Sunday, September 8, 2013

Neo-Isolationism and Syria.

            It has been a couple of years since The Arab Spring spread into Syria. Assad has been either more adept or brutal at holding on than either Qaddafi or Mubarak. President Obama, since the start of the uprisings has been rather consistent for an American politician. The reluctance to commit American military resources has drawn fire from both Dems and Republicans. However I feel his reluctance stems from a worldview that American military power should be used sparingly.
Some of the more moderate and hawkish Democrats have pushed The President to intervene in Syria. These Democrats find themselves surprisingly closer to the GOP Hawks than most in the party. I would credit this to a remnant of the Post Vietnam hangover.
Since the early Eighties many Dems have supported military actions, that in hindsight, may not have been prudent.. This has been a reaction to the massive loss sustained in '72 by Senator George McGovern and trying to show the Democratic party is not weak on defense. That is a tag they've been dealing with since they turned on LBJ over Vietnam and clashed with Nixon opposing  that tragic mistake of a war.
There are Republican members of Congress who have consistently criticized President Obama over Egypt, Libya and Syria. These Republicans have called for a more robust, intensive intervention in Syria. Things like covert and overt arming of selected rebel groups. They've called for an enforced no fly zone. Let's not think of the flack The P resident took over Libya and allowing NATO to take the lead.  They dislike it when we aren't in charge even though we were fulfilling treaty obligation like grown up countries do.
There seems to be, as a counterbalance, a growing isolationist movement both in Congress and the Nation itself.
On the public's part I would ascribe this to over a decade of constant military engagement. There is a bad taste left by the actions of the previous administration's run up to Iraq using ginned up lintel. That feeling is primarily in the Democratic and unaligned camps.
With the GOP voter it seems to be a strain of isolationism we last saw prior to Pearl Harbor and our involvement in WWII. The refusal of the United States to step up after the fall of the Colonial and Ottoman Empires following WWI left a power vacuum the Germans exploited. Republicans in Congress opposed  directly siding with the UK. This forced FDR to utilize sleight of hand to support the British and Soviet defensive actions against Nazi Germany.
This isolationism died when Japan struck Pearl Harbor.
After WWII the US took on the mantle of a super power to counter the other super power, Soviet Russia.
Over the next forty-five years we had our fingers in everything countering the Soviet and Chinese moves. Korea, Vietnam, Latin America and the Mideast. We propped up our Dictators to counter theirs. We stockpiled a massive nuclear arsenal to counter the ones held by the USSR and China.
We maintained a massive military presence in western Europe to discourage a Soviet invasion. We formed NATO and SEATO. We helped form The Organization Of American States. Containment was the goal and resulted in undeclared wars, sponsored coups and confrontation. This constantly kept us on the verge of a nuclear holocaust.. MAD, mutually assured destruction. We counted on fear of extinction to keep us safe.
The problem in this post cold war era isolationism is simply not an option. When your defense budget's larger than the next ten nations combined you are expected to act. For good or ill, despite all their protestations, western Europe looks to us for leadership. They pressure us into action then usually sit on their wallets and troops. Or make token shows of assistance.
As isolation calls grow we need to remember that if a power/leadership vacuum occurs it will be filled. Russia is resurgent after the chaos of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. They have the second largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. The Russians still have a massive inferiority complex that dates back centuries.
They have always pushed to be a power on the world stage. The Soviet era was rife with Russian machinations to counter or thwart American power and influence. The Cold War was a deadly dance of dominance. The western outlook and the Soviet outlook. The visions were very different. Following the collapse of the Soviet control of Eastern Europe the USSR imploded into anarchy and irrelevance.
Western Europe has only Germany to step up to possibly fill the vacuum. Since Germany was only a united nation for about Seventy years and started two world wars I would look upon a dominate Germany with suspicion.
When it comes to military capabilities and remaining influence only Russia and China have the means.
China is an enigma as they always have been. The Chinese foreign policy seems  predicated on economic influence and mainlining the status quo.
Like it or not during the twentieth century the United States has established itself as the world's enforcer.
The voices in Congress seem dissonant at times.
There are the Conservatives who have clamored for a very robust interventionist foreign policy. Now that The President they seem to despise has decided to act as if they are suddenly aghast at the idea of military action.
The libertarian leaning minority are saying we should't intervene because we can't be sure of the winners becoming allies and we know the Assad regime aren't. There is also the usual xenophobic rants the right is known for. The rebels don't protect Christians as Assad does. They are interjecting religion into American foreign policy. They are talking as if their ideas are reshaping the Republican Party. It is unlikely the Hawks have had a come to Jesus moment. It is far more likely the isolationist stance is being used as cover to attack President Obama politically.
From the Left I hear echoes of the anti Vietnam rhetoric.
This is a civil war we shouldn't intervene in. Any deaths in the action is unacceptable and morally wrong. We should not act because there is no clear and present danger to the US or our allies. War is always bad.
I made the same arguments when I was 18.
When you have these viewpoints coalescing in Committee hearings both side tend to over-analyze. The administration and Military representatives are grilled on every conceivable scenario. The constant what ifs are paralyzing. You can plan for contingencies but never account for all of them. Action entails risk.
The risk here is letting a risk averse Congress lecture on risk.
Far too many in the House are in gerrymandered safe districts at home. They can have an entire career and never take a substantive stand on anything. They rail at the world. They try to codify religious views. They do this knowing full well little of what they do can ever become law. They are now the dog who has caught the car.
Of course most of these Members of Congress hold their views as principle  and conscious. They have legitimate concerns they are trying to address. and there are those who are simply against supporting this President on any issue.
Now you also have people like me who have a strong aversion to military action. I have seen  unfounded wars and interventions. Grenada, Panama and Iraq come to mind, Then we have our stand against genocide in the Balkans. Our ignoring Darfur. Picking and choosing our interventions is a traditional American geopolitical action.
So now we are faced with a decision. Do we act on an ultimatum we put forth? Will not following through weaken our already limited ability to effect change? In the absence of solid global backing do we act unilaterally? Does a stand mean anything in a modern world where policy is driven by a 24/7 news cycle? Is there such a thing as negotiation anymore when every word, action and movement is analyzed for gain and loss?
My feeling is a limited strike is needed. Too long Assad has waged a war of attrition on his own people. Since Syria is allied with Iran it is in our strategic interest to at least get Assad's attention. Any reduction in his ability to wage chemical war is a plus. Arming the opposition is needed to put them on a viable footing to resist.
As the world's only remaining superpower we really have no choice but to act as we said we would. If we hope to influence anything we need to be a credible deterrent.That is why the partisan bickering in Congress could be disastrous. The Resolution passed by the Senate Committee is reasonable. Any filibusterer, as threatened by Rand Paul, does not serve the national interest. The time for Congress to act, actually do something, is here,
This screed may seem wandering, confused and conflicted . The reason is I am sorely conflicted but I realize things are never black and white. The answers always hide in those shades of gray.

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