War spills. War spreads. Hatred is contagious. It is dangerous to think that the ever expanding war in Syria — now spilling into Lebanon and Iraq — will leave the US and Israel unscathed. There is room for, and need for, a US response, less than intervention, more than retreat.
“Iran and Iraq are bad actors; so just let them keep beating up on each other. We’ll sit back and get safer by the minute in direct proportion to each Iranian and Iraqi soldier killed, and each weapon destroyed.”
So said the callous and the short-sighted during the Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988.
Remember that war? Before the first Persian Gulf war (1991), before 9/11, before the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq? There’s a causal link between the Iran-Iraq war and what came afterward. Not a tight link, but a causal link just the same. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 may have killed a lot of potential enemy soldiers and wasted a lot of weaponry, but it also:
• whetted the appetite of each country for more sophisticated weapons — hence, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons;
• whetted the appetite of each country for more territory, that is, more potential dominance of the one over the other — hence, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990, which led directly to the first Persian Gulf war, under Pres. George H. W. Bush;
• intensified the indifference of the leadership of each country to the loss of human life — hence, the warmongering of Saddam Hussein and the state-sponsored terrorism of the Iranian ayatollahs.
No, sitting back and watching others, even potential enemies, fight it out is not a beneficial perspective in the age of supersophisticated weaponry and nihilistic ideology. The repercussions of brutal and extended warfare are bound to affect, among many countries, the US.
And yet, voices throughout the country blithely assert that the increasingly brutal and extended warfare in Syria is of no consequence to the US. The Denver Post writes:
“ . . . the interventionist policies those [9/11] attacks inspired produced ambiguous gains at best for the US. Most Americans simply have no desire for another round of meddling” — as if the US can, by sheer force of will, happily and militarily extricate itself from the disastrous effects of an ever expanding war in Syria, which has now already directly harmed both Lebanon and Iraq. The Sunnis and the Shiites fight as proxies for, respectively, Saudi Arabia and Iran, similar to the seemingly, relatively minor proxy conflicts in the Balkans between Germany and France 100 years ago — and for that, we got WW I.
A letter writer to this newspaper asserts:
“Right now, the most violent Islamic terrorists in the world, Sunnis and Shiites, are killing each other in Syria. We should be grateful they are too busy to mess with Israel” — as if Israeli military leaders are not deeply worried about the likely effects of this violence in Syria on Israel (not to mention the callous indifference to the loss of innocent Arab, Islamic and Christian life due to the brutal “busy-ness” and “messing” of the warring terrorists — are Jews now to be counseled, G-d forbid, to be indifferent to the loss of innocent non-Jewish and non-Israeli life?).
War spills. War spreads. Hatred is contagious. War can hide things. War in Syria can hide the importation of advanced missiles into the hands of Hezbollah from Iran. The war in Syria threatens Israel directly.
War makes for new borders. The war in Syria, for example, threatens to bring into existence a new, al-Qaida state, comprised of western Syria and Anbar Province in Iraq.
War invites new actors — Saudi Arabia, for example, now delivering $3 billion to Lebanon’s Sunni factions.
And the complexities and potential lethalities only grow as the underlying problems are ignored — as the US has ignored the Syrian civil war from Day One, in March, 2011.
For the US to retreat wholesale from the Middle East will end up being impossible, and more: America’s choices will narrow and become more unpalatable in direct proportion to the time the US keeps its head, ostrichlike, in the sand. The fact is, there is a large space between military “interventionist policies” and the abject retreat that now governs American foreign policy in Syria, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere. Between sending thousands of troops into Syria or Iraq and between doing nothing is an important, overlooked, unwisely rejected (by Obama and Kerry) middle ground.
To be sure, the current options would have been far more effective had the US not unwisely, unnecessarily, recklessly and emotionally abandoned its air and intelligence assets in Iraq. They would surely come in handy today as al-Qaida reemerges in Iraq and intervenes in Syria. Even so, among the current options are:
• surgical missile strikes against arms depots in Syria;
• arming non al-Qaida opposition in Syria;
• arming the Iraqi government conditionally and selectively — on condition that the current government at least softens its sectarian, anti-Sunni policies, and limits the use of the arms to anti-al-Qaida action in Anbar Province.
The idea that with growing, spreading, increasingly lethal warfare right next to Israel — that is, right next to America’s ally — Israel and America can escape scot free is more than naive. It is dangerous.
That danger will only be heightened if the US repeats the mistake of its abandonment of its air and intelligence assets in Iraq. “There is no doubt that the US policy helped create a vacuum in which the only effective forces were the radical forces,” says Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, quoted by the Associated Press.
A non-strategic reintroduction of American force into Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Iran — that is to say, an uncoordinated arms shipment here, an air attack there — will be just as counterproductive as the non-strategic retreat of American force from Iraq in 2011. We need to face the volatility in the Middle Eat and its likely repercussions for our interests, and devise a strategy.
Isolationism is not a strategy.
Emotion is not a good basis for foreign policy.
Neither are 2014 Congressional electoral considerations.
Nor . . . wishing-it-were-different.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News