Thursday, September 12, 2013

The U.S. and Assad. America Has Been Down This Road Before.

 Is the United States poised to repeat the same mistakes in Syria that it made in Iraq after 1991?  Chatham House, Associate Fellow, Nadim Shehadi, warns that is exactly what might happen.

Some of the statements on Iraq from that period are eerily echoed today on Syria. Dick Cheney, then secretary of defence, declared when the 1991 uprisings happened that he was 'not sure whose side you'd want to be on.' Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote later that the US's intention was to leave the regime in Baghdad enough power to survive. President George H W Bush, under criticism for doing nothing said, 'I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein.' Rebels were considered by the Pentagon to be too disunited to take over; a red line on the use of chemical weapons was declared but the use of helicopter gunships to mow down civilians was allowed. The similarities with statements on Syria today is staggering, the US even then declared that it was not going to take sides between Saddam and the rebels and accused Iran of interfering.

The vagueness of the current US strategy behind the proposed intervention in Syria raises the concern that this is more about US and European traumas in Iraq than it is about Syria. The fear is that a limited intervention, designed to keep the regime in power, will have similar consequences as it did in post-1991 Iraq. The illusion of a compromise with the regime is misguided; if the regime survives it will emerge stronger and more brutal and the US will have less options. The net result will be an extension of the violence while maintaining the Assad regime and in effect collaborating with it while it destroys the country. The spillover on the neighbouring countries is only one of the symptoms that will worsen. 

Perhaps it's time that the Arab world began to regulate its own affairs.  If Assad has to go, Turkey, Jordan and the Saudis have ample resources to clear him out.  Why should America be their surrogate?  After all, Washington's track record in the Muslim world has been bloody awful.   Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Libya and now Syria - they've all been botched.   The American people have had their fill of the place and most in Congress this side of John McCain are fearful of voter backlash.   The White House can do more harm than good by maintaining the illusion that America still has the will to police the Middle East.


LeDaro said...

It looks Putin has taken lead on Syria situation. Here is an interesting statement, which was published in The New York Time, from Putin:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

You may read Putin full statement:

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi LD. Yeah, I read Putin's puff piece. Here's a rebuttal from fellow Russian, Anna Neistat in The Guardian.

LeDaro said...

Mound, she makes interesting points and Putin is no angel. But American attack against Syria will solve nothing. I read that China, Britain, France and U.S are meeting on this issue and diplomatic solution will be better.

As far as Assad is concerned he is a bloody murderer and Putin must recognize that. That is where the whole issue becomes very complex.

Only country who is benefiting from this turmoil and turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East is Israel. I do wonder if CIA and Mossad have some role in this. Anyway it is poor civilians who are paying the price.

The Mound of Sound said...

Actually, LD, I think Putin is benefiting enormously. American influence in the region is waning and this is Putin's opportunity to reclaim much of the influence lost under the Soviet Union.

Imagine the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Sino-Russian equivalent of NATO, extending its contiguous territory from the Arctic and Pacific oceans to the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and into the Mediterranean. A massive territorial alliance stretching from Eurasia, to east Asia to southeast Asia to south Asia and into the Middle East. It fairly boggles the mind.

Richard said...

Ugh, Mound.. that "rebuttal" is horrible and addresses nothing other than regurgitating western propaganda.

I'm going to be rebutting that rebuttal on my own blog. However, this is not to say Russia is not the primary beneficiary of these latest developments, they are, and have seized on Kerry's "accident" to put diplomatic pressure on the U.S. and force them to pursue diplomatic channels.

EVERYTHING that both sides are doing is in their own national interest, the Syrian "civil war" is a proxy war between these nations. Right now, Russia is winning and neither side gives two shits about the Syrians.

Owen Gray said...

I get the feeling I'm watching "Groundhog Day" -- but its no comedy.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Richard. I've been calling Syria the opening proxy war in Cold War II only this time the fronts are more complex which, I suppose, resembles Cold War I at the outset.

Moscow and Washington are both pursuing their respective national interests although I think Moscow has a much more focused grasp of what that is. Washington appears off- balance, hesitant, awkward.

@ Owen. I get that.

Richard said...

Yup, exactly Mound. Washington is off-balance, none of this is going the way they had hoped.

Here is my rebuttal:

Purple library guy said...

Um, so are you saying the US should have done the 2003 Iraq invasion back in 1991, and that would have somehow been more successful and less illegal, immoral and destabilizing than it was in 2003?

Really, I'm quite confused what you're getting at or advocating here. Aside from the basic jettisoning of the whole notion that it should be illegal for countries to initiate wars of aggression. So if we're saying it's a mistake for the US not to invade Syria because Syria is either doing bad things or inconvenient to US geopolitical ambitions, I think it's only fair that we should broaden our point of view a bit. For one thing, let's take Ethiopia; they're engaging in ethnic cleansing and various war crimes. But the US finds them useful much the way Russia finds Syria useful, so the Americans won't invade. But China might find it advantageous, maybe we could get them to do it. Russia should go take down Colombia with their long record of atrocities, and Honduras with its military coup and subsequent record of human rights violations and widespread murder of journalists, gays, human rights activists, and so on.
Thinking of military coups, Egypt recently had one, and the military regime has had one major massacre followed by an ongoing process of daily killings and a broad abrogation of the rule of law. Someone should be invading them, not so? Also Bahrain, oppressing their Shia majority and brutally suppressing their bids for democratic reforms, Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most repressive and theocratically vile regime on the planet, not to mention a major sponsor of terrorism. Russia or China or the EU should obviously invade them.
And let's not forget the elephant in the Middle Eastern room, Israel, a rogue apartheid state that has accumulated weapons of mass destruction and frequently threatens to use them, practices terrorism and assassination against many countries, and repeatedly invades its neighbours. Obviously it would be a mistake not to invade them.

Actually, I could make a solid case for UNASUR getting together and invading Canada, whose mining companies are a threat to sovereignty and human rights in nearly every Latin American nation.

Really, it's a mistake not to invade, well, almost everyone. Permanent war: Fun for the whole family of nations!

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi PLG. What I'm suggesting is that foreign hegemony over the M.E. should end and we should drag the Arab nations out of their comfortable dependencies and compel them to sort out their own affairs regionally.

Consider the enormous suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people during the sanctions years under Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. What good did that achieve?

Taking part in the coalition were forces from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the U.A.E., Morocco and Oman. With Saddam's forces devastated in Kuwait, the Arab contingent should have been charged with occupying Iraq and safeguarding the population. If Iraq hadn't been awash in oil that might have been a viable option.

A clearer example of where a local solution was needed was Libya. When the civil war dragged into stalemate and the West began stirring I wrote that the best solution was for the Americans to tell the post-Mubarak Egyptian generals to fire up their M-1A1 tanks and F-16s and end the bloodshed quickly. Egyptian forces could then provide the security necessary for the establishment of the post-Gaddafi government.

Al Qaeda was quite candid that they had missed their chance in Egypt but wanted to use the Libyan civil war to create a power base their. The Egyptian-Libyan border is populated by cross-border tribes that Egypt had a duty to protect and that could, if terrorists took hold in Libya, offer a conduit for their migration into Egypt.

Unfortunately Egyptian forces didn't roll on to Benghazi, we dithered about with an extended bombing campaign, and the political and security situation in Libya remains unsettled and violent.