Late last month President Obama asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip what the White House, according to The New York Times, called “appropriately vetted” Syrian opposition groups. This is a big mistake. If the United States thinks we can figure out who the “good guys” are in Syria, we are deluding ourselves. The “good guys” in Syria are few and far between, and I seriously doubt that we have a clue about how to identify them.
How the White House can simultaneously claim “we continue to believe that there is no military solution” to the crisis in Syria, as The New York Times reported a few weeks ago, and then turn around and ask for military aid for certain members of the Syrian opposition is a ludicrous contradiction. And even if we were able to identify so-called Syrian opposition moderates, giving them training and equipment could totally backfire on us.
For example, look at what’s happened recently in Iraq, where the Iraqi army we trained and equipped has wilted in the face of an onslaught by militants fighting for the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, ISIS forces overran Iraqi army units, who fled and abandoned their weapons and other military equipment. ISIS combatants subsequently collected the weapons and equipment, much of it American-made, and now they are the benefactors of our hopelessly optimistic strategy to prop up the undemocratic regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Divided groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and different insurgent groups have been attacking each other. This infighting, along with progress made against the insurgents by Syrian government forces, has drastically reduced the chances that the opposition will ever prevail.
In early May, the last remaining insurgent fighters in the city of Homs in central Syria evacuated after two years of fighting against the Syrian army. It was a bitter defeat for the opposition forces in what was once called “the capital of the revolution.” According to Doyle McManus of the LA Times, US officials have recently admitted that a rebel victory at this point is “way out of reach.” So give it up already. Stop the bloodshed and allow refugees to return home and rebuild their country.
Meanwhile, what’s to be done with the regime of Assad? Nothing. To reach this conclusion, we need only examine what’s happened in Iraq and Libya after the United States got rid of the strongmen who long ruled those nations, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Iraq is a total mess, with civil war between Sunnis and Shiites ready to erupt, and the country on the verge of being ripped apart into three different sections. Since the US invasion in 2003, hundreds of thousands of civilians have died at the hands of American troops or as a result of sectarian violence. At least when the “Butcher of Baghdad” was in charge he held Iraq together, using far less violence than has occurred since 2003. He ruled over a functional nation that provided education and health care for most of its citizens and looked like paradise compared to the current state of dystopia.
In the three years since the United States and allies toppled Gaddafi, Libya has turned into the kind of country that American officials fear the most: a lawless land that attracts terrorists, traffics in illegal arms and drugs and destabilizes its neighbors.
Most Americans are only familiar with the 2012 terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. However, the last three years have also seen Libyan institutions crumble, political divisions deepen and conflicts fester among nearly 125 rival armed groups, according to a recent report in the LA Times. In other words, the place is in complete chaos.
What is the lesson to be learned from Iraq and Libya? The United States should end all of its military interventions in Middle East nations. We don’t know what we’re doing and we can’t control the results. Like Hussein and Gaddafi, Assad is an unsavory character. But getting rid of him would provide absolutely no guarantee that Syria will become a better place. If anything, it would probably become much worse.
Besides, the Obama administration has already achieved a major foreign policy success in Syria. Despite the ongoing civil war in that nation, during the last year the United States and its allies have removed Assad’s known stockpile of chemical weapons, and they will now be destroyed at facilities in Finland and other Western nations. With respect to our involvement in Syria, it’s time to “declare victory and go home.”
A final note to our local representatives in Congress, US Reps. Judy Chu and Adam Schiff: When the vote comes up on President Obama’s request for $500 million to train and equip Syrian opposition “moderates,” just say no.
John Grula, Ph.D., is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.