The Syrian Dilemma: Uncle Sammy "Can Do" No More
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
September 4, 2013
Summary: Chemical weapons in Syria have killed over 1000 people. The U.S. began banging the war drums against Syria but suddenly stopped. Now the decision to go to war or not has been turned over to Congress. US power has gradually declined. Uncle Sammy still covets the role of world policeman. But it is increasingly a case of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
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Chemical weapons in Syria have killed over 1000 people. The U.S. began banging the war drums against Syria but suddenly stopped. Now the decision to go to war or not has been turned over to Congress. US power has gradually declined. Uncle Sammy still covets the role of world policeman. But it is increasingly a case of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
The incident inflicted heavy casualties. The corpses of innocent children shocked the world. The U.S. began by referring to the Syrian government as murderous. President Obama initially vowed that the United States would take action. But then surprisingly his rhetoric began winding down. The U.S. President clearly does not need Congressional approval to launch an attack. Obama nevertheless sought approval from Congress, which will probably vote on the matter by the middle of this month.
There are many reasons for Obama's about face. First, domestic opinion was vehemently opposed to war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were decade-long quagmires for the United States. The loss of life and financial burden was immense. They exacted a heavy toll on the U.S. military, physically and psychologically. Death by suicides have exceeded deaths in combat. Now, finally, the US has managed to extricate itself. It is no longer willing to immerse itself in that cesspool. The U.S. media feels that a declaration of war will have a difficult time passing in Congress. Obama's Democrats constitute a minority in the House of Representatives. On top of which, the public is weary of war.
Secondly, the international community is singing a very different tune. Russia and Mainland China have vetoed the use of force in the UN, making any such resolution impossible. NATO is unwilling to participate in an attack. Even the United Kingdom, which has long been faithful, which has always backed the United States, is opposed. The British Parliament flatly rejected Prime Minister David Cameron's proposed use of force. Most EU countries do not support war. Only French President Francois Hollande was willing to lend a hand. But rumors are the French public may demand parliamentary approval.
Thirdly, the United States does not want to send in ground troops. It fears another nightmarish war. Therefore it will probably only fire missiles as part of a limited attack. In that case, toppling the Assad regime will be difficult. The US is more concerned about its status as the world's policeman than in upholding justice. As soon as Obama took office he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He withdrew troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. These were important achievements. But now he wants to use force and begin shooting. He needs endorsements and support.
In fact, the domestic situation in Syria is complex. The ruling and opposition parties belong to different religious sects, Shia and Sunni. Outside meddling, especially by the U.S., could make the situation worse. Assad is militarily strong. That is why he has been able to fight the rebels for two years without falling. The rebel camp has too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Al-Qaeda forces dominate. The U.S. fears that if it rides to the rescue, it may help its sworn enemy.
Since the Cold War, the United States has been playing the role of world policeman, even as it expanded its sphere of influence. But such "Captain America" style actions in the Arab world have often resulted in humiliation. How much have they actually helped the local population? That is hard to say.
After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. supported Afghan guerrillas fighting the USSR. Among those who received CIA funding and military training, were members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization, which later launched the 9/11 attacks of 2001. The United States found and killed bin Laden in May 2011. But it the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda remains.
After 911, U.S. troops in Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban regime that had been harboring bin Laden. In March 2003, the US claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and destroyed the regime of Saddam Hussein. Great Britain and other countries waged war on Iraq. Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. He was hanged in December 2006. But no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever were ever found. The U.S. has a record of such blunders. Now people are questioning the legitimacy of the use of force against Syria.
The United States paid a high price for these two wars. The Iraq war cost 662 billion US. The United States has been battered by the financial crisis. Its economy is in a prolonged downturn. The ruling and opposition parties are both afraid of war. They are in no mood to set foot on another Middle Eastern battlefield.
The Arab world is very different from the Western world in its religious and cultural beliefs. Each country has its own tribal, sectarian, and political factions, Add to this widespread anti-American sentiment. Even if the United States is sincere, any help it can provide will be limited. If it insists on intervening, it may make matters worse. It may intensify any grievances the local inhabitants might already have against the United States.
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria. Over 200,000 people have been uprooted. This is a man-made disaster. Is the United Nations is willing to become more actively involved? Is it willing to impose a cease fire? First freeze the situation, then stop the killing. Put pressure on Assad to negotiate a peace. At least protect people from poison gas. But given the current international situation, the United States can no longer lay down the law. Uncle Sammy has gotten decrepit. It must must now spend more time communicating and negotiating with other countries .