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.