Monday, June 17, 2013

Why is the US involved in Syria?

It was reported recently that Syria has used chemical weapons on some people. And for some reason, killing some people with those weapons is completely different than killing many, many more people with other weapons to the Obama administration. Thus they decided they had to do something more than what they were doing, which is openly arming rebels against the Syrian gov't.

There are big questions as to who among those rebels we should arm, not to mention the more important question of whether it's a good idea in the first place (see Afghanistan for perhaps the best example as to that problem, more recently Libya). I've tweeted links to smart takes on those questions. I didn't blog about it because I don't think I can add much to them. So I'll leave you to comb my twitter feed if you're interested in the specifics as to why it's probably not a good idea to arm rebels or do much of anything to escalate our involvement in the situation. It sucks to have to come to that conclusion because our instinct is to try and save thousands of people being killed. But history has shown that it's just very difficult and our involvement could just as easily backfire.

So back to the question of why we're involved. I'll give everyone some benefit of the doubt and say that most of why they care about the Syrian situation is all of the people being killed by the current regime. That's obviously the catalyst of the concern over the country. Though forgive me if I don't assume complete and pure motives here because frankly, many of the people who are concerned don't exactly display the same level of concern for human suffering in other cases (see Republicans and the poor in the US, and Democrats in places in the world that aren't the middle east). That brings me to this point made by Charles Pierce:

Again, I say, blowing the hell out of Syria will convince Iran not to build any nukes, which it may not be doing anyway, how exactly? It will scare the Russians into doing what, precisely? Enmeshing the United States more deeply in a civil war in which we know practically nothing about anyone on the side that we are supposed to be helping is a tough way to keep the King Of Jordan out of the toaster.

First off, I love Pierce's writing. He's smart, concise and funny. Second, I think he touches on a big reason so many in our leadership are concerned about Syria beyond humanitarian reasons, which is Iran. One thing both parties seem to agree on is that Iran is the most scary country on earth and that they can't be allowed to get nuclear weapons because they will destroy Israel and then shortly thereafter, the US. I won't rehash why that's misguided (which I have numerous times on this blog). But they believe it and they are terrified of Iran gaining or maintaining any influence in the region. So as the person who Pierce is responding to above says, we have to show Iran that we aren't screwing around when it comes to regimes in the region exerting power in a way we don't like.

What those people don't seem to understand is that (as Pierce points out) aggressive action on our part likely just serves to make Iran more nervous than they already are about the US. Trying to convince a nervous country that they don't need nuclear weapons to protect themselves against a military with thousands of nukes of their own and a military budget bigger than the next almost dozen countries combined is not an easy task. And while I'm not very familiar with the poli sci work on homicidal dictators and transitions of power, I'm not sure our escalating involvement in Syria is a very good way to persuade Assad to stop killing people. So no matter the reason, it's really hard to justify our further involvement in Syria. Again, I hate coming to that conclusion. But it's a situation where there are only bad and worse choices.

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