|Smoke from fighting in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, December 1, 2012. Photo by Javier Manzano / AFP / Getty Images.|
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
The case is clear that increasing the United States' military involvement in Syria has negative consequences for the Middle East, international relations, the inspiration of Arab Spring, American politics, and the people of Syria.By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 20, 2013
In 2011 the grassroots revolts that spread all across the Middle East caught the traditional imperial powers in the region -- the United States, Great Britain, and France -- by surprise. Even more so, the Middle East theocracies and dictatorships -- Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and others -- were threatened by those young people, workers, unemployed, and women, who took to the streets motivated by the vision of another world.
The United States watched the street protests hoping against hope that the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt would weather the storm. The Obama administration did not move publicly to aid these regimes to crush the protest but withheld its endorsement of the grassroots democracy movement.
The idea of popular revolt spread to places all across the globe including Madison, Wisconsin; Santiago, Chile; Athens, Greece; Madrid, Spain; and Quebec, Canada. The Occupy Movement in the United States expanded.
Globally, movements for a 21st century democratization seemed to be replicating 1968.
In this historic context, the imperial powers needed to transform the Middle East narrative from demands for jobs, worker rights, women’s rights, and democratization, to the more traditional religious and ethnic conflict model of Middle East politics.
The United States organized a United Nations/NATO coalition to intervene to encourage rebellion in Libya coupled with a game-changing air war against the Libyan military. The result was the overthrow of the government of Muammar Gaddafi and its replacement by a quarrelsome ungovernable regime rife with ethnic strife.
The UN/NATO war on Libya was billed as the next phase of Arab Spring, while actually it imposed religious and ethnic conflict on a relatively stable but authoritarian regime.
The anger over the U.S. encouragement and military intervention in the Libyan civil war was reflected in the killings by Libyan terrorists of CIA operatives in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. What intervention in Libya did was to destabilize that society and eliminate its former dictator who was opposed to the growing U.S. military expansion in North Africa.
Most important, it took off the front pages and the hearts and minds of youth, the poor, women, and trade unionists the hope of mass movements to bring about democratic change in the region.
U.S. covert and military intervention has shifted now from Libya to Syria. Mobilization against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria was applauded by the United States. As the protest escalated into civil war in that country with contestants including secular and religious groups fighting against Assad’s army, the United States, Sunni countries of the Arab League, and NATO countries escalated their support to the rebels.
Another Libya-style UN/NATO military operation was thwarted by strong opposition from Russia and China and the threat of growing military support for the Syrian regime by Iran.
Part of the ongoing story of Syria is the following:
- The United States launched its diplomatic involvement in the Syrian civil war by insisting that Bashar al-Assad must step down. This precluded any possibility of a diplomatic settlement of the civil war and the eventual dismantling of the Assad regime. Most important, the United States' non-negotiable demand made diplomatic collaboration between the United States and Russia all but impossible.
- Support for various rebel factions, diplomatic and presumably covert, has encouraged the escalation of opposition violence which has been matched by state violence.
- Rebel factions, ironically, have included groups with profiles that resemble the terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 murders in the United States and terrorist attacks on various targets in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
- Violence and political instability have begun to spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and have drawn Israel and Iran closer into regional war.
- As the Syrian civil war has escalated it has become a “proxy” war between the United States and Russia and Sunni and Shia Muslims.
- In the United States, the civil war in Syria has rekindled the war factions. These include the “neoconservatives” who were responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Using 9/11 and lies about weapons of mass destruction, the neoconservatives influenced the Bush administration to pursue their agenda to use United States power to transform the globe in its interests.
- The escalation of the civil war, the growing military role of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, NATO, Hezbollah from Lebanon, and Israel has led to nearly 100,000 Syrian deaths and more than a million refugees. As in most international wars, innocent people suffer and die as military decisions are made in government capitals.
The neoconservatives, advocates of United States military intervention in Syria, are now joined by the “humanitarian interventionists” who in the Clinton Administration supported bombing campaigns in Iraq, Serbia, and Bosnia and live by the ideology that the United States must use its military power to promote human rights around the world.
It is important to note that recent polling data suggests that only a small percentage of the American people, about 20 percent, give any support to United States involvement in Syria. Most Americans are suffering from declining jobs, income, and social safety nets, and reject the war economy and militarism that has characterized the U.S. role in the world since 1945.
The hope for a more just and peaceful future requires support for the resumption of the spirit and vision of the original Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and Egypt and spread all across the globe. Otherwise the United States will once again be “waist deep in the big muddy” as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]
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