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MATTHEW BOOSE: Don’t start a war, Mr. Trump
After seven years of fighting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had the last opposition forces against his government surrounded in Douma. And U.S. President Donald Trump had signaled that he was prepared to withdraw from the country within the next six months.
And then, for no reason, Assad attacks innocent women and children with chlorine gas, prompting an international outcry. Within days, everyone from neoconservatives to the legacy media to liberal Democrats are calling to let slip the dogs of war.
As President Trump started issuing threats to Russia over Twitter, there is a feeling that we are in the middle of a second Cuban Missile Crisis.
Trump himself warned former President Barack Obama to stay out of Syria in 2013 — now, he should take his own advice. Taking Assad out of power will destabilize Syria, spoil our gains against ISIS, and destroy thousands of lives, all while risking global conflict.
Trump should ignore the Deep State hacks baying for war and stick to his gut. The consequences, if he doesn’t, will be disastrous.
By the time we realized we had been duped about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was too late: the war had already started.
We are seeing the same scenario play out with Syria. War-hawks on the right and journalists on the left insist that Assad is behind the attack, but we still have no definitive proof. When questioned about who was responsible, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the United States is still not sure.
We shouldn’t allow parties on the ground, who are involved in the conflict and have their own interests, to dictate our response.
From a strategic point of view, it makes no sense for Assad to carry out this atrocity. He had the last Syrian rebels surrounded, and ISIS is mostly eradicated from Syria, with no small help from the U.S.
Further, Trump had just announced his plans to withdraw from the country. Assad had all but consolidated control over most of Syria.
Why would Assad carry out this attack, knowing full well that it would provoke an international response that could end with his downfall and death?
The knee-jerk responses of Russo-phobes on the right and left should give us pause. Telling somebody to shut up is what you do when you don’t have a sensible response. Establishment politicians and journalists are falling back on their favorite boogeyman — Russia — to characterize anyone who questions the prudence of retaliation as a useful idiot for Putin.
If we’re going to risk war over a chemical weapons attack, we need to have solid proof. We need a better justification for war than a flimsy morality tale with Assad and Putin as the bad guys.
So what if we do come to find that Assad is so evil that he used chlorine to kill innocent women and children, even when doing so ran counter to his interests? Does the scale of this atrocity justify a war that could spill over into a much larger, much messier one?
Some have gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. intervention in Syria since 2014 already constitutes a war, but there are orders of magnitude between an intervention and toppling a foreign government, the consequences of which would be disastrous. Toppling Assad would end with many more dead civilians than the 40 some victims of this alleged chemical attack.
Many Americans on the left and the right feel that we have an obligation to defeat foreign dictatorships that endanger the lives of civilians, but Yemeni children are starving from the famine inflicted by the blockades imposed by Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Why isn’t anyone suggesting that we bomb Riyadh?
It looks like where victims come from is at least as important as their victimhood. The Deep State dictates our policy, which says that Saudi Arabia is our ally and Syria is the enemy.
Regime change will be a disaster
Neoconservative hawks like Lindsey Graham and hack journalists at CNN are in agreement that America has an obligation to spread democracy and fight autocratic regimes all over the world. Historically, this has meant dropping bombs and hoping that somehow, a stable democracy will materialize from the wreckage. How has that worked out in Libya and Iraq?
Seven years later, Libya is a war zone with literal slave markets. The fall of Saddam Hussein destabilized Iraq, and years down the road we are still dealing with the mess left behind by that invasion.
What does America have to gain by going to war in Syria?
After four years of engagement in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is nearly defeated in the Levant. We have gotten the best we can hope for.
If we push our luck by toppling Assad, we’ll end up with the same results we have already seen in Libya and Iraq. A power vacuum will form, insurgents will fill the gap, and our hard-won gains against ISIS will be lost. We’ll find ourselves stuck in Syria fighting a resurgent caliphate with nothing to show for our involvement except billions of dollars in debt and thousands of dead Americans.
Here’s something else: maybe Assad is evil, but he has been fighting ISIS, too. Assad is a secular leader; taking him down could expose one of the last remaining Christian communities in the Middle East to Islamist persecution.
I won’t vouch for Assad’s character, but the political situation is more complex than the media would have us believe. Taking him out will have far worse consequences than leaving him in power.
World War III?
The parallels between Syria and Iraq are not exact. Iraq turned out to be a surgical operation that had far-reaching consequences, but it didn’t start a world war. The fall-out from a war in Syria would be far worse.
Over the last several years, the Syrian conflict has evolved into much more than a civil war. It is now a multi-sided international affair and all of the big powers are in play.
The political landscape is much different now, too. We’re dealing with a resurgent Russia in the midst of a second Cold War. Iran has bolstered its presence in the Levant as it seeks to build a corridor of influence from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean.
If America goes to war with Syria, Israel could get sucked into the ensuing conflict. Israel and Iran are already engaged in a shadowy border war, with Israel bombing the same Syrian air base, where Iranians are reportedly stationed, two times already this year. An alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base killed four Iranians this week.
With France and Britain signaling their support for intervention, this is starting to look like the prelude to something big. This is not 1914, and talk of world war is probably exaggerated, but there are nevertheless clear axes taking shape. This situation has become a powder keg.
You might argue that we can retain some presence in Syria without waging an all-out war. Some say that withdrawal would only give control to Russia, Iran, and Turkey, while leaving ISIS to grow again. But Putin and Assad don’t want ISIS any more than America does. Moreover, the war is already over.
Assad has won. What will prolonging the intervention bring? More airstrikes on Syrian airfields, like the one last year, in retaliation to dubious chemical weapons attacks? More brinkmanship? If we stay, we’ll soon find ourselves teetering on the edge of war again.
We have seen the same reckless policy from leaders in Washington again and again. We take out foreign leaders without heed for the consequences, and the chaos that follows always turns out to be worse than what came before.
President Trump himself warned Obama in 2013 to stay out of Syria.
“We should stay the hell out of Syria, the ‘rebels’ are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS? ZERO!” he tweeted.
Trump has always been against intervention at heart. He should heed his own advice and ignore the hounds baying for war, or the consequences will be disastrous.
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