Obama’s “No-Win” Syrian Adventure

Bob Barr

6/26/2013 12:01:00 AM - Bob Barr

One of America’s greatest wartime generals was George Patton, commander of the Third Army in the European Theater during World War II. He knew that neither a country nor a military unit should engage in battle without a defined and tangible goal. He said once, “Every battle we fight will result in a gain for us or we will not fight.” Implicit in Patton’s sage advice is the principle that your goal must be defined in advance so you know if, and when, you realize your “gain.”

So, here we are now in Syria – a nation far, far away with political, cultural and religious cultures just as far removed from ours.

As President Obama embarks on his Syrian Adventure, the questions far outnumber the answers. What is our goal? Who are our friends? Who will be our friends if and when the fighting stops? What vital interest of the United States is at risk that justifies military involvement on our part? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Yet, the drums of war are echoing across the Potomac; cheered-on by the Old War Hawk himself – Sen. John McCain – and being implemented by a former community organizer – President Barack Obama.

Even though the American public is overwhelmingly opposed to yet another possibly endless conflict in the Middle East, the current Secretary of State and former anti-war Peacenik, John Kerry, is making the rounds overseas. Kerry is trying to rally other nations to join the U.S. in supporting “mainstream” Syrian rebels -- whatever that means, and whoever they might be. "If the United States does nothing, and the rest of the world does nothing, then Syria is going to wind up in an even worse condition than it is today," Kerry blithely opined in an interview with CBS News.

However, America’s recent track record in sectarian conflicts is something Kerry would rather not discuss. We supported “democracy advocates” in Egypt during the mis-named “Arab Spring” in 2011, and in the process, chucked a long-time strategic ally, Hosni Mubarak, under the bus. We were badly burned in that brouhaha. Then, we supported “democracy advocates” in Libya -- and got burned again.

But, never one to learn from his own mistakes, or those of his predecessor, Obama now is calling for support for the main rebel group in Syria -- a coalition of Islamic “freedom fighters” about who we know next to nothing; and who reportedly are joined by other even less-known rebel groups whose parochial interests would benefit from overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad.

What strategic national security interests does the U.S. gain from fanning the flames of factional fighting by arming Syrian rebels? Clearly America’s experimentation with forcing democracy through military action on unwilling Middle Eastern countries has failed; costing us in the process more than a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives.

We fought actively for a decade in Iraq, in large measure because we failed to understand the religious, political and security factions in that country. We continue to have difficulty threading the needle in Afghanistan; now we are apparently negotiating with the Taliban – the very forces the U.S. originally set out to destroy. Washington knows even less about Syria than we did Iraq and Afghanistan; and therein lies the real danger a Syrian-intervention poses. For all intents and purposes, the United States will be “going in blind” -- hardly a plan to which any successful American military leader in times past, from Washington to Patton and MacArthur, would attach their name.

Adding an even greater degree of risk is the fact that becoming involved in Syria pits the United States directly against Russia in a Cold War-style foreign policy showdown of surrogates. Except now, rather than a masterful statesmen like Ronald Reagan leading us, we have a former community organizer from Chicago matching wits against the former head of the KGB. Hardly a fair contest. Yet, Obama marches on.

Last Friday, Syrian rebels claimed to now possess anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry given them by "brotherly nations that support the Syrian revolution." With our less-than-stellar track record for keeping tabs on weapons during the Obama Administration's "Operation Fast & Furious" – in which it intentionally sold weapons to criminals it was unable to track before or after the sales -- one can only shiver at the thought of where these lethal weapons might wind up after the "Syrian Spring” has subsided.

If there truly were a definable and tangible US national security interest hiding somewhere in this mess, then most Americans would likely support providing appropriate covert -- or even limited overt -- assistance in support thereof. However, no such interests are evident at this juncture. There is only danger, both to our reputation as a world power, and to the future safety of American citizens and interests.