The White House declared Thursday that U.S. intelligence indicates Syrian President Bashar Assad has twice used deadly chemical weapons in his country’s fierce civil war, a provocative action that would cross President Barack Obama’s “red line” for a significant military response. But the administration said the revelation won’t immediately change its stance on intervening.
The information, which has been known to the administration and some members of Congress for weeks, isn’t solid enough to warrant quick U.S. involvement in the 2-year-old conflict, the White House said. Officials said the assessments were made with “varying degrees of confidence” given the difficulty of information gathering in Syria, though there appeared to be little question within the intelligence community.
As recently as Tuesday, when an Israeli general added to the growing chorus that Assad had used chemical weapons, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was continuing to monitor and investigate but had “not come to the conclusion that there has been that use.”
The Syrian civil war has persisted, with an estimated 70,000 dead. Obama has so far resisted pressure, both from Congress and from within his own administration, to arm the Syrian rebels or get involved militarily. He has, however, declared the use of chemical weapons a “game changer” that would have “enormous consequences.”
I grew up watching the Vietnam war on television. I was too young to serve in that conflict but I served with and worked with quite a few guys who were there. The war was sold as part of the fight against global communism. In reality it was a war of independence that morphed into a civil war, with the two main sides serving as proxies for the United States on one side and the USSR and China on the other. When it was over the major powers moved on to other things and the survivors in Vietnam seemed to have worked out a functional peace with each other.
As part of our “Cold War” strategy we supported various dictators around the world and opposed others. The only thing we really cared about was which side these tyrants picked in the global conflict. If the Soviets backed a government, we backed their enemies, both foreign and domestic.
We bought loyalty with food, money, and military aid. We turned a blind eye when that military aid was used to oppress these dictators’ own people. We even built a special school to train their secret police and death squads. We rigged elections, backed coups, and generally played chess using real people as pawns.
Many of our current international problems can be traced to things we did during the cold war, including our relationships (or lack thereof) with Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria. In each case, one thing led to another, and now here we are.
One lesson I have learned from all this is that nothing ever works out the way we were promised. There will always be unexpected consequences, and those consequences are generally gonna be unpleasant. It is tempting to think we can intervene to solve conflicts, but usually the best thing to do is quarantine the situation and let it play itself out.
Bashar al-Assad is the devil we know. If he is ousted there is no telling who or what will replace him, but it’s long odds against a democratic government in Syria anytime soon. We should have learned that after what took place in Libya and Egypt. If we intervene in Syria we will be looking at another Iraq – a quick and easy victory followed by a long and difficult occupation.