What It Do: Bombs Over Damascus

For the moment, let’s assume that Syrian President Bashar Assad really did use sarin nerve gas against the Syrian rebels. The argument for military action—i.e. a shit-ton of American bombs—seems to be based on the idea that if Assad successfully thumbs his nose at international law with no consequences, it will embolden other dictators and warlords to open the hellgates of destruction and torment upon the land. Chaos will reign. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Lord knows we’ve heard this kind of argument before.

It was called the Domino Theory when Saint Fitzgerald Kennedy and pals were talking us into “limited” escalation in Southeast Asia. Decades later, Saddam Hussein was supposedly on the edge of unleashing a campaign of dirty bombs and doomsday devices against mainland United States, when Condoleezza Rice intoned brow-furrowed warnings about “the smoking gun [being] a mushroom cloud.”

In both cases, the fears turned out to be overdone, at best. When Saigon finally fell, and the communists took complete control of Vietnam, not only did it not lead to a chain reaction of communist conversion, it didn’t even strengthen the hand of the major communist powers. To the contrary, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam fought a short border war with China—one of the foes we were supposedly fighting in proxy—in 1979, only four years after the fall of Saigon.

And as for Saddam and his nonexistent weapons, well, that situation went so far south that it appears to have given the American people an uncharacteristic shyness about releasing the dogs of war. We’ll see how long that lasts.

So here we are. The major papers are performing their roles admirably, running ominous stories about the Syrian Electronic Army and their hacking exploits with side panels about what could happen if a hacker attacked the power grid. John Kerry is darting around Washington, barely concealing his war chub—he’ll show those Republicans who’s manly!—putting the band together for the congressional kabuki hoedown. Old Man McCain is walking up to anyone with a camera, snarling darkly about the resolution not going “far enough.”

The time for action is now, and freedom hangs in the balance, so fuck yeah.

But what exactly are we doing? They’ve said “no boots on the ground,” implying there won’t be a deployment of standard American ground forces (it would surprise me if there aren’t some Force Recon Marines and Navy SEALs already over there). So we’re talking about a mixture of cruise missiles, traditional air power and, of course, a fucking insane amount of drones, all blowing a whole bunch of shit up, some percentage of which belongs to the “bad guys.”

But what if the bad guys—in this case portrayed by Assad and his pro-government forces—prove more intractable than we expect? You’d think we’d have learned by now that some foes aren’t so easily bombed into submission. In 2016, will the presidential candidates be debating the best reboot strategy for the War in Syria?

God, I hope not.

In answer to this challenge, our warrior-philosopher leaders would counter that we are simply leveling the playing field for the stalwart rebels, good-hearted folks forced to take up arms against the brutal dictator whose shadow covers the land. Even if this were the case, our experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us that just because an opposition exists, that doesn’t mean the needed elements for a civil governing coalition are present.

But there is also quite a bit of reporting—even in the same media outlets currently beating the shit out of the war drum—to indicate that the Syrian rebels are, at best, pretty fucking brutal, and, at worst, actively allied with Al Qaeda. A smuggled video showed rebel troops executing war prisoners, emulating the cold-blooded tactics of the Assad regime, and evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in the opposition are numerous and appear in publicly available intelligence reports.

When confronted with this counter-evidence, John Kerry—I thought the Secretary of State was supposed to be our chief diplomat—replied, “I just don’t agree”; without providing any concrete backing for his position. If that’s not good enough for you, then you probably hate freedom.

Also, it should be noted that Kerry essentially acknowledged that at least some percentage of the Syrian opposition forces are Al Qaeda. He may believe that percentage to be low enough not to be of concern, but any way you slice it, we’re going to be arming and supporting radical Islamist fighters like it’s the ‘70s in Afghanistan. Maybe in 2050, we’ll be fighting whatever Taliban-esque creature emerges from this current morass.

For my part, I’ll have none of it. I call bullshit.

Unfortunately for the people destined to be collateral damage in our super-smart bombing campaign, nobody in power cares what any of us think about the situation, at this point. The decision has clearly been made. Bombs will fall.

The only question remaining is how extensive the blowback will be.


Alex Benson can be reached at alexb@theaquarian.com.