Sunday, September 8, 2013

One and Done in Syria, Right? Right? . . . Come on, right?

Once upon a time, there were some nasty guys known as al Qaeda.  In August 1998, they bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  Over 200 people were killed, including 12 Americans.  In order punish the baddies, President Clinton order cruise missile attacks on al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan which supposedly made chemical weapons.  Dozens of cruise missiles were fired and hit their targets.  After that, al Qaeda was never heard from again.

Unfortunately, the last part isn't true.  Al Qaeda, as we all know, survived in Afghanistan, killed some 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, and triggered wars that have turned out to be America's longest military conflicts.  Over 4,800 Americans died in Iraq, and more than 2,000 in Afghanistan.  American personnel are now engaged in fighting al Qaeda or its affiliates in South Asia, the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and who knows, maybe even Southeast Asia (there are Muslim insurgencies in Indonesia and the Philippines).   There is no end in sight for America's war against violent Islamic radicals.

President Obama and his supporters seem to think they can conducted a limited strike in Syria to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, and then be done with it.  Who are they kidding?  The bad guys in this scenario grow beards on the other cheek; they don't turn it.  Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are all promising retaliation if America launches cruise missiles.  Americans and American facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and probably other places are likely to be on the hit list.  American allies like Israel, Turkey, and other nations may be attacked.  Sooner or later, Assad or one of his allies will do something that will require further American action.  That's what happened with al Qaeda 15 years ago.  The 1998 cruise missile strikes on al Qaeda's training camps led to the 9/11 bombings, which then led to a war we're still fighting.

There is no chance--as in zero percent--that a U.S. cruise missile strike against Assad's forces will be the last word.  President Obama has yet to explain how he will deal with the many retaliatory responses from the bad guys, all without putting boots on the ground in some distant place and without entangling us in another endless war against people who can outlast us because it's their home.  In all likelihood, he has no explanation, because there is no way to contain America's involvement in Syria once we cruise in. 

As Americans know from hard experience, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and President Obama has the road we're now on very well paved.   Good intentions aren't the only thing that counts.  Competence and diligence matter, too.  You have to have a strategy to win--convincingly and quickly.  If you don't have such a strategy, don't dive into a war.  Ask the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam and the 4,800 who died in Iraq about this point.  There doesn't seem to be much strategic thinking going on in the White House; just political maneuvering in the hope of preventing the President from losing credibility for shooting from the hip.  Some of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan today were seven or eight years old at the time of the 9/11 bombings.  Today's parents of elementary school students should pay close attention to the discussion of U.S. military action in Syria.

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