Friday, November 20, 2015
But we've got to do something
The notion that we absolutely must do something, preferably something that looks impressive -- a shock and awe type of exercise, no doubt -- came up a number of times during some online discussions I got sucked into recently. There was a lot of blathering about how all we needed to do to take care of Daesh (aka ISIS) was dump a few thousand American troops into Syria and that would be that. Well, we all know how well putting troops on the ground worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I fail to see why anyone would expect a more successful outcome in a third country, but some people are eternal optimists when it comes to the power of the U.S. military. Or eternally delusional, given that we haven't won a war in close to 70 years, but that's kind of side issue. I'm actually more interested in why so many people seem to think that taking action is compulsory. After all, "we can't just do nothing."
Well, yes, we can. There are always situations where the smart thing to do is nothing. Don't poke at a hornet's nest with a stick, either figuratively or literally. Don't meddle just for the sake of meddling. On a global scale, the results of U.S. meddling in recent decades tend to be almost universally bad. The CIA meddled in Iran in the 1950s. It took a few years, but the end result was the theocratic anti-American state we see today. We meddled in Vietnam in the 1950s, having been stupid enough to renege on promises made to the Vietnamese during World War II ("fight the Japanese and we'll support Vietnamese independence from the French"), and wound up in a prolonged war that we eventually lost. We meddled in Central and South America, which resulted in death squads murdering thousands of civilians for opposing the dictatorships we supported. Countries like Honduras and El Salvador are still trying to recover from the "help" we gave them.
More recently, we meddled in Iraq on the dubious grounds that Saddam Hussein was a bad person (undoubtedly true) and created a power vacuum that led to that country basically breaking into three sections: the area around Baghdad controlled by Shi'ite Muslims, the northern part of the country controlled by the Kurds, and a kind of no man's land that allowed Al Qaeda in Irag to morph into Daesh. We meddled in Libya to eliminate Qaddafi, also basically because we didn't like him, and Libya is now a mess. And now we have politicians as well as some members of the public pushing for the U.S. to meddle more intensely in Syria because we don't like Assad. We're doing air strikes now, which are doing a pretty good job of recruiting new Daesh supporters, but there are people who don't think that's enough. We need to go all in on the meddling -- don't just poke at the hornet's nest from the sidelines, jump right in there and grab it with both hands.
Why? What do we gain from it? And why should we be expected to clean up a mess that doesn't directly affect us? Bill Maher tends to annoy me, but when he does his Islamophobic rants he gets one thing right: where are the other Middle Eastern countries when it comes to containing or wiping out terror groups like Daesh ? Turkey is right on the border with Syria and Iraq; you'd think they'd be worried about fundamentalists with delusions of grandeur, but apparently not. There have been well-documented examples of the Turkish government either openly ignoring Daesh or actively helping them. If the Turks cracked down on the smuggling that supports Daesh financially, the organization would start to fail pretty quickly, but instead the Turks have proven more adept at keeping refugees stuck at the border for weeks and months than they have at stopping oil tankers or trucks loaded with looted antiquities. And if a country that sits right next to the area Daesh is terrorizing isn't willing to really crack down on them, why should we bother?
I've never understood why some politicians lust for imposing regime change on other countries. It never works out well. The dictator we thought was so horrible that he had to go is invariably replaced by someone who is (a) equally repellent or worse; (b) turns out to be hostile to U.S. interests so we're left in worse shape than before; or (c) so weak he can't hold the country together without indefinite outside help. If, as some people have suggested, we simultaneously force regime change on Syria and put troops on the ground there, the end result will not be pretty.