Tripping Over the Thin Red Line: How To Get To Syria Without Really Trying
by W Ned Livingston
Photo: By James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
You may have heard this tune before: a terrible, oppressive regime is using Weapons of Mass Destruction against its own people - in this case, sarin gas, a nerve agent first developed by the Nazis just prior to the Second World War.
Once again, the specter of WMDs is meant to draw U.S. policy toward military intervention in a Middle Eastern country, and once again, the evidence is questionable.
What is not questionable is that, in 1988, Saddam Hussein, the totalitarian ruler of Iraq, sent aerial forces over the Kurdish town of Halabja, in a chemical attack that killed as many as 5,000 people.
That attack made the instability and ferocity of Saddam Hussein well-known throughout the world. It also lent an air of legitimacy when the administration of George W. Bush began making noises about the dangers of Iraq in a post-9/11 world.
Most famously, Condoleezza Rice, then-National Security Adviser to George W. Bush said, in a September 2002 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." A statement which was crucial to the Bush Administration's setup for their much desired push into Iraq.
Dr. Rice, having thus begun the ball rolling, in February of 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech before the United Nations Security Council declaring there was conclusive evidence of the existence of WMDs in Iraq, a statement that was later to be proven tragically (if not criminally) false. And so, the United States was put on its inexorable march to Baghdad.
The reasons for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq were many, varied, and are now, perhaps, permanently obscured. Much of the politically motivated reasoning is explained in a July 2013 article by David T, Pyne, republished in the online publication, "Intellectual Conservative".
There were also financial and industrial motivations involving mega-corporations, such as the Halliburton Company, KBR Incorporated, and Iraq's oil fields.
For these reasons, in 2003, the Bush Administration eagerly moved forward with its dubious plan to invade Iraq, and save the world from the specter of doom that was Saddam Hussein clutching WMDs.
A mere ten years later, the Syrian people have had enough of their dictator of 13 years, and for the past two years have been trying to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. In stark contrast to the headlong dash into Baghdad, or even the measured intervention in Libya, in 2011, the United States seems least interested of all the countries urging limited military intervention.
What has changed over the past ten years? Of course the most significant change is the nature of the President. Rather than the overt militarism of the George W. Bush administration, the Obama white House has shown itself to be far more comfortable with an espionage network the likes of which have not been seen since the Eisenhower era. The weapon of choice, wielded by that ghostly arm, is the Predator Drone program, with its stiletto precision and correspondingly small, predictable footprint. While attempting to wrap up one very long, messy war in Afghanistan, President Obama is not likely to be anxious to put U.S. boots into another sandbox; not immediately, at any rate.
If one is bound to draw parallels between Iraq and Syria, though, given the pathology of the present administration, the civil war in Syria most resembles what the U.S. had initially begun, but abandoned in an untimely manner, in Iraq during the 1990s. During and immediately following the first Gulf War, The CIA discovered there were many pockets of dissidents, tired of living under Saddam's heel. According to Robert Baer in his memoir, See No Evil, rather than a direct assault on Iraq--there being no justification for aggression--the U.S., under the George H. W. Bush administration, began a program of fostering and quietly nurturing the dissident network. Unfortunately, for the dissidents, the Clinton administration defunded the program and reassigned the CIA operators just as the dissidents were about to act. Had the program gone forward, there may have been scenes in Iraq, in the mid-1990s, very similar to what is being seen in Syria now.
Indeed, Saddam Hussein might likely have used chemical warfare again, as he had done earlier in Kurdistan, but on a much wider range of the population. Such an act would, in turn, provoke international outrage, providing the justification, internationally, and support, internally, for resumed (from the First Gulf War) military operations in Iraq.
By way of comparison, if, hypothetically speaking, a coalition of nations felt the need to tighten the noose around Iran's neck, they would seek to eliminate that nation's strongest ally in the region, and that would be Syria. They would destabilize the country, but only from within. The U.S., no longer the sledge hammer wielding thug of the late 90’s, under the "Peace Prize" President, would act coy, not wanting to get involved in Arab affairs--except to provide humanitarian aid, of course. But there would have to be a limit, a "red line", so to speak, beyond which the Syrian government must not be allowed to pass. This red line would be something so atrocious every decent human being would cry foul; chemical warfare, for example.
As of June 14, 2013, France was willing to announce they have verifiable proof of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Only, as of the time of that report, they were unwilling to say who had used them, government or rebels. The U.S. government, along with many of its allies, has no such reservations, and is willing to accept that the Syrian government has used chemical agents against its own people, and will now assist the rebels by supplying "lethal aid". Euphemisms aside, the U.S. will continue supplying humanitarian aid, and in addition, will now, however reluctantly, supply the rebels with the heavy firepower required to combat an established, state funded army. Perhaps they will send in CIA advisers, as they will sometimes do, just to show the rebels how to use the new weapons.
Coincidentally, the annual joint military exercises started on June 9, 2013.