When the Commander in Chief gives an order, our spouses carry it out – and we support them. That’s the agreement, and (cringe) we all signed up for it.
But before that order goes out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with us wanting to know why our loved ones might be called to a new war. Some might even say that we have a duty to be informed.
Right now there’s a pretty good chance that some of our spouses will be doing something soon, somewhere near Syria. Why is that, you may be wondering – and what’s it all going to mean?
Syria hasn’t been a nice place to live pretty much anytime in the last 100 years. It’s a country roughly the size of Washington state and with three times as many people, but it’s borders are completely arbitrary and were drawn by European leaders in the 1920s. Worse, the borders were drawn to include a diverse area that includes mostly Sunni Muslims, but also people of other faiths and ethnicities, and they don’t usually all get along. A small sect called the Alawites run the country – and therein lies the problem. The Alawites are vastly outnumbered but they enjoy lots of special perks and privileges, and so most everyone else hates them. So in April 2011, when it looked like all of the Middle East was transforming, (remember the ‘Arab Spring’?) frustrated Syrians who were sick of being bullied by a privileged minority decided to revolt.
That’s when things got really ugly. Those minority Alawites, led by Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, got really scared, really fast and they seriously overreacted. First they killed the activists themselves, and then they moved on to kidnapping, raping and torturing the family members of the activists, including a whole lot of children. Then Syrian troops began openly firing on the protesters – and the protesters began firing back. And that’s how the war started. Most people now think more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the war and another 2 million are refugees.
But it didn’t stop there.
Not wanting to miss the party, our old friends the Islamic jihadis moved in. You’ll remember them from these last 12 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. So now Assad is not only fighting his own people, who have some very legitimate reasons to hate him, his people have partnered up with some of the very same terrorist groups America is already fighting elsewhere.
If you’re keeping track, the playbook looks something like this: The Syrian goverment is horrible and probably should be overthrown, but the Syrian rebels have aligned themselves with groups that are just as bad and, for American interests, even worse. So it’s really hard for us and our allies to pick a team to support, which is why we haven’t done anything- until now.
On August 21 most everyone agrees that President Bashar al-Assad seriously upped the ante. No longer was he content to just regularly murder his own citizens – he decided to mass murder about 1,000 of them using chemistry. He unleashed chemical weapons indiscriminantly in residential areas, brutally killing hundreds of children, in an effort to terrify the rebels into quitting. This is particularly bad for the U.S. because last year when President Obama was asked if the U.S. would intervene in Syria, he said we would not. But then he made his now infamous “red line” statement, saying that if Syria used chemical weapons then the U.S. would intervene.
And now Assad has gone there.
This is why the President says America needs to act, and act now. President Obama and some others believe that if Syria isn’t punished, Syria and all the other bad-guy countries will feel emboldened to use chemical weapons willy-nilly. Unfortunately, no one else seems to be stepping up to punish Syria. The U.N. isn’t likely to help much because Syria’s best buddies, Russia and China (see below) have veto power on the U.N. Security Council, meaning that they’re not likely to let any resolution punishing Syria pass. And there’s another reason: Some people also say that, like it or not, because the U.S. President issued that red-line statement, we have to back it up, lest we appear weak to the world.
What will happen after we attack?
This is the big wild card, and the answer is really disconcerting: Nobody Knows.
President Obama has proposed hitting Syria with a small missile strike, just enough to send a message that chemical weapons are a no-go, the equivalent of swatting your dog on the nose after he chews on your flip-flop. See, the thing is, we don’t really want Assad to lose power because, crazy and awful as he is, he’s kind of stable, and if he’s not in office it’s almost certain that whoever comes after him will be even worse. The Devil You Know, and all that.
And it gets even scarier.
While the rest of the world watched the Soviet Union collapse in the early 1990s, Syria was busy, well, probably just busy terrorizing its own people. Whatever they were doing, Syria didn’t get the memo. So Syria is one of Russia’s BFFs and is the only country outside of Russia where Russia has a military base. Think about our own OCONUS bases and you can see why Russia is very interested in keeping things copacetic in Syria. And Russia’s big friend China? Yep, China is tight with Syria, too, and has vowed to send some of its warships to Syria, you know, just to watch what the American warships are doing.
And as if all of that weren’t bad enough, Iran also (hearts) Syria. And not just because they have the whole crazy dictator thing in common. Iran likes to ship weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas by taking them through Syria.
It wouldn’t be an Axis of Evil family reunion without North Korea, who many believe is Syria’s chemical weapons supplier, because everyone knows North Korea has chemical weapons. And nukes. And North Korea is just, well, north of South Korea, where there are about 30,000 American troops. So, obviously, we don’t want North Korea thinking they can just get away with gassing people they don’t like, because those people might very well be our troops.
Now you can see why things in Syria seem to have gone from really bad to downright apocalyptic, rather quickly. On the one hand, some believe that if we don’t send a message to Assad, we’re inviting all the cray-cray countries to use chemical weapons worldwide. On the other hand, if we attack Syria, we could be getting ourselves into a war with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – and doing it after we’ve spent the last 12 years fighting two wars. Worse, the American military budget has already been cut by $500 billion (that’s BILLION, with a “B”) and another $500 billion in cuts are looming because of the sequester. Quite simply, a lot of smart people think the American military – which is presently underfunded and exhausted – would lose that fight.
But what if we can talk things out?
Well, that’s the best news to come out of all of this. Immediately after delivering his speech, the President sent out an email reiterating some of what he said in the speech, including this: “The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons and the Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.”
Considering all the possible outcomes, it’s easy to see why the hail-Mary diplomacy option is so attractive. And, yes, it does seem to everyone like we just gave the fox the door code to the henhouse, but it still seems like our best bet. The President has said that he’s willing to try it. But he’s also said that he hopes that Congress will support him in attacking Syria if diplomacy doesn’t work. And he’s said that even if Congress doesn’t support him, he has the power to order an attack, anyway.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued this statement immediately after the President’s speech on Syria:
“We appreciate the President speaking directly to the American people about the conflict in Syria. We regret, however, that he did not speak more forcefully about the need to increase our military assistance to moderate opposition forces in Syria… We also regret that he did not lay out a clearer plan to test the seriousness of the Russian and Syrian proposal to transfer the Assad regime’s chemical weapons to international custody. “Such a plan would require the United States … to immediately introduce a tough U.N. Security Council Resolution that lays out what steps Syria would have to take to give up its chemical weapons, including making a full and accurate declaration of all of its chemical weapons and granting international monitors unfettered access to all sites in Syria that possess these weapons. This Resolution would have to threaten serious consequences if the Assad regime does not comply…”
And then what?
Assuming we effectively get our point across to Syria, curtail the use of chemical weapons and get the hell out of there, the best we can hope for is probably something along the lines of Lebanon, where a brutal civil war lasted for 15 years, theoretically ending in the early 1990s – but where there are still some bombs going off from time to time. That’s the best case scenario.
The medium-bad scenario is a repeat of our experience in Iraq. We attack, Syria fights back, and we end up in a protracted ground war there with various insurgent groups, costing a lot of U.S. lives and making the people who already hate us in that part of the world, hate us even more.
The worst case? You don’t want to know the worst case.
A global war unlike any the world has ever seen