Apparently, we are going to intervene in the civil war in Syria. It feels naïve to say that we are merely going to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Intervening against one side in a war is intervening in favor of the other side.
America’s politicians might want to believe otherwise, but no one else is going to be fooled.
To say, as many have, that we must bomb Syria because we cannot do nothing suggests that bombing will accomplish something. If it achieves its stated objectives, which do not include changing the balance of power in the war, it will show the world that America is the master of macho posturing.
If we tip the balance away from Assad we are will be tipping it towards groups who are linked to al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. If, perchance, these groups prevail, they will gain control of Syria’s stock of chemical and biological weapons. What makes anyone think that al Qaeda will hesitate for an instant before using chemical weapons?
For those who believe that America’s credibility will be damaged by a failure to respond, consider Operation Infinite Reach. You remember it, don’t you?
When al Qaeda bombed the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 our fearless president, Bill Clinton bombed Afghanistan and Somalia. He was not going to let al Qaeda get away with an attack on American territory.
You might say that doing nothing would have been worse, but al Qaeda was certainly not deterred by the Clintonian response. It was emboldened.
And the 1998 embassy bombings were direct attacks on America. As of now, Bashar al-Assad has not attacked America.
Two years ago America intervened in the Libyan civil war. French philosophers had decided that we had to stand up for democratic forces when they were fighting a tyrant. So, NATO went to war.
In Libya we were flying under cover of NATO, but still the example is instructive. In short order, NATO airpower helped the rebels to overthrow Qaddhafi and take over Libya… so to speak.
No one knew who the rebels were, but no one much cared. We were fighting the good fight to remove yet another tyrant.
Unfortunately, when foreign policy becomes a mix of dramatic gestures and macho posturing, everyone ignores the results. Yet, how can you judge a policy without examining what came next?
This morning the Independent reports on the situation in Libya. It shows what a failed policy looks like… grim and bleak.
Two years NATO officials were congratulating themselves over their great success in Libya. They honestly believed that with the end of the war and the overthrow of Qaddhafi Libya would again become a leading petroleum exporter.
Today, things have changed:
A little under two years ago, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, urged British businessmen to begin “packing their suitcases” and to fly to Libya to share in the reconstruction of the country and exploit an anticipated boom in natural resources.
Yet now Libya has almost entirely stopped producing oil as the government loses control of much of the country to militia fighters.
Mutinying security men have taken over oil ports on the Mediterranean and are seeking to sell crude oil on the black market. Ali Zeidan, Libya’s Prime Minister, has threatened to “bomb from the air and the sea” any oil tanker trying to pick up the illicit oil from the oil terminal guards, who are mostly former rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi and have been on strike over low pay and alleged government corruption since July….
In an escalating crisis little regarded hitherto outside the oil markets, output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now. Despite threats to use military force to retake the oil ports, the government in Tripoli has been unable to move effectively against striking guards and mutinous military units that are linked to secessionist forces in the east of the country.
The situation is becoming more and more anarchic:
Rule by local militias is also spreading anarchy around the capital. Ethnic Berbers, whose militia led the assault on Tripoli in 2011, temporarily took over the parliament building in Tripoli. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for an independent investigation into the violent crushing of a prison mutiny in Tripoli on 26 August in which 500 prisoners had been on hunger strike. The hunger strikers were demanding that they be taken before a prosecutor or formally charged since many had been held without charge for two years.
The government called on the Supreme Security Committee, made up of former anti-Gaddafi militiamen nominally under the control of the interior ministry, to restore order. At least 19 prisoners received gunshot shrapnel wounds, with one inmate saying “they were shooting directly at us through the metal bars”. There have been several mass prison escapes this year in Libya including 1,200 escaping from a prison after a riot in Benghazi in July.
And, let’s not forget that the rebel forces, led by Islamist and al Qaeda militants were so grateful to President Obama for his sterling leadership that they assassinated the American ambassador to Libya, among others.
[Addendum: See also Andrew McCarthy's remarks, making similar points, with greater detail about the al Qaeda push to gain access to chemical weapons:
Again, I believe the concentration on chemical weapons, including President Obama’s credibility-crippling recklessness in labeling their use a “red line,” misses the point — at best. It diverts attention from the issue the interventionists do not want to discuss: the fact that al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood would be the chief beneficiaries of U.S. attacks against Assad’s regime, the fact that the toppling of Assad could very well be even worse for American national security than Assad himself has been.
But if we are going to make this adebate about chemical weapons, is it not worth factoring in that Assad’s opposition includes elements that have been seeking to use chemical weapons against the United States for more than two decades? That al-Qaeda recently and repeatedly used chemical weapons in Iraq? And that — as Bill Roggio notes — al Nusrah, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is suspected of using chemical weapons in Syria just six months ago?]