people. We supported him because he was seen as someone who could keep the Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran in check. 

This story has a sad ending too. Hussein became an enemy when his forces invaded the oil rich country of Kuwait. So, led by America, the Coalition forces drove him out of Kuwait. Then the U.S. and U.K led the fight to have UN sanctions imposed on Iraq and the sanctions were tied to Iraq's alleged possession of WMDs. These sanctions lasted from the end of George H. W. Bush's presidency to the beginning of his son's presidency. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died because of the combination of the first Persian Gulf War's destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and our enforcement of the sanctions. The first two administrators of the sanctions resigned in protest. Denis Halliday called the sanctions a "genocide." The second administrator, Hans Von Sponeck, called them "another war." BTW, the suffering of Iraqis during these sanctions was one of the stated reasons why Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9-11.

Tragically, some may not think that what happened to Iraq was sad because we didn't suffer. But eventually we did, though the Iraqis have and continually suffer far more than we have. Their country is now in shambles and locked in sectarian violence. Thousands of our troops and perhaps over one million Iraqis died because of that invasion. And these statistics do not include the tens of thousands of troops and countless Iraqis who were injured and the millions of Iraqis who were displaced.

Another possible example can be seen in Libya. There, some claim that there is evidence that we teamed up with Al-Qaeda to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is now in a state of turmoil. 

Some have already said that we have learned the wrong lessons from WWII. And two such lessons are that we feel too free to both engage in wars and support the enemies of our enemies. And we have learned these lessons because, as WWII Admiral Eugene Larocque wrote in the article The Good War
We've always gone somewhere else to fight our wars, so we've not really learned about its horror.
So perhaps the reason why we are no closer to finding peaceful ways of resolving conflicts than before is because our country has not suffered enough. We can only hope that we would learn to replace war with peaceful resolutions before it's too late.

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