Monday, September 16, 2013

Why We Will Not Invade Syria

By Alan Caruba

All the recent talk about a proposed and then-delayed attack on Basher Assad’s Syria has not included our recent experience in Iraq. We invaded in 2003 and within a month were in Baghdad. It was not a victory. It was the beginning of a long, drawn-out defeat that ended with the withdrawal of our troops and the current chaos that is probably killing as many or more Iraqis than before we invaded.

Earlier we had invaded Afghanistan in response to the attack now called 9/11. We went in and swiftly drove the Taliban and al Qaeda out of the areas from which we have been told they planned the attack. And then we stayed. We are still there.

Largely unspoken is the fact that the members of our standing army have gone back on repeated tours of duty because we did not having a large enough standing army to invade and then control either nation, both of which represent large areas of terrain. We did not have a large enough army because the nation, after Vietnam, abandoned the role of the citizen-soldier and the draft. We had a professional army of volunteers. The army that fought in Vietnam was composed of citizen-soldiers and we lost over 53,000 of them because we had inserted ourselves into a civil war.

It is a civil war that is being fought in Syria and, apparently, we have learned nothing from the wars in which we have engaged since the late 1960s to the present day. We no longer know how to win a war. Instead we are led to believe to precision instruments of war such as Tomahawk missiles are sufficient to alter facts on the ground.

I was moved to think about this while listening to a Q&A session broadcast on C-SPAN, an interview with Andrew Bacevich, Jr., the author of “Breach of Trust: How America Failed its Soldiers and its Society” and a number of other books critical of America’s policies regarding its  military. Bacevich who teaches as Boston University is a West Point graduate who served for 23 years in the army. He had seen action as a young lieutenant in Vietnam, came back and picked up a graduate degree courtesy of the army. He was a man more at home in academia than the service, staying on, he said, because he had a growing family. His son would serve and die in Iraq.

In retrospect, the expectations of the politicians who took us into Vietnam and then into the military engagements in the Middle East were, Bacevich concluded, “naïve.” Those making the decisions had no military background or experience. When four-star General Eric Shinseki famously responded to a question about how many troops would be needed to secure Iraq and said it would need to be on the order of several hundred thousand, it was widely believed he was forced into retirement by the “neocons” who surrounded and advised George W. Bush.

Only President Eisenhower really knew what it would take to fight and win a war. He had commanded the European theatre in World War II. The presidents that followed him into office had served in the military, from Kennedy through Carter, but not in high positions. Reagan, too, had served, but mostly for his acting talents in training films. Clinton was a draft dodger. Bush41 and Bush43 wore the uniform, the former in WWII, the latter in the Texas Air National Guard. By contrast, President Obama was a Boy Scout in Indonesia and has cut the military budget for all five years he’s been in office.

When national service was severed with the ending of the draft, Americans lost personal contact with the wars we fought. They were fought in far-off lands for often dubious reasons such as Johnson’s belief during the Cold War that the loss of Vietnam to communism would lead to other south Asian nations adopting communism. Bush 41 had to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1990 and, having done so, brought the troops home. Bush 43 believed that deposing Saddam would lead to Iraq adopting democracy. We have learned that you cannot export democracy at the point of a gun or as if it were something that could be unpacked and easily applied to a nation composed of conflicting groups of Muslims, tribes and sects.

We cannot go to war in Syria because we lack the personnel it would require, because it is a civil war, because we lack any kind of strategy there or in the Middle East. Indeed, we are widely disliked and distrusted throughout the Middle East at this point because the Obama administration is understandably seen as weak and feckless.

We have the misfortune of being led by a president without a knowledge of history, with a deep disdain for the military, and who demonstrated he has no idea how to deal with the situation in Syria. Nothing we have done there or may be doing in Libya has resulted in a good outcome. Egypt has been bailed out by Saudi Arabia, but an ally of many decades has learned to distrust Obama.

Obama was rescued from complete ignominy by none other than Russia’s president Putin who then took the opportunity to mock him on the pages of The New York Times. The likelihood that any of the chemical and/or biological weapons in Syria will ever be removed any time soon is zero. It would have to be done during a shooting war and that is just not going to happen. Destroying such weapons would, in any event, take years to accomplish.

The era of just lobbing a few missiles into a far-off nation is over. It is a sign of weakness, not strength. The potential for a unified response to the Middle East chaos has diminished as neither NATO nor other international organizations wish to intercede. The United Nations is a pit of useless criminal indifference.

We will not invade Syria. We will malinger on the sidelines with the rest of the world.

© Alan Caruba, 2013


Ron Stabb said...

"A Boy Scout in Indonesia". That about says it all.
Through my entire life I have seen us enter Wars that we have no business getting into. You don't pick a fist fight that you have no chance of winning or thinking I'll just fight to a draw.
I lost a couple of good friends in Viet-Nam for what? I'm still trying to figure that out.
We need to stay out of other nations problems, we have enough of our own.
Obama is an embarrassment to me and my Country

Ronald Barbour said...


Alas! I have to disagree with you several things you said in your interesting article:

1. As one who served as a professional soldier in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and in Germany during the Cold War in the 1970s - I think ending the draft was one of the best thing this country did in the late 20th century.

I well recall the low quality of the draftee soldiers who seemed to spend half their two year tour either AWOL or on sick call.

Of course, there were many draftees who were good troops; however, the wise duty sergeant in those days asked for "two draftees, or one Regular Army" to do any given detail.

When I was in Alaska at Ft. Richardson in 1973 and the last draftees were honorably discharged, transported to the airfield to be returned to CONUS, and the NCO Club had a celebration!

2. We won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a purely military viewpoint - We came, We saw, We conquered! The troops in Iraq pulled out in good order during 2011, as will the troops stationed in Afghanistan in 2014.

Always remember military defeat is defined as your country's armed forces being defeated and your nation occupied by a foreign enemy - This has never happened to the United States of America in its 200 year plus history.

Yes, I know on many occasions after the U.S. military kicked in the door and flooded into various hostile countries the aftermath was not democracy, which in places like Iraq and Afghanistan can never be as long as the majority are Muslims.

3. During my short career as a high school history teacher in Florida, I once asked my class to name the battles in the Vietnam War we lost. Naturally the class couldn't because there was no case where an American unit above company level was ever defeated on the battlefield and forced to withdraw, or surrendered.

American forces withdrew in good order in 1973 after the North Vietnamese signed the peace pact. The Republic of Vietnam fell almost two years after the last American combat troops departed the country.

As a former American professional soldier I take pride in the fact that our military establishment has never tasted total defeat and our country never occupied by a foreign enemy.

Fred Mangels said...

"A Boy Scout in Indonesia". That about says it all.Through my entire life I have seen us enter Wars that we have no business getting into. Obama is an embarrassment to me and my Country.

So we've been in all these wars yet somehow we're supposed to blame it all on Obama? Seems to me it's pretty much business as usual that started long before Obama with more than enough Republicans to point fingers at, as well.

Alan Caruba said...

Fred, no one is blaming Obama for prior wars, but rather his poor judgement regarding engaging Syria.

Ron Stabb said...

Fred said:"So we've been in all these wars yet somehow we're supposed to blame it all on Obama? Seems to me it's pretty much business as usual that started long before Obama with more than enough Republicans to point fingers at, as well".

I didn't blame them all on Obama, or Democrats or Republicans.
He is just the latest fool to take us where we need not go.

@Ronald B.
Thanks for your service. I mean that.
But if you go to war to change something and nothing changes but the amount of dead American soldiers, then I consider it a defeat.

Fred Mangels said... one is blaming Obama for prior wars, but rather his poor judgement regarding engaging Syria.

I can't help but think if there were a Republican in the White House making the same sort of decisions you wouldn't be so critical. Any criticism of John McCain here? Remember that he ran for president last time around and has supported every war- or proposed military action- we've seen in the last decade or two.

What about Mitt Romney? To hear him tell it during his presidential campaign, we'd likely be bombing both Syria and Iran at this point.

pela68 said...

OT- but I just can´t resist.
What´s is it with (looking at the picture) with all the men wearing their magpacks on their stomachs?

You can´t lie down properly and getting out a fresh mag without rolling over is almost impossible.

Have you're magpacks on your hips or even around at your buttocks- or in worst case in the pockets of your uniform...

Can´t understand that!