Every year for straight nine years since 2003, Western anti-interventionists have seen another Iraq-style war on the horizon with Iran, with North Korea, with Libya, and now with Syria as rumors spread that Assad is readying chemical weapons to crush the revolution.
Dictator? Check. U.S. charges of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles? Check. Geostrategically located country in an oil-rich region? Check. U.S. talk about “human rights” concerns? Check. NATO military hardware being deployed along the Turkish border? Check. Bush administration plans for “regime change” in Syria? Check.
The anti-interventionists add all these check marks together and find a startling sum: it’s Iraq all over again!
For this crowd, American imperialism is a one-trick pony, and they’re wise to the tricks of the empire-building trade.
A closer, deeper comparison of U.S. policy toward Iraq in 2002-2003 and Syria in 2011-2012 reveals quite the opposite of what the so-called anti-imperialists think is going on. Consider the following:
- The Bush administration began a conspicuous U.S. military buildup surrounding Iraq in fall of 2002. U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq under the legal cover of a United Nations no-fly zone intensified in late 2002 to early 2003. By contrast, nothing of the kind has been done with regard to Syria by the Obama administration. There is no no-fly zone, there are no airstrikes, and there is no build up of U.S. troops in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, nor any neighboring country.
- Syria has attacked Turkey, a NATO member, over and over again in the past 21 months. Syria shot down a Turkish plane and has repeatedly shelled Turkish territory. Turkey has steadfastly refused to invoke article 5 of the NATO treaty which would trigger the alliance to take military action in response. Does anyone seriously think Saddam Hussein could have shelled Turkey without triggering a U.S./Turkish military assault in 2002-2003? Of course not, but thinking is not the strong suit of the anti-interventionists.
- The military hardware deployed on the Turkish border are Patriot missiles, i.e. defensive weapons. An invasion cannot be launched with Patriot missiles any more than a bank can be robbed with bullet proof vests.
The bottom line: the U.S. does not want to step in militarily to facilitate “regime change” in Syria. It has had plenty of opportunity to do so from the standpoint of pretexts and declined for 20 months in a row.
So what do we make of the Obama administration’s talk of a “red line” in Syria?
It’s not a pretext for a pre-planned invasion because the U.S. does not have the 75,000 troops next door necessary for such an operation and is not moving any divisions nearby either. There will be no American invasion nor occupation of Syria. Period. No doubt this will be a major disappointment to anti-interventionists who have nothing better to do than cry wolf over non-existent grievances, but facts are stubborn things.
It’s also not a pretext for airstrikes under the cover of a no-fly zone; the U.S. Senate voted to order the administration to study the feasibility of a no-fly zone since the administration has insisted for almost two years that “each of these situations [Libya and Syria] is unique” and that a Libya-style military operation is not appropriate.
The “red line” is an empty threat, political posturing. No more, no less.
The reality is that, from the standpoint of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, there are no good options or outcomes as a result of the Syrian revolution. Why? Because the revolution is not only popular and democratic but also stridently pro-Palestinian.
The Palestinians, in turn, support the Syrian revolution. This is in no small part because hundreds of Palestinians in Syria have been slaughtered by Assad’s relentless shelling of hospitals, refugee camps, and bread lines. Hamas, the governing party in the Gaza Strip, even broke off relations with Assad’s government and came out in support of the Syrian revolution.
Washington, D.C. is not looking forward to seeing the end of Assad’s brutal state machine, a machine that lent its services to Bush by torturing Maher Arar (anti-imperialists, take note). Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta even admitted he’d hate to see Syria’s uniformed torturers and rapists disband: “The best way to preserve … stability is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government.”
Assad’s tyrannical police state apparatus is essential to keeping the Syrian and Palestinian peoples divided and oppressed, too weak to resist Israel, and unable to organize freely, openly, and effectively for their political and social emancipation.
The use of chemical weapons won’t change that calculus for Washington.
My other writings on the Arab Spring:
- “The Revolution Betrayed: Obama and the Syrian Uprising,” The North Star, September 16, 2012
- “Aiding the Syrian Revolution: a Guide to Action,” The North Star, August 26, 2012
- “Act Now, Save Syria,” Independent Voter Network, August 20, 2012
- “Assad’s Bloodhounds: the Party for Socialism and Liquidation,” Polizeros, August 20, 2012
- “’Hands Off Syria’ and Other Slogans of Assad’s Fans,” The Indypendent, August 16, 2012
- “Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring,” Kasama Project, August 4, 2012
- “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” Comment Middle East, July 21, 2012
- “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong,” Comment Middle East, July 5, 2012