Last Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it would increase the size and scope of military assistance to the Syrian rebels as a result of Syria’s crossing of a “red line” by using chemical weapons on its own citizens. Details of exactly what this assistance would consist of and how and when it would be implemented have not been made public, but officials have mentioned sending small arms, ammunition and possibly anti-tank weapons to aid the rebels.
The recent pronouncements coming out of Washington and Europe (where the subject will be discussed in more detail at the upcoming G8 summit) have raised some questions both here and abroad. The crossing of the red line itself is in dispute by the governments of both Syria and its ally Russia. Some chemical weapons experts have also not been convinced by the evidence, or lack thereof, provided by American officials that such attacks have taken place. The misuse of American intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War does nothing to add to the credibility of US claims when it comes to the existence and use of weapons of mass destruction by foreign governments in the region.
The composition. affiliations and trustworthiness of the various rebel factions slated to potentially receive military aid from our government is also in question. As in the case with other governments which have been deposed in the region in recent years, it is far from certain what may happen to the structure and conduct of the government once the goal of toppling Assad had been achieved. The examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Egypt are all different, both in the extent to which the US participated in creating or assisting in regime change, and the nature of the governments which are in the process of replacing the former regimes. To what use can we expect our weapons to be put once they are placed in the hands of the rebels? Will giving them more weapons save lives or cost more of them?
Since our invasion and occupation of Iraq has ended so recently, with so little of value to come out of it, both for the US and for the Iraqi people, I question the wisdom of us deepening our involvement in Syria at this time. We are still ensconced in a major military endeavor in Afghanistan that seems to similarly be destined to end up in a quagmire for the people we will be leaving behind when we end our direct military involvement there. Our “no boots on the ground” approach in aiding the rebels in Libya, while resulting in aiding in the toppling of that regime with minimal loss of American lives, still cost the American taxpayers quite a bit of money. Tomahawk missiles don’t come cheap. How many Meals-on-Wheels can be paid for with $1 million? Does Libya have a stable government now? Do Iraq and Afghanistan?
The cost of a war is not measured merely in terms of the loss of lives of American military personnel. The lives of the people in the countries where we are intervening are also important. We use them as part of our justification for becoming involved to begin with. The tyranny of their governments is lambasted in the press endlessly. How do we propose to improve their situation? Does adding more guns and bullets to the mix seem likely to lessen the death toll? To me, that argument sounds an awful lot like the NRA proposition that in order to lessen gun violence in schools we should be arming the teachers, and that more guns will ultimately result in less gun violence.
As for as the Syrian government using chemical weapons, doing so not only would show extreme callousness in its treatment of its own citizens, but extremely poor judgment as far as acting in its own self interest in terms of self-preservation, given the stated position of the US government. What would they have to gain by goading the US and other Western countries into intervening in their civil war? What does the US stand to gain by broadening the scope of the conflict? Our leaders have stated no desire to put boots on the ground and invade the country and our people would not favor it for long. if at all. Most of us have had enough of pointless, endless wars
Syria poses no threat to the Unites States militarily. Neither did Iraq. The stated reason of rooting out terrorist training grounds in Afghanistan was achieved quickly, but we have remained entrenched there. We left Iraq without seeming to achieve any strategic objectives and will soon do the same in Afghanistan. Some think our real aim is regime change in Iran, which has been near and dear to the hearts of many ever since the inception of the Islamic Republic there shortly after the toppling of the Shah (who we had installed in power) in the late 1970’s. The US Embassy Hostage situation that riveted us for 444 days and cost Jimmy Carter re-election in 1980 affected many here greatly. Broadening a local war into a larger regional one to include Iran would be a very costly mistake, in my opinion, in terms of both lives and money. Israel and many in Congress seem to want to do this very badly.
The American taxpayers deserve to have their tax dollars addressing needs here at home. We spend billions killing people who pose no threat to us thousand of miles away and destroying their homes and infrastructure, then to rebuild it. At the same time, we ignore the needs of many of our own people and infrastructure back home. People in Congress who will fight tooth and nail to prevent poor people from receiving food, housing or educational assistance they need without taking it from somebody else that needs it will borrow money to pour into a war without batting an eyelash. This is true no matter which party holds the White House. The patriotic fervor strikes no matter how flimsy the evidence used to justify the war. This needs to stop.
Priorities need to be reset so that the Department of Defense operates to defend US, not to be a Department of Offensive War. Becoming involved in all kinds of far flung military adventures is foolhardy and costly. We can certainly afford to defend ourselves against foreign attack and provide our citizens with adequate resources and infrastructure to live healthy and productive lives. If we are to account for every cent spent on such things as food, housing assistance, health care and disaster recovery, we should also do so with regard to military and security expenditures and foreign aid. Balance the budget if you so desire, but if we must pay for a war, we should do so the same way we pay for everything else – with taxes.
Arming people to defend themselves against tyranny is an admirable action. It comes at a cost that the American people must be informed of. Blaming our deficit on domestic programs when it in fact is often the result of unwise foreign and/or military expenditures has been tolerated by our elected representatives for way too long. Accountability of expenditures in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations for whatever purpose should be just as stringent as it is for Medicare and every other domestic spending program that is constantly under the microscope when budget-cutting time comes around. How many billions cannot be accounted for in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the money that can be accounted for, how many billions would be approved of by Americans as a whole if they knew how they were spent?
We cannot be the world’s policeman or the savior of the oppressed when attempting to do so comes at the expense of the people we are supposed to be protecting back home. The sequester does not seem to affect the way that politicians of both parties waste money in destructive military pursuits that would be far more effectively put to use in productive peaceful endeavors. We need to hold them accountable for their folly come the next election if they do not serve us well. We taxpayers are paying for these weapons (I don’t see arms manufactures lining up to supply them to the rebels for free). We should make sure what we are buying them for. The world will, after all, hold us responsible for the consequences of their use. As it should.
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