WASHINGTON -- Have you by chance noticed the words used about President Obama's decision to send arms, ammunition and perhaps air defenses into the Syrian conflagration?
The president "had to be almost dragged into the decision," The New York Times wrote in a front-page article. David Gardner, writing in the Financial Times, saw the decision coming "after two years of dither." And The Wall Street Journal wrote that we have seen the portrait of a president seeking to avoid what current and former officials call "the slippery slope" of another Middle Eastern war.
The president did not imagine that American support -- which would be given to a supposedly more democratic group in the conflict, using neighboring Jordan for training -- would win the war. But the White House said formally that the president hoped to moderate the rebels both in "scope and scale."
In short, we were not in it to win (God forbid!), but only to see that the other fellows lost (not sure that makes sense, but that's the way it is).
Of course, despite its hesitation over the whole thing, Washington would like a "negotiated settlement." Washington always wants a negotiated settlement. Great Britain wanted a negotiated settlement with Hitler, and at times even a tough man like FDR thought he could get a negotiated settlement with Stalin. That's the way we think, and that thinking has its place, but this does not appear to be one of them.
First there is the amorphousness of our good intentions. What IS it that we want this time?
We want the Syrian Army of hated President Bashar al-Assad and its related Shiite fighters in President Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah to stop fighting and negotiate a peace. In the same spirit of comity and reason, we want the largely Sunni Syrian rebels and other Arab forces, such as the Saudi Wahabis, and the grand sheik of al-Azhar in Cairo and the "democrats" under Syrian Gen. Salim Idriss in the coalition of moderate rebel forces to stop fighting and negotiate a peace.
"But this is not a strategy," commented Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America's foremost scholars on international relations. "It's an evasion of strategy.
"We are sending weapons -- but to whom? There are a number of factions fighting, and the allegedly 'democratic' are the weakest. If we are going to go in, might we conceivably collide with the Iranians? If we are going to have a Geneva conference, who should be there? The French and the British? The two most hated nations in the Middle East. China, Japan, India? All dependent upon oil from the region. To go in without a strategy to win with groups we do not know?"
Professor Vali Nasr, an author, educator and specialist on the region, added on CNN, "This is a step -- but it is not clear what objective it would serve."
Second, to synthesize, this decision by the president exposes us to the same danger we faced when we went into Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. There was no strategy in those disasters, either, and there is no strategy now as we play at facing down one of the most heterogeneous, fissiparous and just plain dangerous new situations in the world.
Once again, we are not threatened by this beautiful and poisonous country. Rather, we feel ourselves shamed, because we have convinced ourselves of our great power, that we cannot put things to order pronto. Unquestionably, there is also sympathy for the 93,000 Syrian dead and the suffering of the others, not to speak of the Israeli interests that doubtless play a major role in these decisions.
Yet, this is essentially one more conflict like the others. We don't have to be there, and we don't know why we're going to be, but we're convinced we have to.
Ironically, one of the major proponents of taking action, besides Sen. John McCain, is former President Bill Clinton. He has repeatedly said, when asked about Syria at seminars and conferences, that a leader must not be paralyzed by opinion polls when it comes to involving the nation in foreign crises.
He should know. When he was president, he blandly allowed the horrendous Balkan wars -- with a resurgent Serb nationalism attacking and "ethnically cleansing" every Bosnian, Croatian or Kosovar it could find -- to go on for four years before he was finally shamed enough to drop bombs on Serbia. Amazing how it worked, almost overnight!
Apparently, he didn't notice that the Cold War with the Soviets had ended with the Berlin Wall's destruction in 1989 -- he never spoke about it -- so never anticipated that such a historic event would release other rage and impulses for conflict and convergence, too. That was why Bosnia was important.
Think back in time for just a few seconds. Think what would have happened had we not gotten mired in all of these little wars. We would have had time, money and energy to rebuild our infrastructure, to cement important international relationships, to donate more to science and innovation.
Instead, we have left enemies behind us all across the globe -- and we seem to be seeking more.
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)
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