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Let Syrians fix Syria

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The drumbeats of war are rapidly reaching crescendo in the western capitals, as the governments of the U.S., Great Britain, France and others are all making noise about punishing Syria for its chemical attack on its own people. With U.S. warships steaming across the Mediterranean and French and U.S. troops ready to launch, what was only last week thought to be highly unlikely has suddenly become probable — a Western intervention in the long and deadly Syrian civil war.

For the United States, this would create yet another Middle Eastern two-front engagement. We are still sending troops — including members of the 10th Mountain Division — to Afghanistan and our engagement in that morass drags on and on. To begin pouring troops into Syria could only be justified if there was a verifiable, significant risk to American interests. A civil war in a distant country that holds little of importance to the U.S. cannot possibly meet that metric.

For those who say this is a humanitarian intervention, triggered by President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical-weapons attack that indiscriminately killed scores of civilians, please parse your words. How do the words “invasion” and “humanitarian” not create an oxymoron? Any Western intervention in Syria would place thousands of civilians at greatly increased risk whether they want the U.S. and its allies on their soil or not. We theoretically can bring peace to the valley by saturation bombing it, but there is nothing humanitarian about that solution.

Even if we are supported by the French and the British, history shows that for the past 125 years, American intervention into a multinational conflict has placed the load squarely on our shoulders. Our national leaders talk blithely about the “multinational forces” in Afghanistan, but any accurate read of troop involvement and strategic leadership there points directly to the U.S, And Syria, like Afghanistan, is another nation whose borders were produced during the colonial period by people completely unfamiliar with the region’s cultural, political and religious underpinnings. As a result, the nation itself is a cauldron of competing beliefs, both religious and secular, and seems bound, like Afghanistan, to reflect that in persistent political unease and instability. In other words, we could go in there and tame the lion for awhile, but when we leave, his sons and brothers will roar back into action.

It’s time for the United States to step back and reconsider its self-annointed role as policeman for the world. We give lip-service to international diplomacy but we then take actions that belie the very meaning of the words. Look, if you will, at the last 25 years: we have invaded Iraq twice and remain in Afghanistan 12 long, long years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that we used to justify our invasion there. We have kicked the daylights out of some Middle Eastern hornets nests, and we’re still being stung on a regular basis. Our “victories” in Iraq are triumphs in name only; it took two tries to depose a 10-cent despot and now that we’ve gloriously pulled out, sectarian violence has made the country — once again — one of the most dangerous in the world.

From Somalia to Iraq to Afghanistan, our military meddling has inflamed an already inflammable Muslim world, made enemies out of neutral states and diminished our standing with some formerly stalwart allies. From the standpoint of a world view, Western thought has always had difficulty absorbing and finding empathy for Middle Eastern and Eastern cultures. The average American’s basic level of understanding of Islamic culture is abysmal. And there is no way to conquer a culture you do not understand, short of waging all-out, go-for-broke war. Not, of course, that we should be aiming for such a conquest. A full war between Islam and the West would unleash an event that civilization might not weather.

The U.S. should not become involved on the ground in Syria. A legitimate Western move would be to step up support of Syrian rebel forces, put a tight squeeze on any and all aid to the Syrian regime, and understand that despite our deepest feelings about this, there will be blood — Syrian blood. It is their fight and if the sides have equal access to the tools of fighting, a winner will eventually emerge that Syrians may be able to support. Any solution we compel will dissolve the minute our last soldier leaves.

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